(Photo: Courtesy Melissa Joy Manning; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)

Designing Jewelry for Fashionistas Who Love Style—and Sustainability

Melissa Joy Manning is being honored by In Her Company, a campaign celebrating the power, creativity, and impact of 30 inspiring women entrepreneurs.
Oct 31, 2014· 2 MIN READ
TakePart Staff

It was an all-or-nothing moment when designer Melissa Joy Manning started her jewelry company in 1997. But with a close eye on style and another on sustainability, she’s found success with a look that’s all her own.

Melissa Joy Manning, Inc.
HQ: New York and Berkeley
Industry: Fashion
Founded: 1997
Melissa Joy Manning designs and manufactures socially and environmentally responsible men’s and women’s luxury jewelry.

TakePart: How did you come up with the idea for your business? Was there a turning point that convinced you to start your own business?

Melissa Joy Manning: I started my business out of necessity. After studying jewelry design and sculpture, I left school to find very little opportunity for meaningful employment in my field. Desperate to create a career and connect with something authentic, I started my own company two years after college.

TakePart: What excites or inspires you? What do you care about?

Manning: I draw from many sources of inspiration. Most importantly, collaborating with other artists, travel, the environment, and science excite me. I care deeply about my imprint on the world and run a business that reflects this ethos. When making my jewelry, I design not only with an eye toward form and function but also with one toward impact and life cycle.

TakePart: Do you see any common challenges among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

Manning: I’ve noticed several shared traits among female entrepreneurs. Women, unfortunately, apologize too much and soften their communication style to avoid being labeled “difficult”—or worse. Fortunately, though, women also follow their gut more than men and tend to be less “bottom line”–driven. This, I think, is an incredible competitive advantage that allows us to see farther, dream bigger, and achieve lasting success in our chosen field.

TakePart: What’s the best mistake you ever made?

Manning: Oh, there have been so many great mistakes! But, looking back, I can’t really call any of them mistakes. My dad once told me when you stop falling, you stop learning. I’ve always held this precept to be true. However, if asked to name one, I would have to say traveling to Japan to sell at a trade show without doing due diligence. It was a huge expense, and I didn’t sell one thing. I felt like the biggest failure. However, that “mistake” introduced my product to a new market, and within two years, Japanese distribution became 20 percent of my business.

TakePart: Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability into your product and business practice?

Manning: As an artist inspired by the environment, it would be incredibly disingenuous of me not to protect it. I incorporate sustainability twofold into my business. First, it’s the people. All of our jewelry is handmade, to order, in our own certified-green production studio in California. Second, it’s our environmental responsibility. Our work is made using 100 percent recycled precious metals and responsibly sourced precious stones. In addition to this, we carbon-offset every box we ship, follow strict green production guidelines as defined by the state of California, use energy-efficient heating and cooling, ban plastic bottles in our California offices, use only recycled papers and soy-based inks, and most importantly, are a zero-waste manufacturer.

TakePart: What’s one financial lesson you learned the hard way?

Manning: Never blindly trust an accountant. As an independent contractor, they have no real responsibility to your company. Always, always double-check their work, and don’t be afraid to question any discrepancies.

TakePart: How would you describe your management style?

Manning: Entrepreneurial. I’ve learned that if you have the right culture, everyone within it wants to be successful. Our organization is only as good as the people within it, so trusting my peers allows an open dialogue that fosters success. Allowing people to manage themselves with support and education creates a place where every team member feels like an owner.

TakePart: What’s surprised you the most about starting your own business?

Manning: That I never, ever leave it behind.

(Photo: Melissa Joy Manning, Inc.)

This post is part of the series In Her Company, created in collaboration with Eileen Fisher and designed to celebrate the power, creativity, and impact of women-owned businesses. Check out more stories at takepart.com/in-her-company.