If it’s true that good things come in small packages, then it’s no surprise that, at 30, 5′ tall jewelry designer Laurel Smith is already a national success. But, ask the Charlottesville native what it feels like to have her Laurel Denise line in more than 150 stores across the U.S.—including Anthropologie’s flagship store in Philadelphia and its Fifth Avenue store in New York—and she’ll be the first to say it feels like a blur. Or, more accurately, a fantasy.
Two years after she graduated from James Madison University with a degree in studio art (and still a bit unsure what to do with it), Smith had a dream in which she saw herself making jewelry incorporating her own handwriting.
“I’d never even seen a Dremel before,” she says. In fact, she rarely wore jewelry herself.
Still, Smith couldn’t escape the idea of creating glass jewelry with words inscribed on it.
“I remember going back after finishing the first one and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. It actually worked!’” she says. “I just had this ‘This is the beginning’ feeling.”
In some ways, it still is the beginning. After only two-and-a-half years as a full-time designer, Smith has expanded to sterling and leather jewelry and is currently at work on a home line, starting with glass bud vases and ornaments, all with her signature handwriting. And her annual calendar, which she’s produced for three years, sells out almost immediately.
Now, she’s sharing the wealth by showing others how to run a business. Smith employs UVA art student Rachel Callahan and local photographer Marcy May Drewes at her home studio.
“[Running a business] really does take a lot more than people think,” she says. “It’s nice to make sure people know they can do it too.”
“I’m very comfortable doing little tiny things; the details.
“My older sister is crazy talented and we were decorating my niece’s nursery, painting fairies on the walls with different scenes for night and day. My sister drew the faces of the fairies and I was painting the details on their dresses and I thought, ‘I’m actually pretty good at this. And it’s fun.’
“I remember crystal clearly those initial steps. It was like a trickling of things…one big store would order some, then I was invited to the wholesale show, then another big store would want to place an order.
“I still have the very first prototype I made, just to remind myself of where I started.
“So many people who just quit everything and start a business, I think, are sometimes faster to react to things that are annoying. Having that full-time job [while starting your own business] really makes me take those things more in stride. Like, ‘Well, at least they e-mailed me back, even if the e-mail was not nice.’
“Charlottesville is my happy place. New York was amazing, but it wasn’t a soft landing spot.”