Happy New Year everyone!
Hope everyone’s had a great time with the family and wishing everyone a spectacular and blessed 2015 ahead.
I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks preparing and participating in several celebrations- weddings, engagements, holidays, etc… they say when it rains, it pours. Naturally, I was on the hunt for accessories to match my outfits. But since our celebrations are always Somalian, I always try to look for anything that would take me back home while preserving my genuine pleasure in supporting everything that is ‘locally sourced’.
It has been a while since I visited Somalia but just the look of a print can instantly send me back to the mother land. Although Somali jewelry has strong Middle Eastern influence, rather than the traditional central and west African prints, I couldn’t help but to feel as if I was back in the Somali sun looking through Ali’s Collection’s new Out of Africa collection. Some of her gold pieces are things I can find in my mothers and aunts jewelry boxes. Her inspiration is clear, vision is spot on and she captures the spirit of Africa uniquely. Fortunate to speak to this inspiring, up and coming jewellery star, get to know Alicia Mohr of Ali’s Collection– a local US & Chicago based jewellery designer making us proud.
Who is Ali; her story
AM: Always on the move. I always have some crazy project in the works or I’m flying somewhere to discover something new. Life is short and I want mine to be exciting, interesting, challenging and ever changing. At the end of the day, it’s up to me to make that happen.
I grew up in a very small town in Vermont. The small town environment, and being an only child, really nurtured my creative side. In other words, there wasn’t much to do so I was forced to create my own fun. I spent a lot of time making jewellery and building forts in the woods. People are usually surprised about the fort building part, but I really appreciate nature and I still love a good camping trip. My hometown also fuelled my love of sports. Our town was very sport centric and Friday night football games were a social event. Organized sports are full of life lessons and I credit them with teaching me many skills that I use daily as an entrepreneur.
When I graduated from college I pursued a career in marketing in New York City. I spent 4 years at L’Oreal and worked my way up to a Marketing Manager position within their luxury products division. Then we returned to Chicago where I took on another marketing role at a wine company before looking for inspiration at DonorsChoose.org, where I was the Director of central and south regions pursuing corporate partnerships and courting VIPS. My time at DonorsChoose.org inspired my AccessRAISING ® program.
And what is the AccessRAISING ® program?
AM: I think all companies big and small should give back and use their resources to make the world a better place. Through our AccessRAISING ® program, any accredited charity or individual raising money for an accredited charity can request a unique code to help aid their fundraising efforts. Every time the code is entered on www.aliscollection.com, the customer receives free shipping and 25% of the retail price is earmarked for the charity. This is my way of supporting organizations that are important to my customers. It was also important to me that the program be very transparent. Customers know exactly what amount is being donated on their behalf; it’s not a vague percentage of proceeds number. It’s a percentage of the retail price. To date we have made over $25,000 worth of monetary and in-kind donations and we hope to aggressively grow that number.
When did you say to yourself.. “I want to design jewelry?”
AM: It has always been a big hobby, but I didn’t start to think that I could make a living designing jewelry until a few years ago. I didn’t have a huge plan in place. I wanted to be independent and start a company, constantly looking for my “big idea”. But I kept coming back to jewelry. I love the transformative power of accessories and I thought I could bring unique designs to the table even though it was already a very saturated space. I wanted to focus on high quality materials and make the pieces affordable. And I wanted there to be a significant charity component.
Your designs are unique with an unusual mix of nature: leather, stones, metals… where do you pull your inspiration?
AM: The truth is, everywhere. I am always looking to find beauty and inspiration in everyday things. I recently remodeled a home and there were so many interesting utilitarian pieces that I discovered throughout the process. Plumbing valves have such a cool shape, a spiral of concentric cylinders. I used the shape for earrings and necklaces.
Travel is another main source. You discover so many new things while traveling, especially abroad. Morocco, Malaysia, Thailand and China brought me tons of ideas. The colors, the patterns, the landscape, these countries are just overflowing with visual stimulation.
Physics is also a main source. I love employing unique movements to pieces to allow their presence to change while you wear them.
Nature and the materials themselves round out my top sources of inspiration.
Can you expand on what you mean by “Physics” when it comes to jewellery design?
Is there any scientific backup as to how these stones may have special healing or mineral powers?Just as with many alternative medicines or healing practices, there is little scientific proof that the therapies actually work, but I don’t think that means they aren’t worth trying.
Taking the leap to start your own business in an over crowded market space is always risky, how did you prepare yourself for the unknown?
