Bourbon and Boweties sells neither alcohol nor neckwear — the name is a nod to the southern aesthetic — but its signature handmade bangles have helped the brand become a multi-million-dollar company and put hundreds of Florida residents to work assembling jewelry from their homes. With no formal jewelry-design training, founder and CEO Carley Ochs turned post-travel inspiration into a thriving business. I spoke with Ochs, an honoree on The List 2018, about how she got her start, her advice for aspiring future retail leaders and the pivotal role Bourbon and Boweties plays in providing employment for local communities.
How did Bourbon and Boweties come to be?
I purchased stones and gems while abroad in Shanghai, and upon returning tried to make several different jewelry designs as gifts for friends and family. I wrapped wire around a plastic cup in an effort to make a bracelet, and the first Bourbon and Boweties bangle was born. Friends and family loved the designs and urged me to make more. I drove to Charleston, S.C., to meet up with a friend who had connections at a boutique; after showing the designs to the boutique owner, she bought them and requested more. That’s when I realized how serious this could be. I created social media accounts for the brand and started collecting orders. The rest is history.
How did you know this business was the right fit for you?
It kind of fell into place! As things were coming together, I just trusted my gut. It felt right! The train was moving fast and I had to hang on or get lost. I held on tight!
Your company’s motto is “Made by Proud Southern Hands,” and Bourbon and Boweties helps people in your local communities go to work. Can you tell us a little about that?
When the business first started, I was making all the jewelry by myself and could barely meet demand. I taught my mom and a friend to help me make the bangles and we still couldn’t fill orders. So we asked other friends and family to help. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would lay the groundwork for my workforce for years to come.
Each piece of Bourbon and Boweties is still handcrafted by a cottage industry in Florida’s Tampa Bay area. Every contractor goes through a training process prior to being hired. Once hired, contractors come to our office when work is available, collect packaged supplies and take them home to make the pieces. Several of our contractors are stay-at-home mothers, some are retirees and some even have full-time jobs and make jewelry when they get home. It has been a great way for people to pay off debt, make supplemental income and even make some special purchases. Bourbon and Boweties would not be where it is today without the hard work and support of our amazing contractors.
We often talk about how retail jobs can change lives, and Bourbon and Boweties is truly an embodiment of that. With the help of your small but mighty team, you sell tens of thousands of bracelets a year, with no formal advertising — how do you do it?
Word of mouth is a beautiful thing! Since the beginning, I have taken advantage of the wonderful world of social media. We have shared the ups and downs of the business, and I have been very transparent about my personal life as well. I really feel like this, as well as my crazy trunk show schedule, have helped me connect to our customers. For years I have driven all over the United States doing pop-up shows in small towns, meeting our customers and store owners and getting to know them. It really is amazing how a small-town company with only a few full-time employees has been able to connect with so many people.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own retail business?
Always trust your gut! Never take no for an answer. I know those are simple things, but I live by them. You know what’s best for your business — go with what you feel.
What’s next for Bourbon and Boweties?
More fabulous jewelry! We are constantly creating. You never know what you’re going to find at a trunk show.
And last, but not least, retail is …
To me … retail is fashion! Fashion is the foundation of life, self-expression.
Explore more stories about The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future. To date, we have recognized over 100 Disruptors, Dreamers, Givers, Influencers and Power Players for their impact on the industry.