Robin Renzi, the designer/owner of Me & Ro jewelry is celebrating her 25th year in business. I also design jewelry and am inspired by Robin’s creativity and longevity in the business. Many of her bohemian designs have become iconic, and her ability to move her company forward, to reinvent and reprioritize when needed, shows her strength and agility as a businesswoman. Her newest venture is a line of silver pieces exclusive to Amazon. While it might seem an odd choice for a fine jewelry designer, Robin knows it’s the wave of the future. Here TFI asks her more:
Please introduce yourself and describe what you do:
I oversee absolutely everything. I design the jewelry, all the product development, and once I decide what I want to make and it’s being made, which is an everyday process, then, it’s how do we market it? We need to photograph it. I love designing but I really love production, it’s so satisfying to get an order and get it out.
What made you choose jewelry?
I remember when I was little being at my Italian grandmother’s house and playing with her diamond rings on the floor….I was enthralled. I loved diamonds and jewelry. My grandmother would go to Italy and come back with costume and gold pieces, once she brought me an Italian horn. I remember my first birthstone ring. My mother and family were basically taught that the best gift to give was love and jewelry. It’s so Italian.
And I always made stuff. I started crocheting in 5th grade, making wiry jewelry in 6th. In 10th grade they had a craft shop in my high school run by this whacky artist couple. I made a bracelet and the teacher entered it into the Boston Arts and Crafts show. It was stolen. I was heartbroken but in some way it was a good omen; someone liked it.
I’m self taught. My parents gave me a tank [a gas tank for soldering] when I was in high school. Even when I went to New York to become a dancer I took my tank with me.
Why did you launch Me & Ro?
I was a dancer, but I stopped dancing because I didn’t want to live the hand-to-mouth dancer life. I wanted to do something lucrative. And my ex-partner [of Me & ro] Michelle Quan was a model, she had never made jewelry, but she shared my passion for it.
When I moved to New York, I worked as the cappuccino girl at Fiorucci and sold jewelry to Maripol [Maripol was the art director of Fiorucci and styled Madonna, Debbie Harry and Grace Jones during the 80s]. I went to Canal Street and got plastic stuff and sold it to Fiorucci and made tons on money. So I had already had a little jewelry business.
I am very entrepreneurial; you have to be.
What came easiest for you when you started Me & Ro?
Making the jewelry!
What was the hardest part than no one warned you about?
No one told me anything. What was really terrible was the money thing. I remember telling Michelle, ‘oh, we only need $2000’. We never had a business plan, we never borrowed money…we could never figure out how to borrow money. I had common sense. You don’t have to be a genius but you have to work your tushy off. And I don’t believe in luck. I think luck is seeing an opportunity and taking it.
The hardest thing for me was the people. I love people; I’m very social. But that wasn’t good, because you want to be everyone’s friend but you have to be the boss. And raising money—never knew about money, never wanted anyone to give me money, never felt I had to ask for it, thought I could do it all on my own. That wasn’t super smart. Though I did it. But it was really hard.
I finally have found someone who is amazing and has become a mentor and she is the only reason I am doing Amazon. But business is tough; hiring people, managing people, training people, figuring out the core structure of the company. You have to be a tiger, and there’s a lot of discrimination against women and that stinks too.
When the market crashed in 2009, I had four stores and 100 employees. I thought ‘this is crazy, I don’t know how I got here’. So I built my website, pulled out of department stores and ultimately got out of wholesale.
I’ve completely revamped and restructured and now we have 20 employees. I think it’s nice to have a smaller company–to take better care of myself and my employees. Before when we started Me & Ro we were always running; we didn’t eat lunch for years, because we were working so hard. But if that’s how it has to be now, I ain’t doing it.
One attribute that helps you succeed?
I have a lot of energy, a lot of energy. And I’m super passionate.
Tell us a little bit about your new venture with Amazon:
I really just wanted freedom in my business. This friend said ‘I’m doing amazingly well with Amazon, it’s the future, it could be a good fit for your brand’. Because she had developed a business with them, we got a meeting. The buyers at Amazon and I agreed on a lot of things.
