Lausanne Miller has had a long career in fashion, but she only recently made the jump to become a full-time jewelry designer and director of her brand, Shop Lausanne. The brand is entirely focused on what Lausanne calls “demi-fine” jewelry: precious metals plated with a high-quality technique called vermeil. Founded in February 2020, Shop Lausanne has faced more challenges than the typical small business, but in some ways its small size has worked to Lausanne’s advantage. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is entrepreneur and jewelry designer Lausanne Miller, founder of the demi-fine jewelry line Shop Lausanne. She recently debuted a meta collection, and she’ll share her experience launching and expanding her business in a particularly challenging environment. Lausanne, I’m so glad to have you.
Lausanne:Thank you so much, Sharon. I’m really happy to be here and get the opportunity to share a little bit of my story.
Sharon: It’s so great to talk with you. First of all, tell me, are you from Los Angeles? Where are you from?
Lausanne:Actually, I’m from a tiny town in the Midwest in Iowa, but I have been in LA for almost 15 years now.
Sharon: In Los Angeles, that’s a native. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Did you always like jewelry? Did you play with it when you were a little girl?
Lausanne:Sure, yes. I’ve always loved jewelry and anything creative. As a child, I was always drawing, painting, playing with clay. I would be making friendship bracelets at recess with my friends and beaded necklaces and things like that. My mother also loves jewelry. A lot of times on the weekends growing up, we would go out antiquing, but for us antiquing was straight to the jewelry counter. That certainly encouraged an affinity there.
Sharon: I can understand. With antique stores, it’s always straight to the jewelry counter, isn’t it? You spent a lot of time in fashion. Can you tell us about that? Were you working on jewelry? How did you segue into jewelry or decide that’s what you wanted to pursue?
Lausanne:My first career, my first life as they call it sometimes, began in fashion. I studied design. I went to school in Chicago and studied specifically fashion design. Then, the last 13 years, I worked as a designer here in LA about seven years ago, I started with BCBG on their runway collection, which was super exciting, and then onto Guess. I ended up as their design director for the women’s collection for the past six years. It was a great career path, with different product types and different levels. I would say the closest cousin to jewelry within fashion would certainly be the trends and the hardware aspect of it. We developed buttons, zippers, key rings, things like that, where you are dealing with making molds and learning about that process. But I would say the bigger aspect of connection that is similar across the two is the design process itself. It’s really the same, in that you start with a concept or an inspiration. You develop that into a collection and pieces and coordinate it, sketch it out, do the technical part, whether that’s a pattern or plain measurements, specking things out to your first proto-production, and then the cycle continues. It’s very similar. Where I used to deal with fabrics and inches and sweeps, now it’s metals and millimeters, but it’s still a tactile thing. I’m nuts about proportion and fit and feel and aesthetics.
Sharon: Had you been thinking about going out on your own? What prompted it? Was it always in the back of your mind?
Lausanne:It was always in the back of my mind. In hindsight, I didn’t realize how much I had vocalized it, because I had a few people say after I launched, “Oh wow, I remember you talking about this. It’s so cool that you did it,” and I’m thinking, “Wow, the to-do about this quiet, little background dream.” But it was always there brewing. Then the fashion industry started to change and shift in LA, and ultimately there were some shifts at my company. Rather than seeking another corporate job somewhere else and potentially moving, it felt like the universe was giving me that little push to go out and give this a go.
Sharon: It’s a big step, so I give you a lot of credit. I’d give anybody who does it a lot of credit. It seems like you have several lines, and one you describe as a demi-fine jewelry line. Can you tell us what that is? And can you tell us about Shop Lausanne, what your vision is and what you want to communicate through your jewelry?
Lausanne:Yeah, absolutely. In terms of using the term “demi-fine,” that’s a category referencing the quality. It’s all precious metals, and it’s a high-quality technique of plating which is called vermeil. The term vermeil specifies that there has to be a minimum amount of 2.5 microns of gold plating over a sterling silver base. Typically, if something is just described as plated, the problem with that is you don’t really know what it is. Oftentimes, it can only be one micron or less over a brass space. There are a lot of unknowns about exactly what you’re getting there, unless the designer details it out. That’s great, but what I love about vermeil is that you can hit a more attainable price point for something that is really high quality and lasts, versus a piece you love and then wear for a few weeks and the plating’s rubbed off right away, which is so disappointing. That’s what I mean by the demi-fine.
Sharon: Do you have several lines? Is it all demi-fine?
Lausanne:It’s all demi-fine, so I’m doing the vermeil method across the board with precious metals only, like brass or bronze, nothing like nickel or things like that.
Sharon: What inspires your design? Do you see something and say, “Hey, I want to translate that into a necklace?” How does that work for you?
