More than a decade ago, Julie Marie Chavez founder, creative director, Chavez for Charity, launched mariechavez. Her on-trend designs earned her fans like Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Jada Pinkett-Smith and more women of Hollywood. But Chavez wanted to do more. She wanted to use her designs to give back, and in 2013 Chavez for Charity was launched. The company donates a percentage of our profits of its jewelry to more than 20 causes To date, Chavez for Charity jewelry can be found in more than 2,200 stores and has already raised nearly $500,000 in just under two years.
Gifts and Decorative Decorative Accessories: Share a little about your background and the inspiration behind Chavez for Charity.
Julie Marie Chavez: I’ve been designing jewelry for 15 years now, so that foundation was laid. The inspiration for Chavez came kind of on a whim. Like other people, you want to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself, like the idea of volunteering your time. For me as a business owner and mother of two girls, time was not an option.
So when the idea for Chavez for charity came about it was the perfect blend of doing what I do on a daily basis and making a much bigger impact. It was much bigger than I could have done on my own. Three years ago, I was on a train ride into the city and had an idea of taking the already popular bracelets and spinning them into something that was charitable.
The idea started with taking each color and tying it to a different cause. At the time we didn’t know how many charities we would be supporting or how big it was going to become, but once locked we locked in our charities, the ball started to roll. The charities were able to support a big inspiration, and that’s important because that’s what it means for us and the work that we do.
GDA: Tell us about one of the biggest surprises you encountered in started up this charitable business.
JMC: When I think about how much we’ve raised and in such a short period of time… In just over two years, we’ve been able to donate half a million dollars. If you would have asked me two and half years ago if we could donate that much money, I would not have anticipated that. But I think that’s the surprise.
The other pleasant surprise is how the doors continue to open. The stars continue to align for Chavez for Charity. Whether it’s working with amazing reps or getting into amazing stores, being able to partner with this caliber of charities, having a great team at the office, being able to launch new products—and just partnerships everywhere. It just seems that the universe is absolutely supporting what we’re doing here, and I think that has been a nice pleasant surprise. We didn’t think we would not be well received but we’re just always blown away about how well things continue to go—and we feel like we’re just getting started.
So if we were able to raise half million in two years, where can we be in three to five years?
GDA: What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?
JMC: Throughout your career, there are always ups and downs. Fifteen years in the business, things have been amazing since we launched Chavez for Charity, but that doesn’t represent the up and downs that took place before then. So if you’re looking at the career it’s that you start a business and you’re really never equipped to learn. You’re learning along the way. I personally never had one business class. I got my teaching credentials, so I didn’t even have a background in business or finance or understand all things business, A to Z.
Still to this day, we’re very proud of what we have. We’re great business-minded people, but that didn’t come overnight. That’s been the challenge. really swinging the things and learning as you come to something and just trying to always keep going. It’s like a train that moving and you can’t get off. You have to just keep moving forward.
GDA: You’re still new to the gift world, but what has changed the most since you’ve entered the industry?
JMC: I’m somewhat new to the gift industry. With my main jewelry line, we didn’t do gift shows, so for us in a short period of time, we just entered the gift industry.
We got first gift rep group. My entire background is not in the gift industry, so I can’t speak as to how it has evolved over the years. I can certainly say that things have happened quickly for us. We work with the best reps in each region across the entire country. That’s something that really unfolded very quickly from our first rep in the East to the ones that followed.
We’re new to the industry so in regard to relationships, too. It’s not a challenge in a bad way but just a learning curve like with anything else. I’m constantly trying to make sure that what we have is relevant and everybody is happy—from our office to our reps to the stores to the consumer. That’s our goal. The biggest goal is that we’re donating to our partner charities.
Challenge is a touchy word for me, because I feel like challenge has come over the years but since we launched, it’s been amazing for business. Since our price point is just right (our signature beaded bracelets retail for $10), the gift industry is really what has put us out there. We’re out there now in almost 3,000 stores, so I think that the word of mouth in the industry has helped us.
There’s always a challenge with growth. Even though things are going great now, we’re still running a business so how do you keep up with all potential relationships and really unique ideas coming out of woodwork from all these interesting people we work with, so you’re trying to capture it all move it at a nice pace and still keep it moving along.
GDA: What advice would you give to someone entering the industry?
JMC: It’s about absorbing or consuming as much as you can. I look at everything I have, and it took a lot of learning. It did not happen overnight. There’s always so much to learn.
It’s all about hard work. All these years later, that’s the one thing that I never compromised My commitment to business, that had to be there. You can’t be half in and half out.
Go after any opportunity that will expose them to learning. For out interns, we let them know that they can ask questions and learn. Take all responsiblity for what you learn. No on one is going to hand it to you. We’re all responsible, whether an intern, a new hire, designer, it’s in your hands. Always believe in this.