As a celebrity jewelry designer, Shannon Saint Clair is not only living out her dreams but representing her Christian faith.
By Sheila Ellis
She got her start selling handmade plastic jewelry at country craft shows with her mother in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
She never imagined her childhood pastime would turn into a lifelong passion and lucrative business.
Shannon Saint Clair, formerly Shannon Shelton and originally from Ridgeway, is a one-woman celebrity jewelry phenom, whose clients include NBA star LeBron James, A-list actors and actresses, Grammy-award winning recording artists and reality show vixens such as Evelyn Lozada.
Saint Clair, who spells out “St.” for business use, is the CEO of the company that bears her name, designer, laborer, social media strategist, publicist and photographer. She is also the wife of veteran professional football player John St. Clair, who got his start in football playing for William Fleming High School in Roanoke.
Make no mistake, Shannon, 34, is not the professional athlete’s wife portrayed on reality shows, flaunting their husbands’ wealth, laying out in the sun, sipping wine all day and using their last name to become “businesswomen” while hiring a team of people to do the work for them.
“I wanted to run my own business myself,” the soft-spoken designer said.
She says a running joke is to ask players’ wives what they do for a living.
“They expect you to say nothing,” she said during an interview in Roanoke recently. “When I tell them I’m a jewelry designer, sometimes they don’t take me seriously. … People think I had it easy, like I just took some of my husband’s money to pay for someone else to run everything.”
Her husband tells the naysayers to “Google her,” she said.
The couple met at the University of Virginia in 1995. She was there studying to become a history teacher. He was a star athlete majoring in anthropology.
She wanted to go away to an arts institute, but her parents, who both retired as teachers in Henry County, wanted her to major in something that would guarantee her a job.
She explains it was the “fate of God” that brought her to UVa. She ended up living in the dorm right in front of John, but they were officially introduced at the bookstore through a mutual friend on the third day of school and became fast friends.
During Christmas break, after upsetting second-ranked Florida State in the 1995 ACC championship game, John got his brother to drive him from Charlottesville to Ridgeway to meet Shannon’s parents. He didn’t only win them over, he won Shannon’s heart.
Shannon wore John’s bulky Peach Bowl ring on her thumb, and they walked around campus hand in hand while other athletes weren’t ready to go steady.
“John was not your typical athlete,” she said. “He was very committed.”
On the day of the 2000 NFL Draft and Shannon’s 23rd birthday, John reserved a few rooms at a Charlottesville hotel and sat with his parents, Shannon and her parents as they awaited his big break. After becoming a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams, Shannon moved to the Midwest with him.
There she landed a job as a marketing coordinator for a real estate company in St. Louis She learned marketing strategies that she’s used to help start her jewelry business.
The offensive lineman has played in two Super Bowls, in 2002 with the Rams and in 2007 with the Bears. In 2009 he signed with the Cleveland Browns. The veteran, at 33, had an 11-year career in the NFL, almost triple the career average for an NFL player.
Behind the scenes, Shannon was creating a buzz herself.
She showed up to a St. Louis Rams game with a tube top made with team jersey shorts. All the wives and girlfriends wanted one like hers, so she began embellishing jersey tops and dresses for players’ wives. From there she returned to her love of jewelry making.
About a year and a half ago she met Miami-based stylist to the stars Leon Frager. He introduced her to his clients and she began creating custom jewelry for R&B vocalist and 2009 “Dancing With the Stars” runner-up, Mya, and women on “Basketball Wives.” Her husband helped her break into the male jewelry market by sporting her pieces.
One of his teammates, Josh Cribbs, wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, said he loves Shannon’s men’s jewelry because it is not “too flashy” and can be worn with anything.
“I call it high-class swag,” he said during a phone interview.
One of her most popular men’s jewelry lines is the faith-based Sanctity Cross bracelets, which start at $115. The bracelets feature a silver or gold plated cross in the middle of a strand of semiprecious beads such as black onxy and hematite. Chicago Bulls point guard and NBA 2011 MVP Derrick Rose has been seen wearing one.
“Sometimes people are afraid to show their faith,” Shannon said. “It’s like you can do or say anything but as soon as you mention Christ you start to lose sales.”
Her sales did just the opposite. They tripled after the Sanctity line came out in July 2010. She continued with her Christian-inspired pieces with God’s Earth necklaces, similar to rosary beads but dressed up with multifaceted stones and gold-plated crosses, and Trinity Bracelets, featuring three gold or sterling silver rods representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Her celeb-enhanced Twitter and Facebook presence has had a positive influence on her business as well.
“I know I am a representative of Christ,” she said. “As long as I continue to represent him he will continue to bless me and my business.”
Cribbs says he wears the Sanctity bracelets almost every day.
“I love the bracelets because the cross is on there,” he said. “When I wear them it signifies my faith and what I believe in.”
Cribbs says his team embraces Shannon and John’s business.
“Many people in the league have their different business ventures, but this is something we stand behind and will see it all the way through,” he said.
Shannon describes her adornments as “edgy, chic, sophisticated, debonair and exotic.” She is careful to use rare and unusual materials for her bracelets, earrings, necklaces and rings such as gold jade, pine stones, peacock feathers, geode and natural quartz crystals.
She spends hours putting a personal touch on her handmade regalia. Her items are sold online at www.shannonsaintclair.com and in several boutiques in Miami, where the couple reside, and a shop in Ohio.
She admits she is very careful of who she lets in her circle — she is running her business by herself with her husband’s help and a recently hired webmaster. She also hired a temporary assistant to help her during Miami Fashion Week in March. As her business continues to grow, she plans to hire a part-time assistant. She says her next venture is bridal couture jewelry.
John, now a free agent amid the NFL lockout, says he is comfortable with retiring after a long professional football career.
He said he plans to continue to support his wife’s jewelry business. During the off-season he travels with her to events. When they are not busy with the family business they come to Roanoke and Martinsville to visit their parents.
“She supported me through my career,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I’m going to support her.”
Shannon says it’s uncommon for professional athletes to switch their attention to their wives’ careers after retirement. But John says Shannon is reaping the benefits of her hard work, and if she is happy, so is he.
“Not everyone gets this chance. I’m very blessed and fulfilled,” she said. “I’m living out my dreams.”