Lausanne:It absolutely works like that sometimes. That’s always a great question, but it’s pretty broad. It could be anything. I would say the thing I usually find inspirational is travel. I really like to travel. A lot of times it’s architecture while abroad, like intricate tile work. I’ll see so many style opportunities, down to something that someone happens to say. The next collection I’m working on was in part inspired by—I took a breathwork class one time, and during the guided meditation part of it the instructor said something like, “Light your heart on fire,” and it really hit me as I was going after this passion. I thought, “Oh, a flaming, pulsing heart is a really cool idea,” so I’m doing pieces like that. What I love about jewelry is that it is so much more sculptural than clothing is, so it can hold its own shapes. It’s easy to see an object and squint your eyes and reimagine it. It has a lot of possibilities.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I bet you have more ideas than you have time to implement them, so you’re thinking about launching another aspect of this line. How has this pandemic affected you as an entrepreneur? Do you think it affected you differently than somebody who’s been at it a longer time? What were the challenges, and how have you been trying to overcome them?
Lausanne:Part of that is a little hard to say as a new brand, because I launched essentially in February of this year, right before everything. It’s a little hard to say what the results of being a brand-new line are versus the pandemic and the economic effects. I’ve had to shift some of the plans I had for in-person events. Instead of doing pop-up markets and art and craft markets and trade shows, I’m going after boutique outreach. I’ve had to refocus and re-shift all of that attention into other virtual experiences. I am partaking in a couple of virtual markets, refocusing some of the funds that I would have spent on those trade events into online advertising and focusing on different platforms. Of course, social media is great and a godsend for small businesses and has given me a platform and a voice, but it is certainly hard to get out there and find your audience. I would say the plus side to being small is that I don’t have the overhead of having a physical store, and because I am so new, everything’s trial and error at this point. It’s easier to be flexible and shift, because I’m not stuck in any patterns that I’ve had before.
Sharon: Yeah, the flexibility and not having overhead, that’s hurt a lot of people, having to pay the rent when there’s no income coming in.
Sharon: What else would you like us to know about you and your line? Tell us more about it. How do you present it if you’re going into a boutique or doing a pop-up market and somebody’s interested in what you have? How would you explain it, or what do you want them to know?
Lausanne:I would explain the quality and what vermeil is, because I think a lot of people don’t know the differences between them. I usually start there. For me, I love the way jewelry can make you feel and how, especially now, when so many people are working from home and are not getting as dressed up as we used to or at all, at least slipping on a couple of pieces of jewelry can make you feel better. It makes you feel a little better, a little more chic and confident. That’s what I want people to feel when they wear it and pick up a piece and see its quality. I try to design every style to have a sense of strength to it and interpret that through the design. Everything has a little bit of edge to help give the wearer a little bit of confidence.
Sharon: That’s a good point, because everybody’s wearing yoga pants. I run into people with yoga pants and no makeup and you go, “Oh, my god.”
Lausanne:Right. I’ve had girlfriends say, “I always put on my earrings for my Zoom meetings,” and it’s so true. It’s an easy thing to put on. It always fits.
Sharon: Yes, that’s true.
Lausanne:It’s just as good.
Sharon: That’s definitely true. I’m the same way. I’ll put makeup on and earrings and maybe a necklace, dress up a little bit for a Zoom meeting. I also want to remind everybody that we can look at your wares on your website, shoplausanne.com. it’s spelled just like the city in Switzerland, L-a-u-s-a-n-n-e. We’ll also have other images along with the show notes. What’s next for you? When you say you’re thinking about another line, what’s next for you?
Lausanne:I do have a second collection in the works. I’m just getting in my samples right now. The first collection is called Golden Gem. It’s very clean and modern, and that was my stepping stone into things. I didn’t want to do gemstones to start with. I wanted everything to be about that beautiful metal, so I took the idea of the look of a gemstone and translated it into gold or into the jewelry. You’ll see where it looks like an emerald cut stone or pavé, and it’s all worked into different styles. It’s very clean and modern. In this next collection I’m going further, getting a little bit more organic in the shapes and introducing some gemstones into it, too.
Sharon: When you say collection, what does that mean to you? Do you do earrings and necklaces and everything? What is a collection comprised of?
Lausanne:A collection, to me—and this is probably based on my fashion background—is multiple pieces that tell a similar story and that coordinate together and complement or enhance each other. While you can certainly wear one style on its own, you can also layer on all the others and they sit together and work well. That also helps keep me in line because I do have a thousand ideas, but you can’t do everything. It helps keep me focused, to communicate through styles that coordinate together.
Sharon: We look forward to seeing what you’re going to bring out next. I’m sure once the world goes back to being more normal, you’ll be at tradeshows or at top markets and we’ll look for you. Thanks so much for being here today. We really appreciate it. To everybody listening, that’s it for the Jewelry Journey today. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget we’re going to have images in the show notes so you can see what Lausanne has been designing, and also look at her website, shoplausanne.com. Please join us for the next episode of The Jewelry Journey Podcast, when we’ll have another jewelry industry professional sharing their experience. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Thanks so much for listening.
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