DALLAS – North Texas moms and entrepreneurs Allie Wardlaw and Bess Callarman entered the jewelry business with the world stacked against them.
Wardlaw and Callarman started Allie + Bess in August 2019 – only months before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered shopping habits.
The jewelry-making duo met while working as therapists at Traymore nursing home in Dallas, and became fast friends, bonding over their shared love of fashion. They’re known for their signature bracelet stacks.
The bracelets “were intended just for ourselves, and then our friends started seeing them and kept asking us where they’re from,” said Callarman, 39, of Dallas.
The pair each invested $50 to buy beads and they began making stretch bracelets to appeal to busy moms.
“Pretty much all I wore was bracelets because … kids pull on necklaces when you’re holding them,” said Wardlaw, 36, of Richardson. “We started with stretch bracelets for the ease of it. I’m not going to take time, when I have three kids, to clasp jewelry. That’s not functional.”
When friends and family started buying what they made, they launched an Instagram account. Initially setting their sights on being sold in high-end boutiques, Callarman said they had “zero intentions” of turning the social media platform into a source of product sales.
“We were just kind of playing around and seeing what we could do,” Wardlaw said.
New followers started asking about buying the bracelets, leading them to launch Instagram-driven sales through direct messages for a six-month period, Callarman said.
They set out to find wholesale accounts, the first of which was a successful pop-up event at Dallas luxury retailer Stanley Korshak, Callarman said. But when consumer buying habits shifted during the pandemic, they opted to sell directly to customers.
“When the pandemic hit, no one was buying wholesale. Stores weren’t buying anything,” Callarman said. “So we literally, within a week, created a website, and got the website up and going.”
The pair views their lack of traditional business experience as an advantage, allowing them to “develop new ways to do things and think about things differently than most people do,” Callarman said.
Their approach is succeeding, with sales topping $1.7 million last year. Allie + Bess is on pace to exceed $2.5 million this year.
“We’ve doubled [in sales] every year. I think we would like to just keep on growing,” Callarman said.Stringing communities together
Their bracelets are made from beads sourced from India, Asia and Africa, as well as others produced specifically for Allie + Bess. Some are vulcanite, a material made of repurposed vinyl records.
“We want to offer the consumer new and unique things,” Callarman said.
At the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, a friend recommended trademarking their products, Wardlaw said. Both founders are mothers with young children, so they incorporated five black beads into their trademark, representing Callarman’s two kids and Wardlaw’s three.
As demand for bracelets increased, Callarman and Wardlaw expanded their administrative and production teams. They wanted to have a positive impact on the community so they chose to hire four local refugees to assemble the bracelets.
“Everything we do is visual. You don’t have to speak a [certain] language to be able to work for us. It’s all a visual art,” Callarman said. “It creates a more inclusive work environment.”
Their community outreach also extends to local charities, including Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support. The company recently created a partnership with Genesis that lets children at the shelter design a bracelet that Allie + Bess will sell. A portion of the proceeds from each bracelet sold goes directly to Genesis, supporting the brand’s goal to give back to women and children.Social success
The @shopalliebess Instagram account now has more than 45,000 followers. Callarman said the brand’s online presence is “much more intentional” now compared with their early efforts.
“Social media is ever-changing. It’s just always evolving, and we have to evolve with it,” Callarman said. “Because we don’t come from a traditional business background, we like evolution. We like change. We thrive on it.”
Allie + Bess often features products in stylized or fashion photos, rather than straightforward product shots, which helps customers visualize how to style their own bracelet stacks, Callarman said. The founders and some of their children show up in their Instagram feed as well.
“People know who they’re buying from because we are very present on stories,” Wardlaw said. “We are very much involved in it and get to know people.”
They also quickly got to know social media influencers, partnering with more than 75 who wear their products. Wardlaw said influencers “have carried us to where we are today”.
“Most of our influencer marketing is gifted, it’s not paid. We really do believe in the word of mouth and our product, kind of, standing on its own,” Callarman said.
The company recently launched an ambassador program that gives affiliates a chance to earn profits on sales and referrals, as well as potentially earning free gifts or being featured on the brand’s channels. It took on almost 20 ambassadors in the first month.
“It’s interesting and amazing at the same time, because we spent so long just kind of winging it,” Wardlaw said.
While most customers shop Allie + Bess online, its jewelry can also be found in select pop-ups, as well as at its office headquarters in Dallas, where customers can pick up orders or shop the newest collections in person.©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit at dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC