On Starting A Timeless Jewelry Business

Published: June 25th, 2020
Tania Yan
Founder, Olive + Piper
Olive + Piper
from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
started October 2012
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My name is Tania and I’m the owner of olive + piper, an online jewelry boutique that designs timeless and classic fashion jewelry with our own vintage and luxe vibe. We try our best to create versatile, affordable, and easy-to-wear pieces for women - whether they’re casually going about their day or getting ready for a fancy occasion! Our brand has attracted women from 18 to 60+ and a lot of brides and bridal parties too! If you visit us, you’re sure to find a shiny selection of pieces from stud earrings, statement necklaces to luxe bracelets.

Within the last year and a bit, we’ve had a tremendous amount of growth. Our team grew from 2 of us working in my spare bedroom to 8 of us in an office, and we’ve increased our revenue by 5x! Here’s the kicker though: I started this business in 2012.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

Never would I have thought that I’d be here today… sharing a story about ENTREPRENEURSHIP - what’s that!? Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to the business. I can’t really recall anyone close to me or that I knew who had their own business. While in school, I always imagined myself graduating and pursuing a career as a pharmacist, doctor, or something related to my degree. Well, guys, I graduated with a degree in Cell Biology and Genetics…. And landed my first professional job as a receptionist, and not at any sort of science company.

Be open to other suggestions and ideas - make sure you get honest and constructive feedback.

So how I ended up here is kind of an accident you could say… going with the flow, facing challenges life throws at you, and learning along the way. And that’s okay - I believe that you don’t always have to have a clear picture of what you want to do. Life will take you in all different directions - what matters most is what you do in each situation and that you’re always adding value to yourself and growing as a person.

When I started, I really didn’t know much about jewelry except that I liked to wear it. I spent $2000 CDN to start everything up (that was a lot of money for me) and bought pieces from wholesalers in very small quantities. I began seeing what people liked and continued to test out styles and products. This never stops, by the way, even today, we’re launching new designs and seeing how they’re received by our customers.

At the time when I started olive + piper, I was working at a baby store that had retail locations and an ecomm site. It was a small business so I got to do a lot of different things from marketing to interviewing to operations, which I’m very grateful for. I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck but I didn’t have a lot of money. I had to be pretty conscious of spending… and I couldn’t even put a downpayment on a cheap car if I wanted to. I always thought one day, maybe I’ll be able to buy a car.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

So as you know, I graduated with a degree that I’d never use (but I don’t regret this). To be honest, this may have been one of the first times in my life where I felt really lost. I had no luck getting a job in science and I ended up at an Internet Marketing company… Which changed my life. (FYI, this was over 10 years ago. Twitter was new and really cool.)

All my jobs ended up being in the ecomm space. I liked having side projects and my next one was to start an ecomm site. (Previous to this, I had a spammy site that sold an ebook, a blog -- the type where you actually just write about your life, and I also made headbands.) I needed a product to sell on this site that I wanted to build. I ended up choosing jewelry because I loved to wear it… and because it’s small and easy to store. It could have been anything though… like socks.

Olive + Piper was born in my small childhood bedroom. A year later, I started becoming unhappy at my 9-5 and one days, something in me just broke, and I quit. Just like that. No plan, no extra savings, just moved out. Very irresponsible. I lied to my parents about having a job for half a year. (On the bright side, at least I could hide it since I wasn’t living at home anymore.) I was in a very financially tight position, and I was scared. Sometimes I ate boiled cabbage to survive.

I was hurt, no company wanted to hire me! So I spent all my time working on O+P. In the beginning, I saw a huge lift in everything - spending a few hours per week to 8 hours a day is a huge difference. I hired my first employee and we worked together for a couple of years. Eventually, growth plateaued, work became stagnant, and I felt trapped. I didn’t know how to take this to the next level. We were growing each year, but so slowly it almost wasn’t worth the effort. I was sad. I put serious thought into the possibility that I might close up shop and find a job, and I blamed myself a lot for not being smart enough.

