Just over a decade ago a female entrepreneur launched a social selling jewellery business in the United States, with a mission to offer working women flexibility, reward, style, profit, and fun. Here, Jessica Herrin, talks to Stacey Hailes about the impact Stella & Dot has had to date, and how she plans to strengthen the company’s presence in Europe.
Stella & Dot may be a business, but at the heart of it is a mission that goes beyond profits and sales.
Founded a little over ten years ago, Stella & Dot was created by mother of two and business entrepreneur, Jessica Herrin, as a social selling platform which allows individuals to run their own jewellery business to fit around their lifestyles.
While at first the concept was similar to Tupperware parties and Avon in the UK, Stella & Dot has always had its roots in technology and the belief that the future of retail was going to be in social commerce.
Today, the company’s army of stylists and sellers embrace social media channels and messaging platforms, without neglecting opportunities to meet customers face-to-face and allow them to feel products before making purchases.
With strong foundations and a business model which can easily adapt to new demands, its little wonder Stella & Dot has been going from strength-to-strength.
When asked if she ever thought Stella & Dot would take off so quickly, the founder replies: “I deeply believed that a platform for women to earn flexible income that was stylish and modern needed to exist, and I also believed that the future of retail was going to be social commerce. So I was certain those two things were going to have to come to be, and I’m really glad that Stella & Dot came out of that.”
Jessica Herrin continues: “From the beginning Stella & Do was purpose driven, so for me I think of our success differently. I think of it as the sum of all the success stories of our independent business owners, and all the amazing customer relationships and interactions that they have had along the way. So I don’t take it for granted. I am thrilled. But, feel like we have just begun.”
Reflecting on the company’s greatest achievements over the last decade, Herrin reveals she is really proud of her partner and chief creative officer, Blythe Harris, who has managed to create high-quality pieces, using a socially responsible supply chain, and offer them at an adorable luxury price point.
“I think it is the team’s greatest accomplishment, to be really fierce about the social responsibility and really fierce about design at the same time,” Herrin shares.
Most of all though, Herrin is proud of the team, or as she calls it, the ‘community’ Stella & Dot has built.
She explains: “When you really get inside of Stella & Dot, you see a group of women and a few good men that really support each other. It is people who cheer each other on through true business and business is real life. Meaning, every day somebody is going to work, they’ve got something going on at home that they are bringing with them, so to see that come together in this very authentic, very supportive way, is another huge part of who we are.”
Ultimately Stella & Dot launched with a mission to offer working women flexibility, reward, style, profit, and fun, and this ethos still runs through the heart and soul of the company.
Alongside supporting its very own employees, Stella & Dot uses its influence to encourage women through charity work and campaigns.
For example, for this year’s International Women’s Day, the company joined up with All Woman Project – a non-profit content creation studio dedicated to showing only unedited women of all demographics in advertising and media – to highlight through a series of inspiring videos that young women don’t need a degree or small fortune to be an entrepreneur.
The Stella & Dot founder says women need to assume they’ve got what it takes, and reject thoughts which make them believe otherwise.
“You have to ignore your gender and assume the world is on your side,” advices Herrin. “I think women hear the message that they are underrepresented and at a disadvantage so much that it can chip away at their confidence. Starting a business, starting a jewellery line, or starting a career, is already hard enough, so you have to assume you’re the exception. Assume the world is on your side and it’s simply been waiting for your success.”
10 years on from the launch, Herrin reveals the greatest challenge she has experienced is trying to balance work and family life, without guilt.
She says: “When I speak at Stanford Business School or talk to women who are starting in their careers, when they ask about challenges in businesses they assume my greatest challenge has been dealing with currency fluctuation or supply chain issues, or employees, but honestly, that wasn’t as hard as balancing being a working mum.
The businesswoman continues: “It wasn’t even external forces, it was guilt — all my own guilt that was in my head.”
Herrin reveals she felt pressured to be the woman she thought different people wanted her to be, alongside trying to accomplish her own dreams of being at the forefront of advancing women in the workplace and, furthermore, feeling the need to live up to the mum next door.
