A Jewel of a Business
By Pam Windsor
Photography courtesy of Jennifer Thames, Kirby Thames Anthony and Cynthia’s Boutique
Her daughter’s desire for unique jewelry 15 years ago led Jennifer Thames to create her own line of baubles that are now carried in 450 retail stores.
Jennifer Thames has a natural gift for creativity, so much so she taught art for 22 years. But her love of design and color, and her ideas for bringing it together in unique and artistic ways is such a part of who she is, it often spills over into her off-time.
“I’ve done a lot of different things,” she explains. “I did painting for people and all kinds of other things including making jewelry. And jewelry was the thing that stuck.”
Her first attempt at creating jewelry came along at around 2005 when her daughter, who was in junior high school, wanted some jewelry Thames thought cost too much.
“She wanted some specific jewelry that was kind of expensive at the time, and I wasn’t willing to pay for it,” Thames says with a laugh. “So, I made her some. That’s where it started, and then friends and family wanted to buy it, and it just took off from there.”
She began creating and selling her jewelry in Union, Miss., where she lives, but soon looked for ways to expand. Someone suggested she showcase her work at the annual Mississippi Market Wholesale Show.
“I did that and my goal that year was to get five customers who would be interested in carrying my line in their stores,” she says.
She was successful and within a couple of years also had her jewelry on display in a permanent showroom in Atlanta. The orders began pouring in and Thames, who was still teaching art during the day, would come home in the evenings and make the jewelry needed to fill them.
“I was making jewelry at night and the next day I’d go to the post office on my lunch break and ship it,” she remembers. “When it got to where I needed some additional help, I’d have a couple of teenage girls come in and help me put the jewelry on the cards and prepare it for shipping. We’d just sit at my dining room table and get it ready to go.”
Even as she worked day and night, she still kept networking and looking for other places to market her jewelry. It paid off. She did such a good job of building her business and making a name for herself, within about five years she was able to quit her full-time job and focus solely on her jewelry. Her creations are now available in 450 retail stores in the United States and Canada.
Thames admits getting to that point proved challenging at times, and credits family and friends with the support and encouragement that helped her achieve success.
“It really and truly was a lot of hard work,” she says. “You’ve just got to keep at it. I had someone who paints ask me the other day, do you just wait for people to come to you? I said no, you’ve got to go to them or reach out to them. If there’s a store you want to be in, contact them and see what you need to do to get to that level.”
She also sells a lot of jewelry through her website which features a wide range of designs. There are necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more. Her jewelry has a vintage flair that comes from her love of antiques. It’s been a big part of her inspiration from the early days when she was first getting started and influences her designs today, although her approach has changed.
“When I first started doing this, I would go to estate sales and find old pocket watches or cool pieces and recreate them,” she recalls. “But as the business grew and we became a wholesale operation, I couldn’t do that anymore and be successful. Those are one-of-a-kind items and you can’t reproduce dozens of them. Sometimes I miss that because that’s the creative part when you can do something that’s really one of a kind.”
While the business has grown, she still operates from home in a studio at the back of her house. She’s added some part-time help and that daughter who had an eye for jewelry and first motivated her to start creating it all those years ago, now works right along with her.
“My oldest daughter, Kirby, helps me and we try to hand-make almost everything here in our studio,” she says. “I’m so proud of being able to work with her.”
It’s nice, she says, to keep it all in the family.
“Kirby’s expecting my first grandbaby this month, so things are going to change around here a little bit.” She laughs, then adds, “We may just hold the baby while we make jewelry.”