I’m Leora, founder of Leo With Love and from a young age I knew that I would start my own business.
My parents are both Mexican immigrants in the US who have their own businesses and always worked irregular hours, so it was ingrained in me from the beginning that you had to create your own path to success.
Although I tried a few different hustles (as you will see…), my love of jewellery has always been steadfast and blossomed from childhood. My Mexican heritage played a large role in that, thanks to my family visiting relatives that had a house near the silver-mining town of Taxco. I used to love walking through the town which was full of street markets selling silver jewellery, and shops of independent designers and boutiques featuring intricate designs which encapsulated our culture.
When I was 8 years old my brother, sister and I clubbed together to bulk buy silver charms from the market sellers and sold them to our classmates for profit. As I got older, I would use beads and hemp to make bracelets for friends and family, but I was always interested in selling. After we sold all of our charms, I collected pinecones from the neighbourhood and painted them, then went door to door selling my “art” to our neighbours. When I was 12, I used to sell bags of Kool-Aid with sugar cubes in it (because they turned the colour of whatever colour the drink was supposed to be when you licked them) to fellow classmates. I essentially sold each bag for the same amount it cost to buy the box of sugary powder at the store.
Jewellery was and always has been my love however, so after some life-changing news, I knew it was time to set up Leo With Love.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Yes and no. Like I said, I always knew what I wanted, but certain alignments caused it to happen at the time it did. The idea for Leo With Love was born in 2016, back in LA, where I’m from. My sister was recovering from a near-terminal illness and we were talking about how you only get one certain chance in life to LIVE your life. I knew I’d always wanted to start a business and loved making jewellery as presents for people but had never thought to put the two things together. My background is in marketing and I’ve always had super corporate jobs, but the experience with my sister’s illness helped me see what was important. So, I saved up for months at a job I hated but was a necessary evil, working on branding and designs in the evenings. After a few months, I was at a point that Leo With Love could get my full attention.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I’m sure a lot of people will say this, but the pandemic and lockdown has obviously been really hard on the brand, and actually the jewellery industry in general. Not only have people not been wearing jewellery as much, but they are also being more frugal with their spending, thanks to lack of job security. I knew to keep LWL alive, I needed to use this time to re-evaluate everything I was doing with the business and how it could overcome a hurdle like this.
With my team, I planned out how to continue communicating the message of the brand, whilst showing understanding that jewellery may not be the first thing on people’s minds right now. I started a buy one get one free initiative which saw customers get a free piece of jewellery to send to a loved one, when they purchased a full price one for themselves. On top of that, I used the time to design and have actually created a new collection which would never have happened so quickly without lockdown, so that is a silver lining. Overall, I have used this as a benchmark for the future – if we can survive this storm, we can survive anything.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
There are so many ‘pinch me’ moments that it’s hard to choose! Watching my jewellery being worn down the red carpet is up there! But everything from seeing my favourite design realised (my new #CRONXGIRL earrings which celebrate my home from home, Croydon) through to getting such positive feedback from customers about their new pieces, is just amazing. I recently had a customer buy a bespoke ring and pendant to celebrate a massive change in her life and that really touched me. I feel like im on the same journey as a lot of these poised, exuberant and audacious women.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Being totally authentic with my customers and having the jewellery represent something. Each piece of jewellery tells a story of its incarnation, but it’s theirs to create new chapters with, as to what it means to them – a particular time in life they can smile upon when they wear it. I also like to imagine each customer is someone that I’d want to be friends with and so that sets the tone for everything I do. You would always be your real self with your friends!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is a wonderful thing! I haven’t necessarily had a mentor, but I have a symbiotic relationship with a few jewellery friends in that they will teach me something or give me advice on how to tackle a complicated piece I’m making. In return, I’ll give advice on marketing strategy and help them to come up with ideas on how to increase their sales. Often I will also get messages from friends thinking about starting up a new business and wanting to know how or where to start, so I’m always happy to help with that by providing resources and advice.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
The first thing that comes to mind is closing the gender pay gap. I think a lot of businesses will say (behind closed doors) that women are more likely to take time off to start a family and put a financial strain on a business, thus getting paid less due to that risk. So, if equality is the aim, the only way to level the playing field and have the reproductive stigma not being reflected in our pay, is by ensuring that everyone get paid the same for the same job within a business, and get similar time off with remote working under an Equal Opportunity Family Planning policy. By equalising the points that “justify” what a business sees as financial and resource risk, there is no reason for there to be a difference. And, both parents get to adjust to a familial change, together.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t hold yourself back by limiting your own beliefs. Think about the person you want to be, what your optimal self would look like. Then, take an honest look at who you are and give yourself permission to change the things that make you unhappy to become your optimal self.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I really love creating limited edition pieces and bespoke designs – it allows for even more creativity – so I am hoping to do a lot more of that! My biggest challenge for the next year however is to get Leo With Love stocked in some of my favourite independent boutiques across the country. I have been working on streamlining all my branding and messaging, creating packs for buyers that will allow them to see what we are all about. Mostly, I just want to keep designing jewellery that makes my ‘Leo With Lovelies’ happy!
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