"Pieces of Me is simply a means through which to tell someone, 'I appreciate you' or 'I love you because…' It’s a way of highlighting the beautiful qualities we see in our loved ones with a piece of jewelry they can wear as a reminder every single day."
Learn how entrepreneur Elsa Vos got started with Pieces of Me, and how she and her business overcame the struggles of this past year.
What has it been like building a company like Pieces of Me? How did you come up with the idea and how did you get started?
Two very big questions. To sum up what it’s really been like building Pieces of Me, it’s been a roller coaster ride. There have been some incredibly exciting moments, but there have also been some very difficult lows and challenges that I’ve faced.
The “idea” of Pieces of Me has actually transformed quite a bit from the original concept. I completed a project that assessed my personality through friends and family in one of my graphic design classes in college. It was an eye opening experience. It meant so much to me to know that my friends and family saw these great qualities in me. I wanted everyone to experience that same feeling of being loved and valued for who they are.
I actually launched jewelry as a proof of concept with the idea of eventually launching custom clothing and other accessories. I quickly realized that jewelry was actually perfect for communicating the experience I was after and I haven’t looked back since! The concept of Pieces of Me continues to evolve and I can’t wait to see how we continue to grow and transform in the future.
The pandemic really shifted how entrepreneurs do business. We know that Pieces of Me made a major pivot during the first months of COVID to stay alive. Tell us about that!
In March when the first shutdown occurred, all our orders from retailers were cancelled in a matter of days. We were finally beginning to scale Pieces of Me and in order to meet our growing demand, I had JUST invested in large amounts of inventory. I honestly felt like I fell from 50 feet in the air and had hit rock bottom. Just like every other small business owner, those first weeks were filled learning how to navigate applying for the PPP loan and how to work with my suppliers/landlord on payment options etc. At that point in time, I really did have thoughts of completely shutting down and not being able to continue the company. It was beyond devastating.
A few weeks later I had an idea spark. I saw the metal, no touch tool concept somewhere and thought I could put our own spin on it. I don’t even remember how or even where I saw it, but I wanted to try to make something that was somewhat boring and ugly into something pretty that could even make a good gift.
I remember purchasing the first 500 units and being SO nervous about spending those dollars and telling my sales manager, who was my only employee, that come hell or high water we have to sell these units. After the very first day of opening them up to our sales reps and retailers, we sold over 700 in pre-orders within just a few hours. Orders continued streaming in over the summer, we partnered with an ad agency and had successful campaigns running on social media. At the end of last year, we received a purchase order from CVS for another 24,000 units to be distributed to over 3000 locations. This was a HUGE pivot for us last year that was extremely successful and a true story of turning lemons into lemonade. The keychains not only kept us alive during the pandemic, but also allowed us to enter 2021 stronger than ever with the ability to launch new products and expand the brand.
What does the day-to-day look like for you at work, being the "founder and designer" that you are?
The day-to-day always looks a little bit different. It has continued to shift as the business and team has grown. I’m currently working on blocking my time out more effectively because it’s not crazy for me to go from a meeting with my business manager in the morning discussing inventory levels, cash flow, and our current AP report to a few hours later brainstorming and sketching my next jewelry design concept! Being the founder is always about “wearing a million hats” and as a small team, we all have to. If we have a crazy deadline coming up, it’s not abnormal to find me in the back packing boxes and shipping orders occasionally!
I think the hardest part for me in this season is allowing my creativity and ideas to flow when they are present and rescheduling other tasks if I have to. One thing I’ve learned over time is that you really can’t always schedule creativity and great ideas! They happen when they do.
How do you manage work-life balance? How has this shifted since you first started the business?
This is a great question; a year ago I would’ve answered it very differently. For the first four years of my business, I was that girl who had absolutely no work life balance. I worked All. The. Time. I felt like if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t giving it everything I had. I knew that building a brand and profitable company would not be easy and in my mind I would have to give it all I had. Yes, I have a husband, a beautiful home in the countryside and the best dog around, but honestly even on the weekends I’d go into the office and work. When I would spend time with my little fam, my mind would still be at the office and so much of my personal conversation would revolve around the business.
When the pandemic and shut downs hit the business, I felt like I lost it all. I reflected on my personal life and asked myself if I was happy; truth be told I wasn’t. I was constantly stressed, completely overworked and absolutely burnt out. I promised myself that if I was able to make it out of the pandemic, I would do things differently. Over the summer I made some small changes, simply just taking the weekends off and spending more quality time with my husband. Let me tell you, some incredible things happened.
If there are any entrepreneurs or small business owners out there who might be able to relate, this is for you. When you rest and take time for yourself, your business will actually be WAY better because of it. I noticed that when I took some time for myself, I came up with the best ideas and it allowed my creativity to flourish. I’d come back to work on Monday with a strategic direction, stronger leadership and most of all, much more excited about everything we were working on.
