Sara Smith and Mara Rothbart met while studying at USC. Friends through their 20s, they found themselves in careers they didn’t love when the idea of starting a jewelry collection became a topic of conversation. Both women have fashion and jewelry design in their blood so no one was surprised when in 2012, they launched their fashion-forward jewelry line Smith + Mara. The LA-based brand has quickly gathered an impressive stockist as well as fans among influencers and celebrities. The brand, while not based on trends, is minimalist in design and aesthetic, but feature enough unique details to define their signature geometric styles that set them apart.
When did you two meet?
We met freshman year in college at USC in 2002.
At what point did both of you decide to start SMITH + MARA?
We both always had a love of design and jewelry and were at a time of our lives when we weren’t fulfilling our passions for our careers at 28. Sara had the idea to try and start up the company together and give it a shot…we had nothing to lose and if anything it would be a fun outlet for our creativity. We had the resources in the jewelry business, the drive, and ability to work well as a team.
How do you divide the responsibilities in your partnership?
We sat down and made a detailed list of our strengths and what each of us would do to contribute to the workload. We both have an eye for design, but definitely balance each other out in other areas of the business. It was really knowing and sticking to what we both excel in and going for it 100%.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as entrepreneurs?
Patience – starting up is not easy and it isn’t an overnight thing. It took us almost a full year to launch from the start of our idea to finishing our final collection. There is a lot of time, work and level of thoughtfulness that go into creating a brand.
What do you love most about the Southern California lifestyle?
We are both extremely relaxed in our style, which is so nice about living in Southern California. We live in jeans and T-shirts on the daily and are able to add to our everyday look with cool pieces of jewelry. What’s great about living here is that you really don’t have any style rules and we don’t really follow any trends, but our own.
I can imagine you both have very well curated jewelry collections. What is the most memorable piece that each of you has received?
Mara: My favorite piece that I have is an old mine-cut diamond platinum cocktail ring that is surrounded in even more diamonds from my grandmother. It was passed down from my great grandmother, to her, and then to me. It is over 100 years old and I plan to pass that down one day to my children and so on…
Sara: My most treasured piece of jewelry is my mother’s wedding band. It’s a platinum diamond eternity band that was made in the 20’s or 30’s with intricate filigree on top and bottom. My mom passed away when I was a baby and my dad saved it for me until I got married. She actually didn’t wear any jewelry but wore this wedding band everyday – so I cherish it
Something that really stood out to me is that you design based on the notion that as opposed to jewelry making the woman, the woman should make the jewelry. How does this philosophy translate into your aesthetic?
We have a very simple, yet classic aesthetic. We make a few statement pieces in our collection, but mostly pieces that accentuate a woman’s features and femininity. For example, the skimmer is one of our original designs and it works perfectly with the shape of the earlobe. It is so subtle, and at the time so unique, that it really made people love such a simple stud earring that wasn’t overwhelming, but also interesting.
What goes into the handmade jewelry process? Do you work with a team?
We have a very talented production team who makes all of our pieces in LA. We are there in person start to finish in the design process, and check every single piece that goes out to our clients to make sure they are perfect.
How did the concept for “suspender earrings” come about?
We wanted another simple everyday earring that was something that hadn’t been seen before. We were playing around with some beading wire, threading it through our ears, and as soon as that piece sort of hugged the top part of the lobe and looped through the piercing, it was very much an “AHA” moment for us.
What inspired your recent collection of ear cuffs that require no piercings?
We both have sort of “brave” piercings from our past…the industrial and the tragus piercing. They are definitely both more on the painful side and we realized that a lot of people loved that look, but didn’t want to actually go out and start poking more holes in their ears. We realized that there was definitely a need to create that look for both styles without having to go through the pain.
You’ve become a go-to for many fashion bloggers and celebrities. Who else would you like to see wearing SMITH + MARA?
It has been so amazing and surreal to see celebrities and influencers wearing our pieces, and we would of course love to continue to see that. In all honesty, the coolest thing that we have seen is just normal women out and about wearing our designs. We have both been in places like the market, shopping or the gym, and see someone wearing a suspender or a skimmer and it is the BEST feeling to see people enjoying your pieces out in “the real world”.
Do you have any words to live by?
“Make it simple but significant.”