I am so excited to feature Laura James as this week’s Smarty Mom. I met Laura around 10 or 11 years ago in a couples’ bible study. We had such a fun group of newly married couples that met together back then. This was actually about the time that Laura was starting her own jewelry business. It was so fun to hear about Laura starting the business at her home and watching as it quickly took off. The passion Laura had for her jewelry making was evident early on and so was her talent. She quickly became very busy and her creations were in high demand. She outgrew her space at home and well, I’ll let her tell you the rest.
The thing about Laura is that she is not merely an amazing jewelry designer, she is also an amazing person, wife, mother, friend, and so much more. If you’ve ever met her, you’d agree with me that Laura truly has a bright spirit. There is something about this woman that truly glows. Watching Laura become a mother these past two and half years has been so fun to see. What is also neat is that Laura is able to continue with her jewelry passion and balance motherhood too. So have fun getting to know more about my friend, Laura James and if you’re ever in Dilworth, stop by and see her. You’ll see some amazing jewelry, but you’ll also meet a very special woman.
Smarty Mom: Laura James
Smarty Mom Stats:
Married to: Jason James 11 years
Children: Lila- 2 1/2 years old
Lived in Charlotte: 15 years
Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi
Alma Mater: Undergrad: Ole Miss, Jackson, Mississippi – majored in Fashion Merchandising & Business. Post-Grade: Penland School of Craft in Asheville for Metalsmithing
Occupation: Owner/Designer of Laura James Jewelry
Tell us about how your love for jewelry that brought you to where you are with Laura James Jewelry today?
My love for jewelry started very early as a child when my father would always give my mother and I jewelry for gifts. I also found excitement sifting through both her and my Grandmother’s jewelry box, wanting to know the story behind each piece of jewelry. That is why I am drawn most to antique or vintage jewelry- something with a history is much more interesting to me. 11 years ago I had a memory of when I used to take apart my jewelry when I was about 6 years old with my father’s tools and I just acted on it… so, in 2004 I bought some tools and started to rework my own jewelry. People would ask me when I wore it where it came from and where they could buy it. Local and National boutiques started carrying it, and soon I had quit my job to work on Laura James Jewelry full time. In 2007 my jewelry was featured in Lucky Magazine and others like Real Simple Magazine, the Today Show, etc followed which was very exciting and really launched my brand. By 2009 I was able to open the Laura James Jewelry Studio Boutique in Dilworth, where I am today!
Tell us more about your boutique/studio. I think it is so neat they are both together.
My Studio Boutique is my favorite part of my jewelry business. I designed it around my favorite childhood artist, Mildred Wolfe’s studio in Mississippi. Hers was open so that you could actually see her working and painting her delicate pieces of pottery. I loved that you could feel that connection with the artist, so that is why I also made mine an open studio. People are able to shop my jewelry in person year ’round, customize their own piece of jewelry, or bring in family keepsakes for an upfit. I truly enjoy letting my customers have input- I even had one husband sit down in my studio and basically create a necklace for his upcoming anniversary. I even took a photo to show his wife that really happened! It was very sweet and special, not to mention thoughtful. That is the best part of my Studio Boutique- the interaction I get to have with my customers. Many husbands have started bringing their kids up to my store and they pick out a piece of jewelry for Mom together. I have several regular customers who do this every year for Mom- it is now their family tradition and I love that I can be a part of that.
Where do you find your vintage items and other pieces you use?
I have been acquiring my vintage treasures, components and stones for years. In the beginning, it was through Flea Markets and Jewelry Shows, but I now have buyers in the business who will come up to my studio to show me the latest, and that is much easier for me than trying to travel all around. I still enjoy the occasional Gem Show, though! It’s always fun to find new stones to add in.
Share with us something you’ve learned about yourself from owning your own business.
Something I have learned about myself from owning my own business is how hard I can be on myself. When it’s your business, you have no one else to blame if things go awry, so you beat yourself up if things fall through the cracks or don’t work out. It took me a good while to finally be kinder to myself and more forgiving. To stop striving for perfection all of the time and to allow myself to realize that I am human, and what I am able to achieve at that time is enough and to be content with that.
What is the most fun part of your job?
The most fun part of my job is playing in jewelry all day long! Curating new designers to carry in my boutique is an absolute blast. I love finding new talent that no one else in town carries and offering it in my studio. This Artisan collection is always evolving- from trendier items to diamonds set in 14karat gold. I am constantly adding new interesting jewelry lines outside of my own designs to my store to keep things fun and fresh. You can come to my store on a Tuesday and return on Saturday and find all sorts of new jewels.
