Rachel Dooley is the designer behind jewelry line Gemma Redux. The Michigan native fostered her early interest in raw materials by studying mechanical engineering and material science at the University of Michigan, before heading to Fordham Law School in New York. During a bar exam study break, Dooley created her first mixed-metal necklace from vintage and industrial materials, and Gemma Redux was born. Within months, Dooley’s exquisite designs were showing up in Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Glamour, and on Gossip Girl’s Serena Van der Woodsen. In 2009, Dooley was chosen to be one of twelve designers in the inaugural class of the CFDA Fashion Incubator.
You launched your collection while studying for the NY bar exam. How did it feel to give up all those long hours put in at law school to become a jewelry designer?
I felt great about it! My parents, not so much… Honestly though, I am scared of regrets more than anything, so I was not hesitant to take the plunge. And I knew jewelry was my passion and my love and it was never a question when I could quit practicing law that I would.
You built your business from the ground up. What was the most challenging part?
Being a boss and a designer. Developing a great team is just as important as developing a great collection, but sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to do both. I was lucky to find someone pretty early on that I trusted with parts of my business, and I knew felt almost as passionately about the brand as I did. That made all the difference in helping me manage employees and relationships. My team is so important to the brand’s success and we try to let them know that all the time.
Have you always been on your own? Have you ever used the help of a sales or PR team?
I’ve worked with both outside PR and sales at different times, but they are both in-house now. Again, it’s frankly harder to manage all those departments in-house with full time staff, but it makes sure everyone is on the same page about the brand and really working 100 percent toward its success.
What was it like applying for the CFDA incubator program?
I thought it was such a long shot I almost didn’t do it — and the application was no joke. But I knew the CFDA was where I wanted to be eventually; I just didn’t think it would happen so fast. It was incredible.
What do you think you have gained most from the program?
The relationships. Being a part of such a great group of designers is fabulous, and being able to have such talented sounding boards when I need to talk something through is so great. The relationships within the industry and with our mentors are incredible.
How much of your business is from sales you do on your website?
It varies from year to year, but always around 40 percent or so. We have always had very strong e-commerce.
Will you be adding new styles for next season? Do you have an idea what Fall 13 looks like?
Yes, every season! Fall 13 is called “Mayan Apocalypse,” and it’s a combination of structured, Mayan-inspired graphic patterns with psychedelic colors and deteriorating patterns overlayed. It’s structure and anti-structure combined.
Turquoise is a major stone in your spring collection — does the color hold any personal symbolism for you?
Turquoise always reminds me of travel, because my earliest association with it is traveling out West. It prompts a sense of wanderlust in me, and also reminds me of the color of water in the Caribbean, so I just want to go scuba diving.
What’s the ultimate fantasy you’ve had about someone wearing your jewelry?
Seeing a random girl walking down the street wearing one of my pieces, feeling totally confident and just loving life. It’s come true and it’s the most amazing feeling to see it.