Retail and Small Business & Startups

Jewelry designer forges business of encouragement

Pieces of Me founder crafts line of bracelets, necklaces, charms that showcase positive personality traits.

November 22, 2019
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Pieces of Me
Elsa Vos’ business started as an outgrowth of her senior graphic design project at Bowling Green State University in 2015. Courtesy Pieces of Me

Elsa Vos’ 4-year-old business got a huge bump this month when the “Today” show featured her custom-designed jewelry line on Hoda and Jenna’s holiday gift guide segment.

Vos, a Holland native, founded Pieces of Me as an outgrowth of her senior graphic design project at Bowling Green State University in 2015.

For the project, she made a dress printed with icons she custom-designed after asking her family and friends to identify the traits that best represent her personality. They said she was “ambitious, determined and creative.”

After she participated in BGSU’s Hatch entrepreneurial program and pitch competition that year, the panel of investors judging the pitches encouraged her to think deeper about her concept, which they believed had potential.

Vos took their advice seriously and realized the idea of making designs based on traits could be a big encouragement to potential customers. At first, she explored the possibility of creating an app that would take personality-based icons and create a custom pattern that could be printed on apparel and accessories. Finding that impractical, she pivoted to jewelry.

She and a couple of other designers made over 900 sketches and iterations and conducted four months of market research and surveys to arrive at the designs that would ultimately form the basis of her retail business.

Vos now makes all of the icon designs herself, and she works with U.S.- and Michigan-based suppliers and manufacturers to produce the jewelry domestically.

She markets Pieces of Me as “a meaningful jewelry brand” based on the idea that “everyone is unique.” Her 18-inch pendant necklaces, cuff bracelets, charms, earrings and more incorporate over two dozen personality trait icons and are made of silver, gold and rose gold. She sells each piece with a lifetime guarantee.

Customers can shop based on traits — for instance, if they want to buy a gift for someone they think of as “bold” or “funny” — or they can take a short quiz to identify their own dominant attributes, selecting pieces that incorporate those strengths.

The company’s slogan is “Wear who you are.”

“I’m trying to build the brand around this concept of wearing your personality and the idea that it’s such a meaningful gift when you pick out the attributes and character traits you really appreciate about someone and give it to them, so they can wear that every day and be reminded of how much you love them,” Vos said.

“As the trends and styles change with jewelry, (we’ll be) adapting to those trends and styles, but always staying true to the brand.”

Vos’ business took root quickly after college.

Upon graduating from BGSU, she moved home to Holland, officially launched Pieces of Me, won the August 2015 Start Garden 5x5 pitch night and took third place in a Michigan Women Forward WomanUp & Pitch Competition (then called Dolphin Tank).

She also was involved in Lakeshore Advantage’s SURGE business accelerator and is now a member of FounderCo in Grand Rapids.

Vos held an open house and ribbon-cutting with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 17 after moving her company’s headquarters to 1005 Clancy Ave. NE, Ste. A, in Grand Rapids.

Pieces of Me exhibited its wares at the national gift trade show NY NOW from Aug. 10-13 this summer, which is how the “Today” show discovered her work and later featured it in Hoda and Jenna’s “11 noteworthy gifts to add to your holiday wish list” segment that aired Nov. 4.

The business is thriving now, Vos said. Her e-commerce shop, piecesofmeco.com, received over 5,000 views in a couple of hours after the “Today” show TV spot aired. The national exposure allowed her to close around 25 new vendor relationships all over the U.S., bringing the tally of stores where her product is sold to over 120.

Recently, she hired a full-time sales director, a part-time operations director and added five or six contractors who cover various aspects of the business. She also has launched a college internship program.

For the time being, Vos is focused on building brand awareness and inventory while also working on developing new product lines. She said she’ll remain centered on her mission through it all.

“The true passion I have and the deeper reason as to why I’m trying to build this is because of the positive impact it can make in individuals’ lives,” she said. 

“Everything with social media and society is always on the surface level, it feels like. It’s important to get back to remembering who we are.”

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