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“It is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.”—Theodore Roosevelt
Inspiration hits entrepreneurs at different times—in the park during lunch, in the shower, or, in the case of Carolyn Rafaelian, in the car driving to Rhode Island after meeting with buyers in New York.
Rafaelian started her jewelry line organically. The daughter of a Providence, Rhode Island, jewelry maker, Rafaelian was working at her father’s company and designing jewelry for herself. Her pieces caught the attention of buyers from top-tier retailers, such as Henri Bendel and Fred Segal. “I was a walking billboard for my company to be,” says Rafaelian.
Of Armenian descent, Rafaelian was particularly drawn to stacks of bangles. “I’ve always worn bangles. It’s synonymous with my culture.” However, the biggest challenge for retailers is that bangles don’t fit everyone. “People are timid about buying them for that reason,” she says.
That’s when inspiration struck. Driving back to Rhode Island, Rafaelian came up with the idea of an expandable bangle. “We had a popular item, an earring called an endless hoop. I took that concept and played around with the way the metal is drawn and looped over,” she says. “I went straight to the factory and worked late into the night.” Rafaelian immediately patented the expandable bangle and incorporated her new company, Alex and Ani, named after her two daughters.
Alex and Ani creates and sells bangle bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and rings, all made from recycled metals from local mills and refineries and all produced in the United States. The collection is designed to “adorn the body, enlighten the mind, and empower the spirit,” Rafaelian says.
Almost overnight, the Alex and Ani collection drew the attention of celebrities, major fashion magazine editors, and department stores and boutiques across the country. To help manage the company’s explosive growth, Rafaelian brought on retired Army officer and businessman Giovanni Feroce as CEO in 2010.
With Feroce’s guidance and Rafaelian’s vision, the company is not only growing—it has opened 9 stores across the country and plans an additional 24 in 2012, has accounts in Japan, the U.K. and Spain, and has gone from 20 employees in 2004 to 200 today—it’s doing it in a way that’s in step with the company’s values, including bringing back an industry.
Rhode Island was once known as the Jewelry Capital of the World. At its peak in 1978, the industry employed 32,500 workers. However, its jewelry companies began to face higher taxes, labor, and production costs, and many moved to Southeast Asia and China. By 2009, the number of jewelry workers had shrunk to 5,214.
“We focus on the triple bottom line: economic, social, and environmental,” Feroce says. “Our Charity by Design division concentrates on charities and giving back. And we’re also making a profit at the end of the day, which we reinvest back into the company by hiring more workers and helping more suppliers grow.”
To share your story, email editor Greg Galdabini at email@example.com.
Company: Alex and Ani
Creator/Designer: Carolyn Rafaelian
Email Address: www.alexandani.com/contact
Address: 115 Pettaconsett Ave., Cranston, RI 02920
Chamber Member since: 2011
Number of Employees: 200