The Interview — Gorjana Reidel, Jewelry Designer and Co-Founder of gorjana
Welcome to Talking Top 10, a recurring series in which we feature the founders, CEOs, creators, and leaders who are shaking up their industries. Ahead, read our Q&A with Gorjana Reidel, and keep scrolling to shop her Top 10 must-haves.
As a teen, Gorjana Reidel immigrated to the United States (Arizona) from the former Yugoslavia by way of Canada. Gorjana attended Arizona State University and earned her degree in Marketing. After graduating, Gorjana found her way to California. Disenchanted with early roles, she got a job working as an assistant manager in the jewelry department for Neiman Marcus. Gorjana realized she had a passion for jewelry design and began working for a small local designer to learn all aspects of the business. She set out to design fun, versatile jewelry that all of her friends would want, at an accessible price point.
At 26 years old, Gorjana launched her eponymous collection alongside her husband, Jason Griffin Reidel, who helped to drive initial sales. The couple drove 50,000 miles to sell the initial collection. Orders were fulfilled from their apartment floor and they worked the tradeshow circuit as a team of two. The pair ultimately grew out of the apartment and into an artist’s studio in the canyon of Laguna Beach, California.
Today, gorjana has grown into a multi-million-dollar powerhouse and even has Michelle Obama to tout as a customer. Recently shifting the focus to DTC, the brand has expanded the business online, and in the past three years has opened multiple retail doors across the country. The company, based in Laguna Beach, California, is still owned and operated by the couple. Follow the brand on Instagram for more info and inspiration.
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What led you to launch your own jewelry line?
It was 14, almost 15 years ago now. I was in my early 20s working for a jewelry designer who was mainly making fine jewelry—so obviously a much higher price point—and we’d go to these stores and markets in downtown L.A. to look at all these beautiful gemstones. I really fell in love with the product, but I was 22 and couldn’t afford $1500 necklaces. But by being at those markets and those stores, I learned that there are a ton of different gemstones and a ton of different grades—there were things out there that were just as beautiful but way more affordable. I grew up in sort of a DIY household in Serbia. My mom sews, my grandmothers crocheted everything, I would knit sweaters for my Barbie dolls. So I think the fact that jewelry was something I could make myself was really appealing. I didn’t mean for it to be this big business—it was just something I naturally gravitated towards and just really enjoyed doing. We started doing home parties with my friends, then selling to boutiques, and it just kind of kept going. My husband, who is an amazing salesperson, would call boutiques and stores for me and we figured we’d just keep doing it until it didn’t work anymore. But years later, it’s still working and we’re still growing.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
It comes from a lot of different things. We’ll be on vacation or out and about and I’ll see a girl with a cool outfit on and think “It would be so cool if she was wearing this kind of necklace with that.” Sometimes it’s from that, but sometimes it’s from certain shapes in nature. One time we stayed at The Raleigh in Miami and I loved the curtains—they had these really cool palm fronds on them. So then we did this whole Raleigh collection with palm fronds. So it comes to me in different ways. I have an amazing design team too, and we collaborate so well. We just kind of know now—it’s like this feeling of excitement and joy. When that sparks, we know we’re onto something good.
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Given that your husband is your business partner, what does work-life balance mean to you?
It’s been a constant evolution. When we started, it was just him and I and we were both in all aspects of the business. But as we grew and we got employees and departments and all of that, we had to divide and conquer. At first, that balance feels a little odd, because you’re so used to having your eye on everything, but then you realize you just physically can’t. We work really well together and we have an inherent trust in each other, which is key when you’re doing this. Before COVID, it was like let’s leave work at work, let's not talk about it at home or with the kids. But now that everyone’s working from home, it’s a little different. We’re working throughout the day and we try to come out of it and decompress, but it’s not as easy when you’re sitting down for dinner at the dining table that you just worked at all day. It’s definitely a challenge right now.
What does a typical workday look like?
Before COVID, I would get up, get the kids ready, make them breakfast, get their lunches made, and then get them off to school. Then I’d have a workout, either in my garage or at Boxhaus, come back, then get to the office by 10 or 10:30. Then I’d spend the day in a ton of meetings and getting things done. Usually, my mother-in-law or my mom would pick the kids up, or Jason and I would pick them up depending on the day. They all kind of vary. Then the kids would do their after-school activities, we’d have dinner, then go to bed.