What is the most challenging?
The most challenging part of my job is keeping up with all of the social media responsibilities and website in addition to crafting each piece of jewelry by hand. It’s very hard to do it all! Many times the new jewelry I am photographing for my website will sell that very day, so that it never even makes it onto the site. I have encouraged people to check our Facebook and Instagram pages before the website, since the most current pieces are posted there first. The website is now more of a snapshot of what is in the store. There is much, much more to see and shop in my boutique.
I know you can customize pieces for clients, share with us some of the more memorable creations you’ve put together for clients. There’s always a great story about old jewelry… One of my favorite pieces was one that a Grandfather had me create for his Grand-daughter. She had always called him her “Squirrel” since she was a baby, so he asked if I could locate a Squirrel charm for him and create a necklace out of it using some family chains that weren’t being worn by his wife. I was able to track a charm down and create the necklace and seeing the look on his face when it was ready for him to pick up was priceless. He gave it to his Granddaughter for her Law School Graduation and to this day she still wears it everyday…even in the Courtroom! They have since had me create other pieces with their family jewelry for their other Grandchildren and working with this sweet couple has been one of the most rewarding times for me in my job as a jewelry creator.
How do you balance your life as a wife, mom, and business owner? Any tips for us?
The work/family balance has truly taken some tweaking since my little girl Lila was born in 2013. I have had to learn that though I love what I do, my family has to come first. They are my priority and to truly get to do both, you just have to let some things go or re-arrange. I have to just be OK with being flexible and understand that it is not the end of the world if I have to duck out for an hour unexpectedly should I have to pick my daughter up from school. Luckily, I have such wonderful customers who understand if something comes up, and it is those wonderful people who have truly helped me through the transition, always kind and understanding and with the very helpful phrase “Don’t worry about it, you’re doing the best you can.”
I got a quick glimpse of your new children’s jewelry line the other day. Can you share with us more about that? Why did you decide to add this?
I am really excited to share about my brand new Children’s Collection now in my store! I have had so many people over the years tell me they needed quality jewelry for their kids that didn’t break- and also something that was different. Now that I have my own little girl, the inspiration really came to me through Lila. Each piece is different and unique, just like each child. I incorporate vintage components into the pieces so that I stay true to my brand and use bright, yummy colors. There is something for the more traditional child or the more eclectic child. I definitely incorporate both styles into this collection. The bracelets are $15-20 and the necklaces are primarily $20-35. The best part is that like my other jewelry, you can tweak or customize this collection as well. I am in the process of adding cool earrings for kids to the mix as well.
What is your favorite activity to do with your family (at home and out and about)? My fave family activity in our home would have to be our Sunday morning chocolate chip pancake tradition. When out of the house, I love to go on walks with the three of us, where we can relax, enjoy the fresh air and just be absorbed in all of the cute and funny things Lila is doing and saying these days at two and a half years old. It is truly such a special time.
What’s your favorite family restaurant?
Our favorite family restaurant has actually become the 7th Street Market. Pure Pizza is there as well as all sorts of other yummy vendors and it has become a fun Friday tradition to pick Jason up from work Uptown and head right over the street to the market. They have community tables in the middle and it is just a neat, high energy atmosphere, perfect for bringing the kiddos but plenty of enjoyment for parents, too (yes, there is both a great wine and beer vendor!).
What do you love about living in Charlotte?
There are many things that I love about Charlotte. The Seasons, new energy pumping in at all times, I can get to the Beach or Mountains in a couple of hours and the fact that our airport has direct flights to Mississippi! I can get home without changing planes…with a child, this has never been more appreciated than it is now!
What do you do when you get a few minutes of “me” time?? If a few moments of Me time arise, you’ll find me absorbed in a good book… or getting a pedicure!
What are your guilty pleasures? Guilty pleasures include Sushi, Independent Films and Chocolate Chip Cookies. Vinyasa Yoga is now not only a newfound pleasure for me, but a complete necessity. I don’t know how I have lived without it before.
What is something you could not live without? I could not live without my grandmother’s Opal and Diamond ring that was given to me by my parents when I turned 21. It was a very special gift for me- as a child I would try it on endlessly and it was a complete surprise that my mother parted with it and handed it down to me. I will always treasure it.
Laura James Jewelry
1419 East Blvd Suite K
Charlotte, NC 28203
Store Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11-5 + Sat 11-4