Can selling jewelry change the world? Maybe not, but it can certainly change the employment outlook for thousands of women looking for a great side hustle in between, say, packing the kids’ lunches and dropping them off at soccer practice. So thought Jessica Herrin, an entrepreneur who had previously founded the Wedding Channel, when she bumped into a cohort of bubblegum-pink-clad Mary Kay reps in a hotel elevator about a dozen years ago.
“I recognized it was about so much more than selling makeup; it was a way to get women in the workforce that let them balance that with a family and get extra money,” says Herrin, who is based in San Francisco. She started thinking how to take that business model and make it better, more modern and more empowering for today’s women. After a few years of making jewelry on nights and weekends, building a website, hosting trunk shows in friends’ living rooms, then recruiting others to do the same, Herrin’s faith in what she started calling social selling grew. In 2007, with two daughters under age 3, she branded her efforts as Stella & Dot.
The company has grown phenomenally since then, both in its product offerings and in the number of independent “stylists” who sell them online and at traditional trunk shows. Now Stella & Dot counts 50,000 stylists in six countries, and 500 employees at its home office, among its ranks. Through it all, though, the company’s core mission hasn’t changed.
“What has held true over the years is that it’s been about creating a modern, flexible way to earn and be part of a community in which women feel excited and appreciated and growing in their professional development,” says Herrin, whose 2016 book, Find Your Extraordinary, drives home this message of empowerment through entrepreneurship. “It’s about creating financial freedom so that women have more choices.”
“When you hear our success story, it sounds like the rocket ship went straight up, but the reality is that every overnight success takes seven to 10 years. It’s not a straight line; it looks like an Etch A Sketch by a 4-year-old. The first few years were hard and slow, and I did everything myself and did it around having a family. But I think that is what has made me best understand and serve our mission: I am the woman we’re trying to serve. I am the woman trying to find balance between passion, work and life. It took me six years before I got a paycheck.”
“We wanted to extend our vision to the causes that are most important to our community of sellers and hostesses. [The Stella & Dot Foundation] focuses on causes that empower women through economic and educational empowerment and health-related causes. About 80 percent of Stella & Dot sellers have children under age 5, and some of those are special-needs children. We support autism in April, we support breast cancer in October, and I got to go on a school-building mission with Build On in Nicaragua, which our foundation helped pay for. It was incredible, meeting the children who were going to get an education because of the work our community does.”
“I want to do my best job for the women in our community. I want to keep reinventing for them, and I’ve never been more excited or optimistic about the difference we are going to make. This past week, I’ve been in Vancouver, Vegas and Houston talking to our business owners. They have dreams, and they have things they want to make happen in their lives. I’m incredibly motivated to help them do that.”