At the brink of giving up, I was desperate for a magic pill. How is it that so many businesses just seem to take off so successfully? Here I am, 5 years in and the struggle is still very real. As a last resort, I found myself a mentor… and let me tell you, it changed my entire business and mindset. He encouraged me to stop working from home, to redo my entire site, lots of things -- and this might all seem obvious but when your head is in it 24/7 trust me, you can’t see straight. I very cautiously started growing our team as more work came, and finding the right people is so important. In this way, I feel extremely lucky and grateful. Within the last 2 years, we grew from a team of 2 to 8. There is no magic pill - it took me 6 years before we could see any significant growth.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’ve come a long way in the last few years - we’re continuing to find new opportunities for growth, testing out new ideas and designs, improving our customer experience, solving system problems… a lot of different things that keep it exciting. One thing that really helped us is investing in the right kind of marketing. We’ve always been active on social media, but we’re also running paid ads and constantly testing that.

Our operations today have evolved so much, and we’ve been forced to adapt and evolve with everything that came with COVID-19. When there were just 2 of us in our new office, I still handled all the customer service, photography, graphic design, finances, business development, social media, email marketing, and so on… and our (then new) jewelry designer designed but was also shipping orders out. There was once when I had to do all of the above - thinking back, that’s a damn lot of work. Today, we have much more defined roles for our team - from customer service to fulfillment to operations and inventory management.

As we continue to grow, we hope to add more talent to the team, build more awareness for our brand, improve and streamline processes, test out complementary product categories, and get our pieces into more retail stores. We haven’t done a lot of influencer marketing in the past either and that’s something we’re looking at.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Ask for help, ask for advice, reach out to people. One of my weaknesses is that I’m an introvert and very independent. I like to keep to myself and do things on my own. You will never be able to do it all, just saying.

Don’t compare yourself to others in a negative way. Just because other businesses (or people!) look like they’re doing well, doesn’t mean they don’t face challenges. Social media is a gift and a curse.

You hear it all the time - self-care is important. But until you actually start practicing it, you won’t understand how great it is. It helps you deal with the stress of being an entrepreneur, helps keep a focused and disciplined mind, and helps you clearly deal with challenges and adapt. At the beginning of the COIVD-19 pandemic, our business suffered a lot and I turned to self-care to keep sane. I do short meditations, write in the 5-minute journal, and set up my smartwatch remind me to breathe.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our site is on Shopify - it’s great as a basic foundation for running an ecomm site and has a lot of different apps you can integrate. We have apps for wishlists, recommended products, and returns management.

For our day to day operations, we use platforms like Slack for internal communication, ShipStation for the fulfillment, Klaviyo for email marketing, Yotpo for reviews, Asana for tasks, and projects.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I love listening to NPR’s How I Built This - the podcast interviews different business owners and goes through their story about how they started and successes and challenges. You’d be surprised at the journey of some businesses to get to where they are today. You can hear the story of companies like Instagram, Spanks, Lululemon, Dyson, etc.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Ask for help and advice - but don’t look for a free handout. Do your research first, and then ask.

Don’t aim for perfection - aim to get it off the ground. You can end up spending a lot of time rewriting content, tweaking colors, and fonts, etc. Once your business is running, you’ll see things that work and don’t that you didn’t notice before, and you’ll make changes.

Be open to other suggestions and ideas - make sure you get honest and constructive feedback.

Create a brand book - what personality and voice do your brand have? How does your brand talk - professional, casual, sassy? What colors and mood does it have? This gives you more guidance and direction on the content you create and helps ensure it’s all on brand.

Where can we go to learn more?

  • Website
  • Connect with us on Instagram - we love chatting with our community! Take a look at our stories and highlights - we have a bunch of tries on and styling videos where you can see more of our jewelry in real life.
Tania Yan, Founder of Olive + Piper
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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