Some might be quick to call Dana Gordon, the founder of and designer behind popular jewelry line Dana Rebecca Designs, lucky.
After all, she grew up on Chicago’s Jewelers Row, the daughter of a well-known family in the diamond industry, and spent her childhood years accompanying her father on sourcing trips. Though Gordon acknowledges the support of her family helped launch her career as a designer, one look at the list of successes she’s racked up since her start–her high-profile celebrity fans, tens of thousands of loyal social media followers, magazine covers, and the retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s that sell her pieces–is enough to win the argument that in Dana’s case, business savvy and a true eye for design have trumped family connections.
Here, we chat with Dana about starting her first line at 16, working with Oprah, and how she almost became a lawyer.
YOU’RE A THIRD-GENERATION JEWELER. WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO GO INTO THE FAMILY BUSINESS?
My family has been in the diamond industry for 40 years on the manufacturing side. I have always been a creative person and I loved crafting as a kid. I had been making beaded jewelry for a long time when I was younger but there was just something about the design process of a diamond piece that always sparked my interest.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE JEWELRY BUSINESS? WHEN DID YOU START TO DESIGN?
At 16, while traveling with my dad on a work trip, I interrupted a creative meeting and he was taken aback. We sat down that night and discussed my interest in creating my own jewelry. He introduced me to a couple of different people in design, which quickly lead to producing my first full collection. I was very lucky to have the support of my dad. During my college years, my plan was to go to law school. But every summer that I was home on break, I was so excited to launch new jewelry collections. After graduating from college, I applied to the Gemological Institute of America, to see if it was what I wanted to do, with law school as an option if it didn’t work out. After completing the 6 month gemological program, I launched Dana Rebecca Designs in May of 2007 and I haven’t looked back since.
WHAT WERE THE EARLY DAYS LIKE?
Simply put, the early days were unknown. I worked out of my dad’s manufacturing factory in Jewelers Row in Chicago. I worked in a small back office, not knowing much except what I had learned in design school and working in a factory, with my dad and brother as my main advisors. While the days in the office were lonely and nerve-racking, the loyalty and friendships developed in those early stages are some of the best relationships I have now. The support was overwhelming. The beginning consisted of a lot of learning and a lot of mistakes. When something happened, it felt like it was the biggest thing in the world. Looking back, I would tell my younger self to relax and take it one step at a time.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST SUCCESS STORY WITH YOUR BUSINESS?
My first Oprah Magazine cover! Being from Chicago, it was one of the defining moments of my career. Seeing my name printed in a magazine was definitely a surreal experience. The following year, I got a call from the producers at HARPO asking if I would take part in Oprah’s Favorite Things during her final season. I’ve been lucky to have so many great things happen at once. After Oprah, Dana Rebecca went from zero to 100!
AS THE OWNER OF THE BUSINESS AND THE DESIGNER OF THE LINE, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS WE MIGHT FIND YOU DOING ON A TYPICAL DAY?
Unlike many other designers, I am very business and marketing oriented, so I am constantly working on the evolution of the brand, not only on the design side. I am very hands-on around the office. Some days I’m packing orders or answering phones, and others I’m traveling to India to oversee production. No task is too small and no day or week is ever the same. I feel blessed to have a team who can keep the schedule going and manage with or without me.
WHAT IS THE JEWELRY DESIGN PROCESS LIKE? HOW DOES A PIECE GO FROM AN IDEA TO A PRODUCT?
I design on a 24/7 basis. I am always thinking about the next piece. If I don’t have a piece of paper and pen, I transcribe my ideas in words on my phone. After that, I send a quick sketch to my team overseas, where I’ll get a scaled drawing back with various angles. We have a wax sample made of the piece and go back and forth with a few more tweaks until the design is perfected. From start to finish, it can anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to see a new design through. There is nothing I love more than watching each piece come to life, from sourcing the stones to opening the package with the finished design.
HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN SOURCING THE STONES AND METALS THAT GO INTO YOUR JEWELRY?
I am very hands-on and personally source each and every stone that is used in my pieces. I travel around the world 4 times a year to find the specific stones I am looking for to create one-of-a-kind or collection pieces.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS?
All my pieces are named after family and friends’ first and middle names because I am always inspired by the women around me. This can often dictate the design itself to fit the lifestyle of the namesake. On a greater scale, I am inspired by my surroundings and my travels: architecture, landscapes, and shapes. Each piece I create has a story and I love sharing that with my customers.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE JEWELRY YOU DESIGN? WHAT MAKES A PIECE UNIQUELY DRD?
I am a firm believer that you should wear what you own. From the very beginning, the goal of DRD has been that jewelry should never sit in a jewelry box reserved for a special occasion. We want the jewelry to feel timeless, classic and functional on a daily basis, morning to night. The DRD girl is a girl that loves to layer and isn’t afraid to mix and match.
YOU RECENTLY HAD A BABY. HOW DO YOU BALANCE MOTHERHOOD AND RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Every day is a new day and a fresh start to figuring out how to balance it all. I make it a priority during busy weeks to find time to be alone with Poppy. I strive to make sure I am the one either picking her up from her crib in the morning or putting her to bed at night. Mom’s put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect all the time and I am absolutely not perfect. You do what works for you and you work with your partner to make sure the balance is there. I can’t make every day perfect but I can start every day with that intention and learn as I go.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO FOLLOW IN YOUR CAREER FOOTSTEPS?
Block out all of the noise and follow your passion. Don’t sacrifice anything just because people tell you otherwise. If something is important to you, don’t let it change. I have found that persistence is truly what sets you apart from everyone else.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Find a passion that makes you jump out of bed in the morning. You have to take the leap and follow your gut. If you make mistakes along the way, you learn and you fix it. There are no words to describe what it’s like seeing a woman pass me on the street in a piece that I’ve created.