But now, I’m so used to that morning working out thing and it has not been happening. Now, I get up and have my coffee and get on my computer. We have a morning call and an afternoon call as an executive team—two check-ins a day while we’re all working remotely. So I’ll have my check-ins, my Google Hangout meetings, then I’ll try to get in some sort of activity like riding my bike around the neighborhood or streaming a video class for a workout. I’ll finish up some work in the afternoon, then I’ll make dinner. I’ve definitely been focused on cooking lately. I love cooking and I always have, but with how busy I was it kind of got away from me and I was only doing it here and there. But now I’ve been exploring recipes and cookbooks and trying to make the best of that during this time. I feel like that’s one of the main positives for me. It’s fun and it’s a creative outlet.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
Getting to see how happy the jewelry makes people. Going into our stores and seeing how people interact and seeing the joy it brings them is the most rewarding thing I do. Or even just being out and about and seeing someone wearing it. I’m always hesitant—sometimes I’ll say something and sometimes I won’t. One of the things I always said when I started this was that we’re not curing cancer here. And while that’s true, what we do actually has a lot of meaning to people and people really love it—it’s a part of their lives and they wear it every day and it symbolizes something for them. The fact that I can put a smile on someone’s face is so awesome to me and so rewarding.
Do you have an all-time favorite piece of jewelry from Gorjana?
There are definitely pieces that I never take off. For a long time, we didn’t work with gemstones. I started out working with them, but then there was a period of time where I stopped. But when I went back to it, I got reinspired by the energies and properties and meanings they have. That has been one of my favorite things, because I feel like I go back to them for their meanings, especially at a time like this where my days are full of ups and downs. Whether I need strength or protection or tranquility, the power gemstone bracelets just serve as these reminders to myself. That has definitely been one of my favorite collections we have.
What would we find you wearing on a typical workday?
The Parker necklace, both pre-COVID and during. I have not taken that thing off, except to workout. I love that piece because it’s great for every day. It’s not as delicate, so it has a little bit more to it but it’s still simple. It goes with everything and you can dress it up or down. Again, I also definitely have power gemstones on every day. I wear the Parker Cuff every day too. Rings I mix and match—we have a ton of stackable sets. Our shimmer huggies are these really cute CZ hoops that never come out of my ears—I wear them every day. I’ll mix and match studs with those too. I re-pierced my ears before all this so now I can do more of that. I’m also wearing one of our birthstone necklaces with a diamond on it. My son’s birthday was this month and I wear that as my little reminder of him. Although he’s with me all the time now.
How do you decompress after a long day?
Right now it’s Netflix. We’re doing a Stranger Things marathon. We never watched it but now that the kids are old enough we are totally into it. We’re finishing season three tonight—there are two episodes left. I love it and I just read they’re going to do a fourth season which I’m so excited about. There are all these shows that I never got into because I felt like it was such a commitment and I didn’t have the time, but now we’re going through them all. We also invested in an infrared sauna a few months back and that has been my biggest form of decompression right now. I’ll go in there once a day, watch my shows, and just not think. My mind is constantly going these days so anything that allows me to just zone out and decompress and be entertained for 40 minutes to an hour is key. So Netflix and detox.
What’s your advice for someone who’s looking to start their own business?
Run for the hills. Just kidding! I think it’s just being really realistic about what it’s like. It is constant and it is a wild ride and it’s full of ups and downs. There are really high highs and really low lows, and you have to be ready for that. I was definitely not aware of that when I started this. You see all the winners and everyone doing so well and you’re like “Yeah I can totally do that,” but you don’t see behind the curtain of what it actually takes and how hard it is and how emotionally draining it is. It’s a lot. I read this analogy that being an entrepreneur is like riding a lion. You’re on a lion and everyone is staring at you in complete amazement and awe and they think it’s so incredible. But you’re on the lion thinking about how you’re going to keep from getting eaten. It really stuck with me because it is exactly how I feel. No one has all the answers, you just have to figure it out. When we started this, we knew nothing about wholesale, nothing about line sheets and trade shows and market and showrooms. You just have to figure it out and have the perseverance to push through and realize that those lows are low but you’ve got to push through them and you can do it.
What’s next for you and gorjana?
I have no idea. This has been crazy because our business just came to a halt. I do think that we will come out of this much more focused and it will definitely be more about quality over quantity. Everything will be much more mindful and methodical, and I just think we’ll be much more in the details than we were before. As horrible and difficult as it’s been, it has been great to have a reset and a refocus. We’re focusing on what is important and what we actually care about. We have 16 stores, which are unfortunately all closed right now which is horrible and sad. Our staff misses seeing people and interacting with people and our customers miss coming in. While it’s at a pause, we’ll probably continue opening stores at some point. That’s been the best thing we’ve done over the past four years—having those stores and that customer interaction. So that’s definitely in our future, I just don’t know when and how quickly we’ll get back to it. Two of them are 90% done but we had to stop construction, but once the quarantine is over we’ll have 18 stores. One thing we’ve always really focused on our product—I feel like it’s the reason we’ve had the success that we’ve had. I think that will continue even more now, as well as focusing on every aspect of the business and making it the best, most efficient, and most productive it can possibly be.