Elsa went from simply putting together her senior graphic design portfolio, to cultivating a business idea and presenting it to an audience of over 2,000 through the BGSU HATCH. So, where is she now? After entertaining endless applications, Pieces of Me found its niche: jewelry. Elsa's idea of bringing our inner personalities outward has become the mission behind the brand, inspiring our tagline, Wear Who You Are.
Tell us how Pieces of Me Began:
"It all started in a graphic design theory class. The project was constructed around design thinking, and working through a problem without fully understanding what form the visual would be in the end. For my project, I challenged myself to determine my own personality through the lens of friends and family. The idea spiraled until I had received responses from just about everyone I knew. After the results were tabulated, the next step was to figure out how to show the world who I was. That was my lightbulb moment. The first Pieces of Me product was brought to life, using icons representing each trait, patterned across fabric and transformed into a full dress. When I stepped back to look at it, I was impacted by the visual representation that was me!
Perspective can be life changing. Having that visual reminder of what other people saw in me truly helped me not only create a mosaic that represented my personality traits for that design project, it helped me discover and embrace who I truly was. It made me feel strong in my identity and showed me how unique I am. I felt a sense of freedom.
Professor Gene Poor at BGSU always talked about having the "entrepreneurial spirit" and explained that it's something you either have, or you don't. That always stuck with me.
Looking back on my life, I realize I've always had that internal entrepreneurial drive, so naturally after completing that project and realizing how impactful it was for me, I knew I wanted to share that experience somehow so others could feel it too."
The experience at the Hatch- what did that mean for you?
"My senior year at BGSU I participated in the annual entrepreneurial program, the Hatch, which at the time was in its third year. I would describe my Hatch experience as a complete whirlwind. I took the process very seriously the entire time and worked my tail off. At the same time, I was finishing up my senior graphic design portfolio, working through my final senior thesis project and then developing my business plan. It was a lot of sleepless nights and a ton of work, but going into the Hatch pitch made it all worth it. I'm introverted by nature ,so getting up in front of a couple thousand people at the Stroh Center was not exactly easy. I honestly refer to it as an out of body experience. I was so nervous, but I had prepared and did everything I could to get ready for that day. Watch the full Hatch pitch here.
Ultimately I look at the Hatch as an opportunity that gave me a crash course in entrepreneurship. That was the stepping stone that really gave me the confidence to go out and chase down this "dream" after college and become and entrepreneur. It gave me the confidence to say, 'Yeah. I can do this.'
My pitch resonated with the investor panel, and after the pitch was over they told me that this is only the beginning and that I needed to go prove the concept first. Just like everything else, I took that advice quite seriously and haven't looked back since!"
The icon designs- how'd you come up with those?
"Don't let their simplicity fool you. All of the icons are derived from a careful process of research and design. Each personality trait design was chosen from multiple rounds of market research and surveys. Myself and another design created over 900 different sketches and iterations, making hundreds of decisions to arrive at what the designs are today!
What really makes them special is that behind each design is a different experience and meaning that can't be replicated by another.
There's no doubt that each icon is one-of-a-kind. This uniqueness extends itself to our personalities and individuality. Sure, a cute artist's palette charm might say 'I like painting', but that little metal board fails to tell others that creativity extends beyond the canvas, into someone's job at a marketing agency."
How'd you come up with your first product? Tell us about that process.
"This is actually something I believe that makes my story different from other jewelry designers. Remember how I mentioned that the first product I created from my class project was a dress? Well, that was actually more along the lines of my original concept. I envisioned an app that would take personality trait icons and create a custom pattern for each customer that would be printed on wearable merchandise and accessories.
I realized how restrictive the custom apparel business was, and thought, 'I need to get these designs into the world to create brand awareness.' I actually remember my first thought being 'What about keychains?'
From there I arrived at jewelry, looked at the competitive landscape, and learned everything I could about jewelry making, metals, materials, processes- literally everything I could. Before I started this process I knew absolutely nothing about jewelry making. Many jewelry designers say things like 'I've been making jewelry on a table in my basement and tinkering around since I was twelve,' or something along those lines. Not in my case! It turns out jewelry is just the best vehicle for this visual communication and concept.
What started as just a proof of concept became a full concept that a scale-able business could be built around: a jewelry line!"
What makes you so passionate about encouraging others to know their value and embrace what makes them unique?
"This is important to me because I believe it's something that we all struggle with at one point in our lives. Who am I? What makes me different? What is my true identity? There are a lot of pressures in society, and social media has made it even easier to play the comparison game. This leaves a lot of us to feel inadequate. Whether it be we need to dress better, decorate our house better, our children need to be more put together, or we need to look and act a certain way. Instead, I want to give people a little piece of positivity among all of those pressures to remember that they have strengths and a UNIQUE personality that they need to remember and embrace. When our pieces are given as a gift, it's a direct reminder that shows exactly why you love and cherish someone for exactly who they are.
This brand started out as my journey and my business concept, but it has already had an impact greater than I had ever imagined. I hear customer experiences about how our pieces have made an impact in their lives, and that really is what keeps me motivated each day."
We have to ask, what traits stand out to you or how would you describe your personality?
"I think this is one of my most dominant traits. I think every entrepreneur has to be ambitious. They have to be hungry and driven to keep striving for the best and to reach that next goal. Building a business is hard, it takes everything you and more and I like to describe it as an absolute roller coaster. I feel like if I wasn't as ambitious as I am it would be difficult for me to stay motivated to work towards building the business every single day."
"I've been told that I'm extremely tenacious and determined and I couldn't agree more. Others may say I'm stubborn, and yes, they couldn't be more right. While being stubborn and determined can be seen as a negative quality, it is also the exact character trait that keeps me on this entrepreneurial path. When I want something I go after it and stay extremely determined until I meet whatever goal it is I set my mind to."
"I've always been creative, since I was very young. When I was a little girl I always wanted to grow up and be an artist, then in high school I knew I wanted to to into Graphic Design and that's exactly what I did. I believe that being creative isn't always necessarily what it means in the traditional sense of the word. I think it runs much deeper than that and is about observation. I'm an introverted person, and observer. I take in the world around me, and have a natural curiosity about things, I think I'm creative in the way that I problem solve and approach a challenge. Being a creative individual is at the very center of who I am."
What are some major milestones you've accomplished to date?
"We've made a couple of moves/upgrades in offices spaces since we started. A small cubby of an office with just myself, to a beautiful 600 sq. foot studio space on 8th St. downtown Holland, to a full size 1800 sq. foot industrial suite in Grand Rapids. We moved to the new location this past December which allowed us to put our office, fulfillment, and production all under one roof- a huge milestone. A couple other milestones we've accomplished include on-boarding 40 retailers primarily in the Midwest with a couple scattered across the US. We launched an additional product line of necklaces in 2017 and a full bridal collection last year. Our products have never been better than they are today and we've recently started a new lifetime guarantee for all our customers as well!"
Goals for the future? Where do you see Pieces of Me in 5 years?
"My goals for the future are to continue to expand the jewelry collection, with plans of launching new products this year. I want to grow Pieces of Me to be a nationally recognized brand that transforms lives across the globe. I see our jewelry in every corner of the US, and maybe even in a larger retailers such as Nordstrom. After building up the brand around the jewelry collection, I see Pieces of Me adding additional product lines that all revolve around the same concept of representing in individual's personalities and giving unique positive experiences to all our customers and beyond."