Culture Shock Jewelry
CEO and designer Christine Alexis says her travels inspired her latest jewelry line, Wanderlust. With the launch of her Women Who Wander scholarship, she is working to give a local female college student the chance to study abroad. This week, Painting With A Twist
, Dat Dog
and Apres Lounge
hold events* and auctions to benefit the scholarship fund. Alexis shared her thoughts on the importance of travel and the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur.
You've said traveling helped you appreciate your own culture more. How did your perspective change?
Having lived in New Orleans my entire life, I took our culture for granted. However, after living abroad, I began to appreciate everything about New Orleans — the food, amazing architecture, music and laid-back attitude. I honestly think that’s what traveling is all about — finding yourself while getting lost.
Was it hard to take the leap from sourcing jewelry to designing your own line?
Yes. It was very scary and there were moments when I experienced self doubt and asked myself what the heck I was getting myself into. I am self-taught and do not have any design experience. When I began designing my first collection, I experienced a steep learning curve, and there are aspects to the design process that I am still learning. But hey, if you’re not challenging yourself you’re not growing.
What is your goal for Culture Shock?
My ultimate goal is to be the next Tory Burch of internationally inspired jewelry. Long term, I would like to expand the brand to include other accessories besides jewelry and eventually open a retail location. Short term, I plan to get my product into retail stores and showrooms.
In addition to being designer and CEO of Culture Shock, you also blog and work for the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce as director of marketing. How do you balance these multiple roles?
Luckily, my full-time job at the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce is supportive of Culture Shock. I will sometimes even go to my boss to ask for advice with managing employees and scaling the company. However, having a full-time job and a business is hard. I don’t really have a routine, and typically go to work for eight hours, then come home and work on Culture Shock for at least six hours. Unfortunately, while I have tried to do the best job that I can at balancing work and a business, my personal life has dramatically suffered. Like most New Orleanians, I come from a very large, close-knit family, and as a result of juggling my full-time job and my business, I have not spent as much time with them as I would like. Balancing all of these aspects of my life is something I'm still trying to master.
How have you used your marketing background to leverage Culture Shock? What do you feel has been your most effective marketing tactic?
Having a marketing background helped Culture Shock more than I could have ever imagined. I've used my marketing background to create my own press kits, press releases and integrated marketing communications strategy. Aside from my marketing experience, I also have a background in graphic design and was able to design our lookbooks, line sheets and all social media graphics. Being able to create our own marketing collateral saved me thousands of dollars. Besides organizing giveaways, I believe that our most effective marketing tactic has been collaborating with brands in similar markets.
Your Kickstarter got a lot of support from local businesses. (Disclosure: I am a sponsor of the Women Who Wander scholarship.) How did you approach them?
I timed our Kickstarter around New Orleans Entrepreneur Week as a way to help generate press coverage and to increase overall awareness. Prior to approaching the businesses, I created a deck with information about the various ways and levels they could support [the business]. I also stalked them! I hate getting a letter with “To Whom It May Concern” because it shows that you didn’t make an effort to learn about my company or myself. So, I made sure that I knew everything about every business that I was approaching — from where they went to high school to where they go on Tuesday nights. I wanted to make sure these companies knew that I chose them for a reason and that I did my homework. When I approached them, I emailed them (a lot) with the deck and Kickstarter video that we created.
It was scary asking them for help, but the hardest part was getting in contact with them. Entrepreneurs are busy people and have a lot to juggle. A while ago, a fellow entrepreneur told me that no response does not necessarily mean no. I took that to heart and kept contacting them via email, phone and even handwritten letters until I received a response.
Your jewelry is affordably priced, which is so refreshing! How did you decide on the price point?
When we did our Kickstarter, we raised money to create our first fine jewelry collection. While the collection was successful, we acquired a new market. We were very happy to have this market, but our loyal customers could not afford our collection. When I created Wanderlust, I knew I wanted this to be extremely affordable and wanted to show my loyal customers I was grateful for their support.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Having a business is like having a child. You must be willing to put the business before yourself, financially and socially.
Will you talk a little bit about the inspiration for your most recent collection?
Sure! When I was in Costa Rica, I bought multiple shirts that said “pura vida” on it as a way of remembering my time there. While I did wear the shirts to my college classes (shameful confession), I could not wear them all of the time. When brainstorming the next Culture Shock collection, I thought about all of the custom requests that I received and decided to create a custom line. A lot of my customers complained that they wanted to tell their travel story but couldn’t and I thought that having a custom option where a customer could request to have their favorite location or geographical coordinates on an item would help them better tell their travel story. I thought that the name Wanderlust was fitting because this collection is the perfect way to help my customers remember the places they visited and get excited for the places they have yet to see.
Anything else you would like to add?
A fellow entrepreneur told me that you are not considered an entrepreneur until you put your blood, sweat and tears into your company. A few months ago I was planning the official Wanderlust shoot, and the night before I was crying out of frustration. Fast forward to the day of the shoot: I was outside organizing the clothes and sweating in this ridiculous New Orleans heat. Once I got the clothes inside, I ran back outside to get the champagne bottles (yes, we drink on our shoots) and of course dropped the bottle on ground and accidentally cut myself. ... That’s when I knew I was officially an entrepreneur. I had finally put my blood, sweat and tears into Culture Shock.
From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, Dat Dog Freret Street donates 10 percent of proceeds to Women Who Wander.
From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, Apres Lounge donates 20 percent of proceeds to Women Who Wander.