Finding a way to let go of this guilt was key to growing herself and the Stella & Dot business.
I am thrilled with how Stella & Dot has done so far, but I feel like we have just begun.”
“If I could get rid of that mental anxiety, I could not just perform better but perform easier and enjoy it more. So that’s my number one thing, I just wish women could recognise early on in their career that they are enough and they are not in the business of trying to please people all the time. You can’t be in business, and be in the business of trying to please people at the same time.”
Stella & Dot has succeeded in its mission to help women, and now it’s looking to push even further in Europe and the United Kingdom.
“We are doing a lot with technology innovation here in Europe,” shares Herrin, adding: “So we will be rolling out a new platform that we have invested over $30m in to really power the next wave of social commerce, but it is also elevating our design and then giving women a full look, so we are going beyond jewellery into apparel as a canvas for accessories. Women are always asking us, where’s that top from? Where can we get this? So we are expanding and that’s radically growing our market opportunity but still leading with what’s special to us, which is our incredibly developed accessories skills.”
Stella & Dot has been in Europe for six years, but Herrin says compared to the market opportunity, the company is quite small in the region.
However, the business now feels it is ready to take on more of Europe, and is planning to aggressively grow in the UK.
Herrin shares with our editor: “We really intend to grow our market here in the UK because we’ve done well and we’ve grown, and I look at that and I am so proud, but if you were to look at any statistic around market penetration, we have not yet scratched the surface of who we want to be.”
“I think we have such an affordable luxury product. We are distinctly Stella & Dot, so we are very fierce about are authenticity and design. There’s so many companies where they will copy other people’s designs, or buy out a factory line, and I just think to myself — where’s the integrity in that? Would you let your children do that? It’s like cheating at school. So we are very fierce about our design and our supply chain. But if you look at our line we create a broadly appealing collection because we design for women and a community, so our range supports a really large market size. So that’s our growth plan.”
For the business as a whole Stella & Dot continues to invest and innovate in technology, making sure its sellers are able to build personal relationships through the mediums women are on.
Herrin says while retail has massively changed over the last decade, the questions are still the same, but the answers have evolved.
She explains: “The questions are, how do you give the customer the right product and service at the right time that serves her in her life? And then the technology, whether it has moved from e-commerce to mobile commerce to social commerce, makes people smarter and more connected with more convenience. So what we are doing with social media isn’t radically different to what I was doing with enterprise software, but you are just always asking yourself, what’s the latest technology? How is our customer living? How do we give her the right tool at the right time to give the customer the right answer?
“So what I would say is you obsess about the customer — who is she? What is she doing? How does she want to discover the product? What does she need to know about it in order to fall in love and fall in use? Meaning she is going to want to repeat and refer because she knows how to wear it. She knows what’s right for her lifestyle and she has a fresh idea about how to put it together. And that’s what we are trying to do. But for our seller, we are trying to make it easy so she can do her business in captured moments throughout her day. So we see our job as the home office team to generate the content, to serve it up for her, to give her suggestions, and to help her know the who, when, and what, and where to share.”
Stella & Dot sellers receive social media and technology training, alongside advice on how to create looks and bridge the gap between digital and physical.
“She gets what we call high-tech and high-touch. We always say IRL and URL. It’s, you are going to do it in real life and online because a woman isn’t just on social media. She is seeing you, then she is looking online, and then she is coming to an event. So we want to surround her in a way that is more convenient for her, and we train our stylists to bridge those two.”
The future certainly looks bright for Stella & Dot. Herrin is looking forward to taking what the company has learnt in the last 10 years, and continuing to provide a platform for women to enjoy a work/ life balance.
Herrin concludes: “We’ve paid out $500m in flexible earnings, and that’s the number that makes me want to cry, it makes me very emotional. And that number is so many stories. So many women who went on a trip. Or paid for fertility treatments. Or paid for their wedding or honeymoon. And I just want to do that. But I want to do it much bigger in the next 10 years. Because we learn so much. I think about where we were 10 years ago — we knew nothing. And now we get to learn from a decade of mistakes. How lucky are we to now benefit from that?”