To me jewelry empowers you to believe in yourself, and I think people are ready for that now. The jewelry for Amazon is about symbolism and inspiration. I am not elitist. I had tried to do jewelry at a lower price point myself, but I refused to go to China. Everything for Amazon is produced in my factory where my fine jewelry is made on 47th Street. It’s really pretty. I think it’s well-designed, made in America and has a really good price point—and Amazon has allowed me to do that. It’s a great opportunity.
You’ve been in business for 25 years, which is amazing. What does that mean to you personally?
You finally just go ‘I did it, I’m sort of good at this’. It feels good. I’m not someone to pat myself on the back, everything moves too quickly, but I love that Me & Ro supports so many charities. I truly believe that if you get, you have to give back in life, in any way you can. And it’s a woman’s company. We do have some amazing men, but it’s basically built by women and run by women–I guess that’s an accomplishment.
Advice to someone starting out in your field:
I would start small. I would do research, I would spend a lot of time being really thoughtful and realistic about what you actually want–how you want to live your life. And that should dictate. It’s a really different world now and bigger is not necessarily better. I think that you have to do what you love. I was willing to go crazy and build this business and work difficult hours and sacrifice all this stuff because I was fueled. It’s incredible that I can make stuff I love that people want to buy, and I can continue to evolve artistically. And that I can support myself doing something that I love? That is my greatest accomplishment.
I like feminist role models and many Buddhist role models. I love when I see Lena Dunham speaking for everything and everyone and she doesn’t really care. I love the idea of Burt’s Bees, how she met the guy, the bee keeper, and created these products. But I don’t have a lot of role models; I am more inspired artistically than by people.
What motivates you?
I’m a big nurturer. I like to take care of people and things. I love beauty and nature. Beautiful Mother Nature, that motivates me. I am a seeker, I like to feed my mind. I consider myself an outsider, so that motivates me–I feel for the underdog. When I worked at Indochine they called me Norma Rae because I was always speaking up for everyone. I’m a doer. I’m not an idle person, I like to get shit done.
Three words that describe you: Emotional, passionate, curious
Three words that describe Me & Ro: Artistic, charitable, sustainable
Life goals: I would like to find a way to be passionate about life, but be less emotional, because I’m very emotional. Is that even possible? I don’t know.
Daily goals: To wake up and be really positive and not let anything take my faith away and my ability to forge through. To take care of myself and my kid, and to be good to my employees and to work as a team. I want to create things, and I want to make sure things are made in a way that we all get something from it. Everything I do has to mean something to me. If not, why bother?
Daily rituals: I meditate every morning and I try to read something before that is good for you brain. If I don’t, I feel like I don’t have a good set of tools to go out in the world and be what I aspire to be. I am also very physical, I do yoga at least three days a week and do a little bit of stretching or something every day. I also like to eat well; I cook every day.
How do you unplug; I go out in nature. It’s very calming, And reading.
Favorite charity: I’ve made pendants and bracelets for many charities: Joyful Heart, NY Presbytarian Sloan Hospital for Women, BAM. We sell them and send them the money.
Favorite Inspirational read: One of my favorite books that I always go back to is Autobiography of a Yogi, by P. Yogananda. It’s the best.. We are our brain, and I feel like my brain needs to have good, refreshing information that takes me out my everyday reality of working.
Hidden talents: I like to cook and play guitar.
Do you collect anything? I have this incredible shell collection that I started when I was 18. I have zillions. And religious iconic things that I mix in with my shells. I have a Buddha and this Ganesh elephant done in sandalwood, which I guess they don’t use anymore, that I got in India.
Coffee/tea: Tea. Organic English Breakfast.
Morning/night: I’ve become a morning person.
Pastels/Primaries: That’s a tough one, I guess pastels.
Manet/Mondrian: Definitely Manet.
Cats/Dogs: I don’t know, I have a cat but I want a dog, I just need a little more time because I know my daughter isn’t going to be walking the dog, I am!
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