Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Schenkein -- owner of Ashley Schenkein Jewelry -- was working as a Spanish medical interpreter in Jackson, Wyoming, when she first started tinkering with metal and precious stones.
"I've always had a tendency to question the status quo, and I've done things in my own way," Schenkein says, pointing to her non-traditional education in jewelry making.
After completing an expedited jewelry technician program at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco, Schenkein went to South America, where she did a four-month apprenticeship with a jeweler in Ecuador and attended another jewelry school in Buenos Aires, too, honing her stone-setting skills and learning the craft of wax casting that would become a cornerstone of her business.
When she was ready to open shop, Schenkein, a Colorado native, decided Denver was "a good jumping-off spot." With easy connectivity to national and international destinations, resurgence in local manufacturing, and a strong startup community, Denver has proven a perfect setting for producing handmade jewelry.
A decade in, Schenkein estimates she has created over 1,000 unique designs spanning two collections: the Global Collection and a White Collection, the latter a custom line. But even the pieces in the Global Collection have a tailor-made feel since the vast majority are produced in very limited quantities -- we're talking 50 to 100 replications of a given design, max.
The Global Collection consists of several eclectic brands of contemporary jewelry inspired by Schenkein's travels. New lines -- most consisting of about two dozen styles of earrings, rings, necklaces, and bracelets -- are released twice annually, for the spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. "I keep collections around for a couple of seasons, and then over time I pull out the bestsellers and put them into my Classic Collection," Schenkein says.
All of Schenkein's custom jewelry is produced in Denver, and the majority of the pieces in her Global Collection are made here, too, and a small percentage of manufacturing is outsourced to New York and India. "I do all of the original designs and prototypes, and work with people in-house to do the production," says Schenkein.
Hand sketches and computer-aided designs are turned into product, usually via wax casting, which literally involves carving and casting wax. "And then the stones are set, and the finishing touches added, like polishing or brushed finish," Schenkein says. She also practices wire wrapping, one of the oldest techniques for hand making jewelry.
Schenkein sources most of her stones and metals from the U.S. and India, and supplies occasionally come from China, too. "I use high-quality materials, like nickel-free sterling silver," adds Schenkein, noting that it's a combination of quality materials and unique design concepts that set her jewelry apart from that of mainstream suppliers.
All of Schenkein's custom orders are direct-to-consumer; the jewelry in her Global Collection is distributed through wholesale accounts, and appears in stores such as Denver's A Line Boutique and the Denver Art Museum. Distribution is almost entirely domestic, except for one account in Tulum, Mexico.
Challenges: Schenkein learned how to run a business on the fly, and is always assessing staffing needs and inventory levels. "There's no planning for large orders, and as a small business you're never going to say 'no' to an order," Schenkein says.
Opportunities: Schenkein is currently working to grow and expand her Global Collection by adding new accounts to wholesale distribution.
Needs: Schenkein could use a few more employees to help her grow and scale. "I really do enjoy running a business, but what I'm passionate about is the design," she says. She wants to come up with a team structure that will allot her plenty of time to focus on product development.