Reproduced from AtlantaPost.com
JUNE 08, 2011 by Mary Worrell
Originally from a small town in Virginia, Shannon Saint Clair has applied the craft, design, and sewing skills she learned from her mother to a jewelry business that has more than tripled in sales in as many years.
Saint Clair is the wife of NFL player John Saint Clair and started her custom jewelry business in 2008, catering to high-profile sport and celebrity clients. Her love of design and fashion started at an early age, when she chose to stay in her room and sketch designs rather than play outside.
“My mom taught me how to sew and I used to make jewelry out of seashells and moldable plastic to sell in craft shows with my mom,” Saint Clair said. “I wanted to go to the Art Institute and major in fashion design, but my parents refused.”
They wanted something a little more “realistic” for their daughter, Saint Clair said, and so she attended the University of Virginia where she met her husband John Saint Clair. After college, Saint Clair got a job with a real estate firm in St. Louis as marketing coordinator and later used that experience to open her own company in 2003. During that time she was still making things and designing, never leaving her passion behind.
With a husband playing professional football, Saint Clair found herself at professional football games often, alongside wives and partners of the players. She sewed her own tube-top from jersey shorts to support the team and it wasn’t long before other women at the games wanted Saint Clair to custom-make the tops for them.
In 2004, Saint Clair and her husband moved to Miami and that same year she started the jewelry company that has been growing ever since.
“I found a supplier and started designing things. I put up a website, used my name, and made cards and flyers. That’s how it started,” she said. “I passed cards out to the player’s association and did trade shows.”
Saint Clair has had a boost from her husband’s network of NFL players and industry types, but the bigger boost seems to have come from the company’s marketing model. ”I was encouraged to start a Facebook page, but I hadn’t even joined then. It’s amazing what Facebook can do. I’ve made thousands of dollars in sales from Facebook,” she said.
Photography is another hobby of Saint Clair’s. She does her own photo shoots with models to display her new designs. A quick scan of ShannonSaintClair.com and you can see the designer hasn’t missed a chance to snap photos of celebrities and sports players wearing her designs.
“Every time I snap a picture, I post them to Facebook and tag that person. It’s free advertising to that person’s friends and their friends call you,” she said. “It allows people to advertise for you.”
While the company’s sales have grown exponentially since its start in 2008, Saint Clair still ran into some of the typical entrepreneurial challenges.
“It’s a big time commitment. Facebook in itself is time consuming. Taking pictures. Trying to find enough hours in the day. What events to get involved with,” she said. “But it’s rewarding when you try to do as much as you can yourself that you really have a grasp on your entire company. I can really say I do everything.”
Being protective of her business and discerning is something Saint Clair made sure of from the beginning and is one of the reasons she handles much of the business herself. With a husband in the NFL, plenty of people have tried to approach the couple with business opportunities and other ways of taking advantage of their social status.
“I’m very guarded. With my husband as a player, everyone is trying to sell him something, but I can see right through that,” she said. “I have freedom. I started my company myself and can work at my own pace and didn’t start it with the idea that I’m supporting the family. I started my company as a passion and had the freedom I know a lot of other people don’t have. I know I’m blessed.”
Saint Clair did recently hire a publicist to work during Miami fashion week given how busy that time can be for a new designer, but she is still careful about outsourcing much of her business. ”Companies can make mistakes when they hire a lot of people to do other things,” she said. “I’ve had time to get to know my company and I know what I want.”
Saint Clair also said sourcing materials for the jewelry, with millions of choices, was a big challenge in the beginning. ”You’re sitting down to make something not only you like but what others will like,” she said.
The business started with jewelry for women and Saint Clair toyed with the idea of launching a men’s line, but was cautious. She wasn’t sure how well it would do. Her husband played a part in getting the men’s line launched in 2010, which has become the most popular and best-selling branch of the business.
“He gives me design ideas and knows what men want. He can give me ideas for items, markets, and trends,” she said. “He’s very business-minded and is usually there with me at events and trade shows. Men are my best customers. Who would have thought?”
Prices for Saint Clair’s jewelry can vary from between $100 and $800. She is launching a web store, but also has her designs in boutiques and even a nightclub in Miami. Part of the allure of her designs is the exclusivity and she is cautious about expanding too quickly and losing that part of her brand.
“My long-term goals are to get in a department store with several hundred units, which would require employees to produce,” she said. “I want to get them in New York and Los Angeles in boutiques. I’m always looking for new markets.”