By Cheré Coen | Photography courtesy of Brooke Ballard
Southaven native Brooke Ballard never dreamed her talent for making jewelry would take her from nursing student to entrepreneur so quickly.
Sometimes a personal creation can turn into a successful business. That’s what happened in 2015 to Brooke Ballard, a Southaven native who’s a student at the University of Memphis.
“I made a necklace for myself to match an outfit and someone saw it on me and liked it,” she says. “They asked if I would make them one.”
So she did.
Then she created another… and another.
The demand increased for her jewelry so Ballard began selling pieces on Instagram and Facebook social media sites, then opened a store on Etsy, an online shop for creative people.
“It really took off,” she says of her online success. “That did really well and I started wholesaling.”
Pretty amazing for a nursing student. Well, a temporary one.
“I always knew I wanted to get into fashion,” Ballard explains. “It was my passion. I changed my major from nursing and within a month started my company. It was a matter of shifting gears and doing what I was passionate about.”
Now, Ballard’s creations under the company name of Janey Bee Jems— Janey for her grandmother and Bee for her childhood nickname — are sold in 45 stores in seven states across the country. Every piece is handmade, some that take 30 minutes to create and some up to eight hours.
“Pretty much every piece is different,” Ballard says. “It’s a personal experience (for the owner) knowing that every piece is unique.”
Ballard uses gun metal, silver and gemstones for her creations, among other materials. She produces earrings, bracelets and necklaces, many that flow well together and are meant to be layered on outfits in ways where each piece is presentable and appreciated. For instance, she may wear several bracelets together, each utilizing different items such as turquoise, metal or leather.
“My biggest thing right now is mixed metal,” she says. “It ties into outfits more easily.”
In a nutshell, Ballard insists, her creations are conversation starters.
“Pretty much anything that makes a statement,” she adds.
Ballard is still selling on Etsy, where she makes many international sales, but the most popular places to purchase her creations are her website and retail boutiques in north Mississippi, such as Janie Rose Boutique in Southaven, and several in the Memphis area. Prices range from $20 for a choker necklace to $100 for a set of necklaces.
“Janey Bee Jems has been a staple brand in Janie Rose since Brooke first started selling jewelry,” says Jessica Russell, owner of Janie Rose Boutique. “From the very start, she has had an eye for trends and that drew us in. She knows how to put her unique spin on a trendy piece to make it unlike anything you’ve ever bought.
“On top of her talents, Brooke has been a very good customer of ours for quite some time,” Russell adds. “Of course, the popularity of her jewelry in the store keeps us coming back for more, but the friendship that has developed during the process is our favorite part.”
And if you think with all this success the young entrepreneur wouldn’t have time for anything else, Ballard works at American Threads in Germantown and will perform an internship before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in merchandising and marketing from the University of Memphis in May.
The juggle between work, school and her business has been tough at times, Ballard says.
“About a year ago I had an overflow of orders,” she explains. “I was up to 3 a.m. trying to get it all done.”
To get through that intense workload, Ballard tried to strategize and mimic the biggest corporations and how they manage an uptake in sales.
“For the most part, I’m a hard worker and that just comes with it,” Ballard explained of the ebb and flow of merchandising.
Her plans post-graduation are to continue Janey Bee Jems and plan for its expansion and growth. The University of Memphis has assisted her with establishing her business and helped her make informed business decisions, she says.
“My favorite part of this business is meeting new people,” Ballard says. “It’s really opened up new opportunities for me and I love the networking.”
The Memphis native plans to stay in the Bluff City, unless an opportunity arises that takes her elsewhere.
“I’m really rooted here,” she says. “I love Memphis a lot.”