You know the term "arm party?" Well Alexa Leigh jewelry has a simple yet meaningful design aesthetic that sticks around long after the party is over and trendy pieces have taken a seat. I met Alexa through my story on Amy Levin of CollegeFashionista and was eager to sit down with her to discuss her background, inspirations, and how her brand came to be.Alexa grew up in Aspen, Colorado and moved to New York to attend Syracuse University where she graduated with an Advertising degree in 2007. In 2008 Alexa moved to New York City where she found employment in advertising sales. Fortunately, she became uninspired and uninterested in the lack of creativity her work situation offered. This unfulfillment in her day job eventually allowed her to exercise a different creative power--that of entrepreneurialism as a jewelry designer."When you dislike something enough it sometimes forces you to make a drastic decision," said Alexa. Still employed, she went to see a career counselor. This was a good start for Alexa who needed someone to ask the right questions with an unbiased perspective. "At the time everyone kept asking me 'What's your dream job?' and I thought...'How am I supposed to know that?!' I graduated and majored in advertising and that's all I knew," she said. All the exercises she took with the counselor told her to be a teacher but her counselor told her this occupation wouldn't be fulfilling enough either.In the midst of self discovery Alexa flew to California for her grandfather's 95th birthday where she had time to discuss her situation with family. Her dad was the one that suggested she start her own business. "It had never crossed my mind before. I wasn't making jewelry but I loved to draw and there were always pieces I wanted to wear that weren't out there," Alexa said. She remembers spending hours going through her mother's jewelry for hidden treasures. Finally it clicked and a new career path emerged.She returned back to her ad job in New York and began sketching. The first six months involved finding someone to make the jewelry. She reached out to any connections and came to find most people weren't willing to help unless there was something in it for them. At the time, she had nothing to offer. About a dozen jewelers turned down Alexa because they didn't want to work with the materials she needed. She was determined to prove to the jewelers that it could be done so she tried to teach herself how to make jewelry by watching YouTube videos. "The worst thing is that I wish I could perfect each piece myself," said Alexa. But unfortunately, her skill set did not include the actual construction of the jewelry and she was very unhappy with her sample.There were times, one in particular, where she found herself pounding the pavement on her lunch break leaving a meeting with a manufacturer who would't work with her. "I had this moment where I asked myself, 'Who do you think you are?' But I have never ever given up on something I really wanted," Alexa said. She reflected on a key example of her determination in college. After tryouts for the dance team she was asked to join on a trial-like basis. "It was hard at first, but four years later I was captain," Alexa said with satisfaction. I don't know if this kind of fortitude can be taught but it is certainly ingrained in her. In fact, this fortitude is a common thread among everyone I have interviewed for this blog so far and seems to be crucial for success in the city.Finally, Alexa started getting lucky and found a jeweler who could translate her vision into a final product. She quit her job in 2011 and launched her line in December of that year. "I have a handful of people who I owe a lot of my success thus far. These people have time consuming businesses yet they were willing to take the time to guide me," Alexa said. Her biggest supporters have been her family and her fianc, who she met growing up back home in Aspen. It is just as important to Alexa to have people to share in her success as it is for them to root for her success. "I remember when Miranda Kerr bought some of my jewelry and tweeted at me. I was so excited I called my dad, mom, boyfriend and...no answer. It was not nearly as much fun celebrating without them!" she said.And while Miranda Kerr's purchase was a big moment for Alexa she has since realized that she doesn't actually need her designs on a celebrity to start making money. Alexa has tapped into a customer base that wants something unique and special. "I'm looking forward to that day that I'm sitting on the subway and I look across and see the average joe wearing my jewelry," said Alexa. She will give her clients the personal attention they need from packaging to hand written notes to special orders. "In business I was told you have to narrow down your market and I don't like that because I want there to be something for everyone." Alexa said.Her jewelry certainly stands the test of times with delicate, versatile and classic designs of sentimental value. Whether it is a gift for a friend or a personal expenditure it can be passed down through generations to daughters like Alexa, who still finds joy sifting through her mother's jewelry. Her designs are made of various solid metals from black rhodium to silver to yellow and rose gold and most include diamonds. Her necklaces have no clasps and her bracelets are adjustable with 3 loops. "I am trying to make pave pieces that someone can buy for under $1,000 with quality that lasts a lifetime," said Alexa.Each jewelry piece comes with one or more of seven different pendants, each of which holds meaning for Alexa. "I have the strongest connection with these seven pendants but everyone has their own interpretation for these things and I hope they bring people whatever is meant for them whether luck or something else entirely," expressed Alexa. For Alexa, the bird represents freedom, in particular the freedom she felt when she left her old job. The butterfly represents change and the process of her constant personal evolvement. Lately, Alexa finds herself wearing the bird and butterfly. The heart and flower, reflective of wildflowers in Aspen, she wears when she misses home and family.Personally, I find meaning in the butterfly. Similar to Alexa this pendant represents the changes that have taken place in my life, in particular, changes that have taken place since moving from Seattle to New York. My strength of character, my confidence of self, my independent nature, and my passion for achievement and meaning in life has changed more positively in this last year than at any other point in my life. As Alexa said, "I feel like New York has enabled me to follow through with my dreams and be bigger than myself. The city has introduced me to so many different people and teaches you so much about life."One story she told was especially interesting. Alexa used to have occasional bagel days at work and after work would deliver the extra bagels to homeless people on her path home. At one point she handed over bagels to a man who threw them back at her completely offended at the thought of "leftover" food. "I realized I am not this little girl from Aspen anymore. It hardened me a bit but these New York moments are important," said Alexa. She is right. As long as these moments don't change your character altogether they make you resilient to denial. It did not change her positive outlook on the importance of charity but it did alter her perspective on reality. Now, when Alexa gets a "no" like the ones she received from all those jewelers, it doesn't stop her from moving forward.Now Alexa is everything she ever considered being. She is the creative director of her own brand, she is a photographer, a graphic designer for her website, a sales and marketing person--all because she started her own business. Alexa said, "I spent the first two years in New York talking about the fact that I was unhappy with what I was doing. It is important to make a move--any move. I recognized I was unhappy and asked myself, 'Okay whats next?'" Her last words to me were a message for any transplant that feels lost. "You can make your life whatever you want and you can still be successful without knowing anyone initially. Just give it time. Patience is key."
All images of me taken by the talented Sunny Chang.