I’m not perfect by any means, but over the past year I’ve been learning each week how to give myself personal space from the business and not feel guilty about it.
Which of the Pieces of Me designs do you wear and why?
The pieces I wear daily are gold ambitious and gold strong charms on my necklace with a round hammered necklace accent charm. The last year has been SO HARD, so a reminder to be strong is always needed.
Since launching our skinny stackers, I’ve been rocking a sassy skinny stacker and of course, now that we have the small biz strong bracelet, it’s in my stack as well. I also wear the creative gold ring daily because I’ve realized it’s one of my biggest strengths and something I need to remind myself and celebrate. Throughout the years of building the brand, I’ve actually worn many different designs to meet me where I’m at in that season of life, but in this season of life, I find each of these to be encouraging to me in different ways.
What do you hope for when someone buys or receives Pieces of Me jewelry? How do you hope to make an impact on the lives of other women?
I genuinely hope that when someone buys or receives Pieces of Me jewelry, it puts a smile on their face and makes them feel LOVED and RECOGNIZED. My entire mission behind this brand is to make women feel loved for WHO they are. EVERY woman, no matter what they may look like, what they own, or their profession, deserves to be recognized for who they are on the inside.
Pieces of Me is simply a means to tell someone, “I appreciate you” or “I love you because…”. It’s a way of highlighting the beautiful qualities we see in our loved ones with a piece of jewelry they can wear as a reminder every single day.
What has been the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?
I honestly think the hardest part for me has been learning to be content with where I am in the journey and not to get caught up in the dangerous comparison game. I think it’s great to be inspired by other businesses and of course to research your “competition”, but it’s important to not compare yourself and your business too closely to them. Often, they have been doing it for longer and it’s not fair to compare yourself to them in that way.
Businesses take time to build; this has been hard for me to come to terms with. As a 28 year old from the millennial generation I believe growing up with things like social media and shark tank started to not only glamourize the idea of entrepreneurship, but also make it appear that those businesses just “blew up” overnight. In reality, they probably have been grinding it out for 3-5 years before they even got to that point because successful businesses DO take time and DON’T happen overnight.
Being an extremely ambitious person, there are days where I wish I was further along in my business than where I am right now and days that I just want more. I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
What kind of interview would this be if we didn't ask everyone's "favorite" question. Where do you see Pieces of me in 5 years? What's your long-term vision?
My vision for the company is to continue to expand our jewelry offerings into new collections and even branch out to create new sub brands that can offer different types of jewelry and accessories. I’ve developed a passion for packaging design that creates beautiful gifting experiences and hope that any brands that evolve from Pieces of Me will allow me to continue doing that. I will always love creating and designing products that bring joy and make others feel loved.
What piece of advice would you give to another female business owner that is just starting her journey?
Make sure you’re truly passionate about the business endeavor you are about to embark on. It is the passion for Pieces of Me and the mission that has kept me moving forward over the last four years. Be prepared to fail and know that it’s OKAY and 100% part of the journey. This journey is about how you get up again and how you react to the failures you endure. That is what will make you a stronger entrepreneur. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t or you’re too young. Don’t ever let the idea of not knowing about an industry, a product or how to do something stop you. You can learn and research just about anything if you put your mind to it. I knew absolutely NOTHING about jewelry before starting this business.
And lastly, you're the brains behind the entire #smallbizstrong movement. Tell us the reason behind all of this and how you came up with a design that encompasses the strength of entrepreneurs.
This past year, building a startup and keeping a small business afloat through a global pandemic was no easy feat. I truly believe that all small biz owners deserved more recognition. We heard all over the news that, “Small businesses are the backbone of America” and, “Shop small and support local”. As a small business owner myself, I wanted to dive deeper and support the women themselves behind these incredible businesses.
Often, I feel that entrepreneurs and small business owners feel they have to put on a front and a face that everything is great and that you couldn’t be happier. After all you’re supposed to be ‘living the dream’. When in reality, you could be hanging on by a thread and really struggling in certain moments. Due to the fragility and risk of a small business/growing a startup, I believe it’s in our nature that we don’t feel that we can put ourselves in that vulnerable position. I want to open up that conversation and talk about what it’s REALLY like to be a small business owner.
These women are strong, badass babes that appear to be living their absolute dreams. Which we are, BUT we also struggle -- more than you probably even realize. Building a business is one of the hardest things you can do on it's own, let alone through a global pandemic. I want to encourage small business owners today, and say that WE SEE YOU. We see ALL of you.
The pivots, creativity, flexibility, blood, sweat and tears that small business owners put in over the past year are undeniable and these stories must be shared and recognized.
It's time we encourage the women we all know in our lives, who are pouring their heart and souls into their businesses. It’s time we recognize the strength and resilience they put in over the past year and continue to do each and every day.
Learn more about the Small Biz Strong movement here!
Purchase a bracelet for yourself or gift one to a strong, small biz owner here!