AM: Through a lot of hard work and research. There was a big learning curve for everything, but I would try different approaches until I found ones that worked. I think I had three different website platforms the first year. I read as much as could – Inc Magazine, blogs, business books, etc. And I asked a lot of questions. I’m self-funded so my budget was small and I couldn’t do everything at once, but that was OK because I didn’t want to grow too fast. After I had my first collection complete, I started testing the market cold calling boutiques and applying for shows. I still do a lot of cold calling. You never really stop hustling. Sometimes it’s hard to find the energy to keep going. There will be days with lots of “nos”, but the buck stops with you so you have to set goals and celebrate the small wins.
Being from Africa, I love your african inspired collection 🙂 Why Africa & what is your favorite piece?
AM: It’s between the Simba Necklace and the Black Magic Cuff. I love the pop of color from the West African Trade beads (aka vinyl record beads that made their way from Germany to West Africa as a form of trade currency) and the gold quartz that fans out like a lion’s mane (hence the name) of the Simba Necklace, but the Black Magic Cuff is probably the piece I wear the most. I am fascinated by the influence of witchcraft/black magic in African culture. There is so much history and meaning behind their jewelry and customs.
Most entrepreneurs need goals to focus on their growth. What are goals have you set up for your business?
AM: Quality. My main goal is to keep growing my business, without sacrificing quality. I use sterling silver and 14kt gold fill chains, not brass chains that would help me keep my prices low. There is a lot of pressure to drop prices more and more these days and use cheaper and cheaper materials, but I know that many of my customers appreciate the fact that I am not sacrificing the quality of my materials to offer the lowest price. I will never be the cheapest brand out there, but the line is still very affordable with all pieces under $150. In the next 5 years, I am hoping to me in more boutiques with clientele that appreciate my passion for design, quality, use of natural elements and more.
My entrepreneurial journey taught me many things and here’s what I can share: Don’t let others decide what is right for you. It’s easy for people to be critical of others’ ideas, choices, paths and dreams. It’s harder to walk to a beat of a different drum and be true to your self, but it’s so worth it in the end.
Everyone in fashion has a role model. Who is yours?
AM: Alber Elbaz – He pushes boundaries and is constantly innovating. I love how some of his pieces have a very intense edginess, while others will incorporate his tongue and cheek sense of humor. He’s a true creative.
My husband and I fell in love with Chicago while attending Northwestern University. It’s a beautiful, grounded city that is full of culture. My husband’s family and my extended family reside in the Midwest as well. It’s nice to have them close. We loved living in New York, but I missed having green space and the constant stimulation in NY sometimes made it hard to truly live and enjoy life. I go back to New York about three times a year and get my fix, but I love having a yard where my dogs can play and a beach I can walk along in the mornings to come home to.
Most people that moved from NY would solidly agree; but did Chicago help with your growth?
I have been lucky enough to find great retail partners who truly want local designers to succeed. The current retail environment favors big box stores that have the means to heavily discount their inventory, but small boutiques are where you will really find the true, unique treasurers. We are always planning events to support the local community together, such as our charity event at Comfort Me boutique this month where 25% of sales will go to Roll Over Animal Rescue; the rescue from which we adopted our second dog, Hercules.
As a curated tastemaker- what are your Chicago hotspots?
I live in Evanston and love how it has evolved over the past few years. We have awesome gems with many more opening soon. The Peckish Pig, Ward 8 and Temperance Brewery are a few of our new favorite spots. We love trying new restaurants in the city as well and recently had excellent meals at Bohemian House and Goosefoot. As far as shopping goes, I only sell my jewelry at boutiques that I would shop at as well and I can highly recommend Milk Handmade, Comfort Me, Hasana, Stumble and Relish, Talia and Turley Road for unique finds. I have been on a major decorating kick lately. For amazing deals on mid century furnishings, you can’t go wrong with Brownstone or Mercantile M in Andersonville.
… and where do you take your visitors? (not stalking!)
I don’t know if I could choose just one. We love a great comedy club and often take guests to Second City or Zanies. For museums I would pick the MCA, where we got married. We also love a good game of bowling or shuffle puck and were regulars at Lincoln Square Lanes even before the renovation. And you can’t go wrong taking in a set at the Green Mill. I would tell out of towners- it’s a food lovers paradise, so come hungry!
Lastly, our magic question 🙂 the ONE quote you live by?
Someone once gave me a piece of advice that always stuck with me, ‘You are in charge of your own happiness.’, very simple and very true. I read this quote recently in a Scarlet Johannson interview in Marie Claire and I thought it was fantastic. I don’t know who Aunt Mame is, but one thing’s for sure, she’s brilliant!
“Live. Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” – Auntie Mame
To shop for Ali’s Collection, Visit her Website Here.
Photographs by the talented Jordan Frey
Location: River North, Chicago IL