FINDING A NICHE
While gold and silver prices hit record highs and consumers cut back on luxury purchases, personalized jewelry has become a lucky charm for fine jewelers.
Minneapolis-based Chamilia didn’t invent the category, but co-founder and lead designer Killian Rieder has mastered a formula that makes her brand sparkle. Launched in 2002, Chamilia is sold in more than 4,000 stores worldwide.
Rieder has designed more than 600 beads ranging from decorative pieces to hearts, owls, puppies, and Minnie Mouse. Swarovski crystals and Italian Murano glass make Chamilia beads feel special, but with prices starting at $30, they’re an impulse buy. The average Chamilia customer adds a bead to her bracelet every month, Rieder says. A completed bracelet typically adds up to $600.
GOAL - ORIENTED
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Rieder was working for Polo Ralph Lauren when she decided to start an aqua massage business at a New Jersey mall. Thirteen locations and 250 employees later, she opened a jewelry store to showcase some of the designs she’d been working on in her “spare” time. This was just after 9/11—Italian charm jewelry was taking off, but customers wanted to wear American flags. Rieder felt challenged to create jewelry that was “pretty and real.”
Never one to do something small, Rieder and her husband, Jeff Julkowski, opened 13 credit cards to quickly grow their line of interchangeable jewelry. They hired a sales manager and hit the trade shows. “I don’t know how to do anything not full-on,” Rieder says.
RETURNING TO MINNESOTA
Chamilia was outgrowing its New York offices four years ago when Rieder and Julkowski decided to move their life and their company home to Minnesota. (She’s from Rochester; he grew up in Forest Lake.) At the time, they had a son, Jax, now 5. His sister, Grier, is 2. Neither motherhood nor the Midwest has slowed down Rieder. Chamilia comes out with new pieces every three months, and she oversees the design of every one. The company also makes charms for several high- profile partners, including Disney and Hershey’s.
Rieder calls Chamilia “paint by numbers jewelry—you can’t make an ugly bracelet,” but she scoffs at the suggestion that her job is more commercial than design driven. “At FIT, people always look at Chanel as serious talent, but I think you actually have to have more creativity to design [for the masses]. At Polo, I had to learn how to make jeans different enough that the person who bought last season would buy this season.”
Now, Rieder is looking for new avenues of personalization. Chamilia recently introduced Sojourn, a collection that moves beyond beads to rings.
“I’m always thinking about what I can create that will make a person want to add to her bracelet or start a new one,” Rieder says. “That is when you know you’ve succeeded.” chamilia.com