Austin Jewelry designer Whitney Woodard may be young, but she’s wise beyond her years. At the age of 17, she started beading handcrafted jewelry pieces and posting photos of her designs on social media, garnering the attention of customers and boutiques. In less than two years, what started out as a hobby became a full-time accessories business known today as Beaded by W. The Austin-based jewelry designer, and Fashion Mingle member, shared with us her experience, inspiration and wise advice for anyone in the fashion industry.
Fashion Mingle: How was the jewelry collection Beaded by W born?
Whitney Woodard: My grandma was always a really cool, hip, and trendy grandma. She taught me how to bead when I was little. Whenever my sisters and I would go to her house, instead of watching TV, she would teach us how to bead—her taking us to the bead stores was something I always looked forward to. It was the second semester of my senior year of high school when I started noticing I was on my phone a lot and I didn’t like that I was like that. I decided to look for a fun, new hobby to keep me occupied. I was at Michael’s Craft Store one day getting a poster board for a school project when I walked by the bead aisle. I saw this really cool peace sign pendant, and decided to buy beads and string to make a necklace for myself with it. I started making jewelry for myself, and then my friends and family started asking me to make some for them! After that, I created an Instagram where people could order in the comments and then I would send them an invoice via email through PayPal.
FM: What are the major challenges you faced as a young creative managing her own accessories business?
WW: I think the hardest thing I have faced is my age. I started Beaded by W when I was 17 (I’m 19 now) and it was really hard to get people to believe in the business and what I was doing, especially when I decided to come home from The University of Oklahoma and do this full time. I made that decision a year ago when I was struggling with time management. I realized I had to make a decision: stop Beaded by W and only do school, or stop school and move back to Austin to figure out the business situation and opportunities. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. It was hard going from a place where my life was so planned out (friends, college degree, job) to coming back to a place where the future was so uncertain. Lots of prayers, family support, alone time, and hope kept my dream alive.
I’ve spent the past year growing and expanding the business. I’m happy to say that we have gone from one girl sitting on her parent’s living room floor beading necklaces for only three stores to a six-room office with over 22 girls working together to create retail orders from our website, as well as wholesale orders for over 60 stores. I’m also taking classes part-time at a local college that will help me learn more about business.
FM: Where do you draw inspiration for your jewelry designs?
WW: I try to pay attention to what is on trend for people my age—seeing what my friends are wearing and what colors girls are drawn to, etc. Austin is also a very trendy city and there are a bunch of local designers. We all love to help each other out with ideas. Pinterest is great too! I usually make inspiration boards when I’m trying to narrow down colors for collections. Pantone’s website is also great for color inspiration.
FM: Social media has proved to be such an integral part of your business. Any advice on creating brand awareness through Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest?
WW: Social media has been huge for growing Beaded by W. I was in yearbook in high school, which helped me with caption writing and photography skills. I would recommend taking photography classes if possible—you learn so much from that. I took some classes from local photography stores. I’ve written some tips on my blog with my tips for Instagram posts.
Don’t post a picture to just post something on social media—every picture should be planned and well thought out. What I learned the most from the classes I took and practice over the past year is that people are attracted to white backgrounds and blue hues. Less is more—don’t add too many products in the picture and avoid long captions. Crisp and clean, short and sweet is the best way to remember before you post something. As far as gaining followers, don’t go and follow a ton of people from other people’s accounts! It doesn’t guarantee a follow back. Giveaways have been great for us. On Fridays, we have Fringe Friday, where we will give away a necklace. The rules are to comment and tag two people for a chance to win and you must be following @beadedbyw to win. Also, bloggers! We try to work with as many bloggers as we can because they are great on social media, and have a following of girls who trust what they post and say about the product they feature. Pinterest has been huge—pin as many pictures of your products on as you can. I’ve actually seen girls wearing Beaded by W who found us from Pinterest.
FM: How did the Beaded by W jewelry line end up in boutiques across the nation?
WW: Word of mouth has been a huge thing for us when gaining stores. I give my friends a ton of business cards, and whenever they are in stores, they will leave a business card on the counter or give it to the owner, which is so nice. We will post on our Instagram for people to tag a store they want to see Beaded by W in. Usually, we find some stores reach out to us from that. Hashtags are important too—stores are utilizing social media to find products nowadays. We will hashtag things like “#tasselnecklace”, “#tasseltrend”, “#handmade”, and “#beadedbyw” on a lot of our pictures so if stores are looking at that hashtag, they will see our products. As far as local stores, I will go by stores with my jewelry, business cards, pricing info, etc. and talk to them about possibly carrying Beaded by W. They’re usually super responsive!
FM: As a successful Austin jewelry designer, what word of advice can you offer designers who are planning to start or expand their fashion business?
WW: If you have an idea, go for it. Failure is not “failure”—look at everything as a lesson and be optimistic. As far as expansion, don’t rush anything. If you don’t think you can handle a certain amount of orders, either decline the offer or find more people to help you with it. It’s better to say no than commit to something and not be able to follow through. Say yes to as many donation offers as you can. It feels good to give back and help as much as you can, and it gets your name out there. Don’t let anyone define you by your age—whether you’re 17 or 60, age is just a number. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of it. I think it is important to have a mentor. I have about four ladies who I look up to and will reach out to with questions whenever I need business advice, life advice, design advice, etc. Lastly, always remember why you started this.
Check out this Austin jewelry designer’s collection at Beaded by W or if you’re in Austin, stop by her #BEadMyValentine trunk show on February 13th at 1613 South Capital of Texas Highway, Suite 205 from 1-5 for tacos, tassels, treats, and 15% off!
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