Shona Gilbert is as glamorous as the semi-precious jewelry she creates — generally a feat for a mother of two. But the energetic Dallas designer credits great girlfriends, savvy networking and a little deep breathing for the recent success of her line.
Gilbert began designing jewelry in 2011. "It was very hobbyish," she says. Throughout college she always made her own jewelry, but it wasn't until her youngest was in preschool that she felt inspired to do something more seriously.
"One of the first pieces I made was with these 32-millimeter stones, and there were different quartzes," she says. "I remember just seeing the necklace in my head."
"I want my daughters to get my funky pearls with black hand knotting and wear them 30 years from now," Gilbert says.
After creating her first 15 pieces, Gilbert met retail consultant Mary Bloom through a close friend. Bloom loved Gilbert's packaging: old cigar boxes lined with velvet.
"Mary told me that it needed to be at the Dallas Museum of Art, and that I should study the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit in Montreal," Gilbert says. "I visited the exhibit, and my line ignited a life of its own."
In the beginning, Gilbert sold her designs exclusively to the DMA. "They told me that I'd be the partnering designer for the Gaultier show, which was a pretty amazing start," she says.
Gilbert says watching her business grow has been like watching a movie. But she credits many people for helping her get to where she is now, including man-about-town Hamilton Sneed, who helped connect her to the right people.
"He said, 'You need to get hooked up with people in the community,' and gave me a list of names of influential people," Gilbert says. "Hamilton told me that I need to immerse myself and get my name out there, and I did. I was on a mission."
It wasn't long before Gilbert introduced herself to Neiman Marcus. "I didn't get far with the buying office," she says. "But the woman in the designer jewelry department called me up and asked if I wanted to do a trunk show."
After the first successful event, Gilbert scheduled more trunk shows. By the time January 2013 rolled around, she'd had trunk shows in nine stores throughout the United States. In fact, she has one coming up May 10 at Neiman Marcus Downtown.
Talk about a whirlwind. So how does this enterprising mom keep it together?
"I stay balanced with a combination of strength and grace — and knowing how to set boundaries," she says. "I take deep breaths, work out and know that I don't have to have everything achieved today. I also have really great girlfriends."
Gilbert uses the highest quality stones in all of her collections, including Pebbles, a favorite of socialite Maggie Kipp, and her newest lines, St. Germain and La Scala. She also mixes vintage gold Chanel beads into some of her designs.
"When I first started, my line had a darker feel," she says. "Now, because I want to focus on the mainstream, I use a lot of semi-precious stones; it's about the color and the feel. And we're not talking ordinary stones or rocks. They are the highest quality — the best of the best."
Most of her precious stones come from the best mines in Brazil; others are imported from Germany and India. The stones are showcased in their natural, chunky forms on simple chains or knotted silk, giving her pieces a timeless feel.
"I want my daughters to get my funky pearls with black hand knotting and wear them 30 years from now and pass them down," she says.
Gilbert says she is in the market for a storefront, but for now she is focusing more of her energy on branding and getting her name out there. But at the rate she's moving, a storefront will be here sooner than she thinks.