Former healthcare workers find new career, business success in shared hobby
With a $100 investment, two friends have turned their shared jewelry making hobby into a $1 million business.
Allie + Bess co-founders Allie Wardlaw and Bess Callarman met about 11 years ago while working together in a nursing home, Callarman as a speech therapist, and Wardlaw as an occupational therapist.
They started their eponymous jewelry company in 2019.
“We were both burned out on the medical setting,” Callarman said on their website. “While therapy does have a creative element, we wanted a different way to express our artistic side.”
“Our style is very much influenced by art, bright colors patterns, but still clean lines and playful.”Bess Callarman
The pair had enjoyed making jewelry together for fun before they made a new career out of it. While experimenting with jewelry designs and materials, the friends enjoyed working with a vulcanite bead, sourced from Ghana, and made from repurposed vinyl records.
Callarman tapped her photography background to go beyond typical product shots.
“What we were really wanting to see is how someone styled the piece,” Callarman said. Theirs was another social media-fueled venture. They began making pieces, photographing their favorites, and then sharing the products on Instagram, she said. “And then our following grew very quickly.”
The pair described learning the production process for their pieces as “trial and error.”
“We would try something and then see kind of how we wanted it to look,” Callarman said. ‘I think that’s also kind of how we found our voice, and our style is just trial and error. Our style is very much influenced by art, bright colors, patterns, but still clean lines and playful.”
Their brand is best known for bracelets that can be stacked together made with colorful beads sourced worldwide. Each of their bracelets features five black vinyl beads, representing the five children between the two.
Like many businesses, the pandemic forced Allie + Bess to pivot the business model they’d planned, but they’ve been able to grow their business despite COVID-19.
“When the pandemic hit in the infancy of our business, we knew we had to swiftly adapt our business model to be cohesive to the new, uncharted landscape,” said Callarman. “So we transitioned to a direct-to-consumer model and worked with influencers to lift the visibility of the brand. We credit that initial success to thinking outside of the box and being nimble.”
As their business grew and they weren’t able to manufacture their bracelets on their own, they hired refugee artisans to help produce their jewelry.
“We reached out to the refugee community through one of our churches,” Callarman said.
Their products remain manufactured in Dallas, where they live.
Callarman attended Ursuline Academy for high school and now lives in the Preston Hollow area, and Wardlaw lives in north Dallas.
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