A Dose of Sparkle with Maria Dueñas Jacobs
For some, a second career is an adventure that looks nothing like the first. For Maria Dueñas Jacobs, however, launching her own business has proved to be the perfect culmination of years spent carving out the various experiences she would eventually need to take the leap. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a venture more fitting for a jewelry-obsessed mother of three darling girls than a label that takes grown-up gems and interprets them for kids.
Spend a little time with Dueñas Jacobs and you’ll realize she’s one of those naturally entrepreneurial people who’s started a hundred companies in her head before launching her first one in real life. Yet, just because something makes sense (and seems long-destined) doesn’t mean it’s easy. When she got the idea for Super Smalls—the sparkly line of children’s accessories she debuted last November—she was working full-time as the Director of Brand Marketing at Stitch Fix. This new venture was her “night project,” one she’d turn to after 7pm when she’d finished a full day of work and had put her girls to bed. Admittedly, she Googled her way through much of it, matching her eye for great design (and years spent as Elle’s Accessories Director) with what she learned about manufacturing and production. Seven months later, the super fun, instantly-covetable jewels were a hit—not least of all with her daughters.
As we look ahead to Mother’s Day, Dueñas Jacobs’ story is especially timely. What Luna, Isa and Silvi (her three young girls) see now are the perfect-for-dress-up, gobstopper-like creations their mom made for them. What they will come to understand as they grow older, is that it was always about more than just the jewelry. With Super Smalls, their mother was sharing with them an experience typically reserved for adults—that magical moment when you open a small box to find a gorgeous piece of jewelry inside. It didn’t exist for kids and so she created it. And that’s something they’ll be able to treasure long after they’ve outgrown their clip-on earrings.
Read on to discover the story behind Super Smalls, how Dueñas Jacobs tackled the steep learning curve she encountered and more.
You were a jewelry editor for years then took a leap into jewelry design for kids with your new company, Super Smalls. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey to make the change?
My girls were always reaching for my jewelry and not understanding its true value (because they were 3,3 and 5!), thinking it would make a suitable toy for their entertainment. They love everything sparkly and rainbow and I could never let them play with my things because THEY ARE NOT TOYS ;). It was actually my oldest Luna who challenged me and asked me to find her jewels that looked like mine. But there was nothing in the market, so I decided to see if I could design and source something similar but kid friendly. At first it was just a fun project that I was curious about and enjoyed executing and finding inspiration from big houses I admire like Tiffany, Graff and Cartier. Then as I got my samples back and began developing the packaging and branding I started to think this is kind of a good idea! My first big compliment was when I showed my girls the very first sample sets: They gasped and asked, “Mommy, can we touch it?” This time I was able to tell them “Yes! Yes! It looks like Mommy’s but it’s for play and it’s for you!”
Learning a new craft from the ground up is a lot of work! Was there one hurdle that took a lot to overcome?
I really had to take a leap of faith in starting Super Smalls. I believed in the vision wholeheartedly, but I wasn’t sure how Super Smalls would do once we launched. I had to cast all fears of failure aside and dive in. There was a steep learning curve and I couldn’t let myself be daunted by that. I’m so blown away by the response we’ve gotten to Super Smalls, it makes me happy that people are as excited about our brand as I am.
You’re now on your second career path. Any tips for budding entrepreneurs looking to change careers and start something new?
If there’s an idea you think is unique that you just can’t stop thinking about, take baby steps and test the waters to see if there’s a potential product and market fit. Do your research and start small, and if you find that the venture is really something you’re passionate about then go for it! Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
As a mother and entrepreneur, I’m sure you’re always juggling a million things. How do you maintain the balance between work and family?
Juggle is the operative word! Balancing two jobs and three little girls can be tricky, but is so rewarding. I sometimes fail at keeping all balls in the air, but when I do I just pick them up and know how to juggle better the next time around.