Marla Aaron launched her eponymous collection in 2013 when her combined obsessions with bridges, hardware and jewelry could no longer be ignored.
What began with one lock is now an entire collection designed to be worn in infinite ways and used as “jewel tools” with individuals’ own collections—to redefine the “precious” in jewelry with individuality. Although recognized for its streamlined, industrial look, the collection is deeply rooted in the personal and emotional jewelry of the Victorian and Georgian eras. Her work is collected by a growing group of jewelry aficionados who anxiously await her latest “lock” releases.
In an unusual twist, the brand was first sold direct to consumers and only then was embraced by retailers. Marla’s work is now sold in select stores across the United States, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
Marla resides in New York City with her husband, two sons, and an unmentionable quantity of pets and sporting equipment.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am as confident in my strong qualities as I am in my faults. And with that self-assurance comes the ability to exclusively focus on my strengths and not my weaknesses. When I started the business, my marketing and distribution plans were failures. I tried to reach out to jewelry stores directly and they were not interested. So, I had to regroup and come up with another solution and that plan was to go directly to consumers via social media but with an eye towards developing an audience so the stores would come later. It’s backwards but it worked for us.
How has your previous employment experience helped fuel today’s success?
I believe that my earliest jobs selling radio time in the Hispanic market taught me how to be relentless and to never give up. I am relentless with our designs. I want us to be different. We spend lots and lots of time on research and development and always have lots of ideas in the pipeline. I think that is critical to our success. I think having a few difficult bosses along the way also made me a stronger and kinder leader. I want our workplace to be a place where our team has autonomy and feels rewarded and appreciated for the work that they do.
What have the highlights and challenges been?
The highlights are very simple, the women around the world who wear and love our jewelry and reach out to tell me about it through our hashtag #lockiton. The challenges are growing a business. The jewelry industry in many ways is set up for failure. Fine jewelry retailers run on consignment—meaning they ask designers to supply the collection to them and pay once it’s sold. This puts the entire risk on the shoulders of the designer and this is simply not fair. I opted not to do consignment which has meant we are growing more slowly but I think in a way that is infinitely more sustainable—a business built on realities versus the smoke and mirrors of consignment relationships with certain stores.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
The same advice that would apply in any industry–love it. Really love it. Force yourself to think differently. Be unconcerned with what others are doing and follow your own ideas. Be different. Treat everyone in a business relationship like it is critical to the success of the business.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
That what you think will be hard to do will be easy and what you think will be easy will be hard. It’s just the way it is.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I really don’t think of life and work in those terms. There are times when I am very “balanced” and there are times when it’s 24/7. There are 2 things I hold sacred and that is breakfast with my family in the morning and dinner in the evening. My children are teenagers now so this is getting harder but we sit down to breakfast and dinner every day.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I don’t consider it a women’s issue–it’s a family issue, and that is that family leave, for children, for elderly parents, etc. As a country, we must make it easier for people to take care of one another and to make work the second priority to “home.”
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
In the jewelry world I was a total outsider–I started this late in life and I had another career totally apart from what I do now. I am floored by the number of women and men with long trajectories in this industry that have reached out to me with support, advice, and friendship. The jewelry industry is extraordinary and I believe unique in this way.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am blessed to be in an industry filled with female leaders. Women who own small independent businesses and multigenerational businesses–there are many. We are lucky to sell our jewelry in stores that many of them own. I am constantly surprised by the businesses these women have built, the roles they play in their community, and their daily balancing acts. I am less interested in the “larger than life” leader and more interested in in the smaller leader making an impact in their corner of the world. We need more of those.
What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
I want to grow our business in unexpected and interesting ways. That means another vending machine, ideally in Europe or The Middle East. I want to make sure all of our processes as a company are the best they can be. I have some thoughts about expanding beyond jewelry into some interesting areas that we currently have in the pipeline.