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Moving Fashion Forward as a Jewelry Designer

Tracy Belben, owner of T*Racy, is an up-and-coming jewelry designer who found her passion after being laid off from her full-time job in architecture. Using lightweight steel, aluminum and mixed metal chains, Tracy crafts fashion-forward handmade jewelry that’s been showcased at StyleWeek Northeast, Boston Fashion Week, Brooklyn Fashion Weekend and others.

Learn how Tracy got started with her own business and what steps she’s taken to move her fashion venture forward.

What inspired you to start your own business?

The freedom of being able to express myself and share my work with others. I started the business between architecture jobs, during the recession of 2009–2010. I've always enjoyed fashion and shopping, and didn't have the budget to buy new clothing and accessories as I had been able to do before the days of unemployment. In an attempt to maintain the lifestyle I enjoyed, I started creating my own accessories to jazz up existing outfits, eventually realizing the attention from friends within the fashion industry. “Your work — it’s so bold, edgy, and…what’s the word? Racy!” one friend said. From that point onward, T*Racy was born.

How has the business evolved over time?

At the beginning, my goal was to express myself and generate some income to survive the recession between jobs. Eventually, the goal shifted towards designing a line, one that allows the customer to express themselves, and generating a long-lasting brand. With this I also hoped to be recognized by a savvy, fashion-conscious demographic.

What marketing channels have worked best for getting the word out about your business?

I love Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for connecting with followers, advertising events where I’ll be selling product, or announcing new products that have been added to my Web site. The best part about using social media for advertising — it’s free!

When I receive orders from individual customers, online or at a show, I include a free bumper sticker or magnet of a large T*Racy lips logo. This reminds people of my brand, wherever they are. I also carry business cards everywhere I go. Actually, this may come as a surprise, but I find business cards to be my most effective marketing tactic. Face time with customers, potential collaborators and press contacts is crucial. A well-designed, high-quality business card in combination with a handshake, smile and eye contact grows a business and leads to sales.

How important is it to recognize loyal customers?

Extremely important! Loyal customers are the people advocating for your brand, because they’re the ones who are wearing the product and talking about it. Treat them well and appreciate them, and they will naturally market for you because they love the product so much.

What sort of work do you do for T*Racy outside regular business hours?

This is a 24-hour business. I’m constantly networking within the fashion community in and around New England. Web sites like Meetup.com are great resources to meet people within your industry. I also attend other designers’ events to network, learn and become inspired. Even if I’m on vacation, I hand out business cards.

Is running your business harder than you thought it would be?

Absolutely. I knew it would be hard but didn't realize how much there is to learn, especially when it's not your background. You learn by doing, and "doing" is a challenge. Making the leap and trusting yourself is the hardest part. Finding a support system, mentors and partners is crucial.

How has Staples helped you make more happen for your business?

When I visit a Staples® store or shop online, I can print flyers and business cards quickly, find electronics to fit my needs and pick up supplies needed for my vendor table — receipt books, jewelry price tags, packing materials, etc. — all in the same visit. Being able to find everything in one place and through a trusted source is exactly what I need. When it comes down to it, I don’t have time to shop around. Overall, Staples takes the stress out of shopping, allowing me to focus my time and energy on creating jewelry.

Have you ever been surprised by something you found at Staples?

Recently, I went on staples.com to reorder packing materials and stumbled on an entire section devoted to retail fixtures — including mannequins! I can’t live without hand glove forms. In addition to being used as visual displays, the hand forms serve as a consistent model when I’m creating and sizing bracelets and hand pieces. It can be said that the forms “lend a hand” in both the creation and sales of my most popular items.

What advice would you give people who want to set up their own business?

If you have a great idea and strongly believe in it, don’t let anything, including yourself, hold you back. Life is too short for coulda/woulda/shoulda excuses.

How does your business make more happen? We want to know! Share your story with us in the Comments section below, and we might contact you for a future article.

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