By Robin Gallaher Branch | Photography by Mary Catherine Russell
The perfect Valentine’s Day gift is jewelry, especially if it’s made by Karyn Turnage – more commonly known as Kitzi in boutiques and shops.
Olive Juice Gifts, a shop in Oxford, Mississippi, that smells good and sells all things trendy, has a center table showcasing Kitzi Jewelry. “Our customers love it,” says Erin Young, owner. “We’ve had it since we opened eight years ago.”
Young gives several reasons why the multi-metal, multi-styled, and turquoise-to-tortoise wares are her bestsellers. “They’re all handmade. She knows what she’s doing. She’s genuine.”
The “Kitzi” is Karyn Turnage, the line’s owner and originator. Kitzi Jewelry is retail only and currently sells in 130 boutiques and stores in 16 states. While prices vary, a pierced earring and necklace set sells for under $100 at Olive Juice Gifts, Young says. As a gift, it’s a sure hit for Valentine’s Day.
Turnage, 63, calls the Kitzi hoops her bestsellers. “They go with anything, everything.” Describing herself as self-taught, Turnage adds, “I started making jewelry 30 years ago and 12 years ago turned it into a business. Working is a joy.”
The distinctive name Kitzi comes from a nickname her father, a doctor, gave her. “I grew up in Collins, Mississippi. We could ride our bikes all over town. It was a peaceful, safe place to be. My mother was very creative and taught me to sew,” she recalls.
Kitzi married her high school sweetheart and they raised two children. Her husband, a computer sales representative, died six years ago.
Before his death, the couple frequently traveled around the country and to Bermuda and Quebec. “Each trip took me in a different direction with my jewelry,” Turnage remembers.
Roaming San Francisco’s shops gave her many ideas. While in Quebec, the couple visited a shop that had turquoise stones; they bought quite a few. Turquoise, by the way, is her favorite stone.
After her husband’s death, Turnage considered closing the business. “My children stepped in and told me to keep it because it would keep me sane,” she says. And she’s glad she did. Her daughter, Kelly Pace, now handles the bookkeeping and does much of the design work as well.
Turnage has an office and workroom in her Germantown, Tennessee, home. She’s a big fan of home businesses. For her it means that when an inspiration comes at 3 a.m. (as it often does), she can go to work immediately in her pj’s and take a break when her grandson comes to play.
Her flexible hours also allow her to be what she calls “the Mamaw” in the Parent Teacher Fellowship at Briarcrest Christian School, her grandson’s school.
What about tips for others for starting a home business? “Go for it!” Turnage advises with confidence, spirit, and glee.
In addition to knowing what’s current and having a knack for what sells, Turnage has a good sense of style and marketing. “There’s a market for single, unique pieces right now. That’s what people want,” she says.
In terms of fashion, her advice is simple: “Always wear earrings. Layer necklaces. Mix the metals.” She favors combining various, even dissimilar, necklaces—for instance a pearl choker with two other necklaces of different lengths and mediums. She prefers matte gold and mixing metals like gold and silver. Her favorites are pearls, crystals, and “anything aqua.”
Karen Rounsavall likes Kitzi Jewelry’s variety of squares, circles, ovals, and rectangles. “It’s really cool how she does them. She’s very modern,” Rounsavall says, adding that her daughter Ashley, 18, models Kitzi Jewelry.
Vendors call Turnage frequently. Sometimes they simply say, “Send me whatever,” which means they trust her judgment and know that quality’s coming.
Kitzi Jewelry is also the top seller at Paisley Pineapple, a gift shop boutique in Olive Branch, Mississippi. “The earrings are so light; you don’t even know you’re wearing them,” says Keely Davis, owner. “People come back again and again.”
When Turnage was asked if she had made any mistakes in her designs and jewelry making, she paused and said she could not think of any. “My daughter and I just keep working on something until we love it. We only do the things we love,” she explains.
Turnage enjoys her fellow jewelry artisans in the Memphis area, calling them “a good group” of friends. “A small, creative business is a good way of getting to know others,” she says. “We really have fun. There’s room for lots of us.”
Kitzi Jewelry self-advertises the modern way on Facebook and Instagram. In addition, Turnage gives many handmade gifts. She laughs that in her Germantown subdivision she has many friends who look forward to an inevitable and new pair of earrings on their birthdays.
When asked about future plans for Kitzi Jewelry, Turnage says, “I see my daughter continuing and growing the business over the years. She’s super creative.”
Young of Olive Juice Gifts adds an insight that illustrates how remarkable both Turnage and Kitzi Jewelry are. “So many tell us Kitzi is their go-to jewelry,” Young begins. However, sometimes a customer will come in holding a single earring and literally be in a fashion predicament because its mate is gone. “Kitzi replaces what’s lost,” Young says with a smile.
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