Moms in Business: Get to know Monica Stephenson
Mothers in Business: idazzle’s Monica Stephenson
You may know Monica Stephenson for her brilliant idazzle.com jewelry blog. You may know Monica Stephenson as a passionate advocate through her work with the African gem mining community, or as the brains behind the ANZA Gems project. Or, you may simply know Monica Stephenson as a mom.
Yes, that is one person behind all of those ventures, working little miracles at home and at the office—whether that office is the showroom in Seattle or a mine in Kenya, at the moment—when at once it would seem difficult to successfully manage just one of those responsibilities. But all of those things together seem no match for Stephenson, who has been delighting (and impressing) us with these ventures at home and abroad (and always looks really glamorous doing it, too). But make no mistake: Behind every success, there is sacrifice and heaps of hard work. Here’s how the mother of two—and jewelry industry pioneer—gets it all done.
Tell us what made you decide to start idazzle.com.
Monica Stephenson: Jewelry has been a passion since childhood, and I parlayed that into a job in college at an independent retailer. I was hooked: I worked in a variety of capacities throughout the jewelry industry—selling, buying, and eventually helping Amazon launch their jewelry business in the early 2000’s. We decided to start a family, and about a year in when I found it challenging to balance a tech career with a baby, I was a stay-at-home mom for a few years. But by the time my youngest of two daughters was about one, I was officially going a little nutty being disengaged from the professional world. I started idazzle.com to stay connected to the world of jewelry, but on my own time: writing during naps and after they went to bed.
So babies came before business, then?
MS: The blog was born as a consequence of babies. My professional experience was always about jewelry, so all of that knowledge and love poured into idazzle and shaped what it has become. The flexibility of the blog allowed me to still be there for the day-to-day of children, but gave me a much-needed outlet.
Give us the low-down on your African travels (the photos are always amazing!).
MS: Thank you! I can hardly believe my luck—my life-—with this road-less-traveled! I call myself “the accidental gem dealer” because this was never on the radar until it just unfolded in front of me. I guess you could say that every experience of my life has led to this crossroads. After traveling to East Africa for the first time in January of 2014 with the documentary film Sharing the Rough, I could not stop thinking about the incredible gems—and people—I found there. I figured out that I could help link the gem miners and dealers of Tanzania and Kenya to U.S. designers who are very concerned with origin and responsible sourcing. Contributing a portion of sales of the ANZA Gems and Jewelry capsule collections to education in the gem-mining communities is the most important part for me. I think I look at the world differently now as a mother. Having a future for these children I see on my travels is what motivates me and keeps me pushing to constantly explore solutions that benefit everyone in the supply chain. I travel to Tanzania and Kenya about 3 times a year (I’ve made 7 trips since that initial life-changing journey) to buy rough gemstones and—my favorite part—visit the schools we support. I can’t explain how alive I feel when I’m there. There is something that draws me there.
The ANZA Gems project is incredible—we really admire your passion, drive, and love for Africa and love the resulting jewelry designs. What was the hardest part of bringing this vision to life?
MS: Ha! The logistics of inventing and running a completely vertical supply chain in a challenging international market that has next to no infrastructure? What’s so difficult about that, lol? Literally every single step has been a challenge, yet—paradoxically—has also fallen into place in a way that leads me to believe that the universe wants this to happen. I have some talented people to draw on for professional advice—master gem cutter Roger Dery, my husband Dave, my colleague Meghan, countless jewelry industry people generous with their time or advice—to help me navigate this. It takes a village to raise ANZA Gems, along with my children!
Business aside, what’s the hardest part of being a mother to two?
MS: It can be challenging to navigate their different (competing?) interests and increasing activities—they are 12 and 10, so not so little anymore. I feel like I need an assistant just to manage our schedules! But seeing their very singular personalities develop is also the greatest reward.
What’s the hardest part of your working day?
MS: Not accomplishing everything I want to do in a day/week/month. In addition to being a mom, I also run two businesses (idazzle and ANZA Gems), I’m on two non-profit boards, I write for a couple of trade magazines, and I’m active at the girls’ school among many other things. Adding in the fact that a lot of my work revolves around social media, it means that juggling all of these sometimes-disparate projects can get daunting. Like where-do-I-start daunting. Like I-want-to-go-back-to-bed daunting. I have to exercise kindness and understanding for myself, to be okay that not everything will get done.
Describe what a typical (business) day looks like for you.
MS: Up at 5:35 a.m. to make it to a 6:15 a.m. yoga class (or get ready and drive my girls to school depending on schedule). Home to shower and get ready for the day. Scan emails first, then Instagram and post something for @idazzle.
Head to idazzle studio and work on a writing project until lunchtime. Salad at my desk while checking and interacting on Instagram. Photograph new gems for the portfolio dossiers that come with ANZA jewelry while there is good light in the studio. Conference call with board committee.
Enjoy a cup of tea while getting gems ready to send to cutters. Finish up critical emails before heading home to make dinner (ha! Never done!). Sit down with the family for dinner and talk about “Highs, Lows and Angels” for the day.Pour a glass of wine while overseeing homework and herd the girls toward bed.
Finally catch up with my husband after the kids go to bed…if I am still awake…
What’s been your biggest success thus far in your journey to being a successful business owner?
MS: Being the first blogger to be nominated for an Editorial Media Award for Excellence from the Women’s Jewelry Association, and then winning that award in 2015 was such a wonderful reward for the love and effort I’ve poured into idazzle.com over the years! Seeing ANZA Gems featured in the press, and getting wonderful feedback from people I value, makes me so happy. I literally treasure every follow, like and comment—I am endlessly amazed that people read, and some of the most important business relationships I have started on social media!
Your biggest challenge?
MS: Living up to my own expectations and making sure to prioritize my family.
Do you talk to your kids about your profession?
MS: Absolutely! I try to involve them in some business questions, milestones and projects. I love to show them when I receive new gems from Africa, or the faceted gems when I get them back from the cutters, or I have them read/edit a blog post. They often ask about the kids at the primary school in Tanzania and wonder how they can help. We are taking them to East Africa this June to see the places I go and meet everyone I work with!
How do your kids impact your business decisions?
MS: Every day is a bit of a struggle—how much does my business impact or affect what I can do for my family? I think there is some guilt involved for every working mom. I think a lot about how my travel schedule might impact them, and try and work around their important events, competitions and performances, and just plain snuggle time. I think about the longevity of my business: Would they want to be involved at some point? Is there a legacy for them?
How does what you do professionally impact your daily life with family?
MS: Despite the challenges of balance with my business and my family, ultimately I want my girls to see that it is possible—and rewarding—for a woman to run her own business and still be a mom, wife, daughter, friend. But I struggle with putting my phone down and being completely present in my off time.
What helps you to unwind?
MS: Yoga. I try to practice 4-5 times a week if I can, and work out the other days. I can’t tell you how important that is to my health, both the physical and the mental. I look forward to a lovely cup of tea in the middle of the day. And that all-important glass of wine (or two) at the end of the day. #winetherapy
What is your mantra? (If you don’t have one, tell us what keeps you going when things seem to be at their worst).
MS: Every year I have a few words that I try and keep foremost in my mind as I face obstacles and try to persevere. Right now they are: Courage. Ease. Grace. Compassion. My friend Erika Winters designed a pendant for ANZA using a Kenyan garnet in a shield shape. She calls it my “brave heart” and I wear that for strength and inspiration.
What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before becoming a mom/working for yourself?
MS: That it’s really hard, but worth it. And that you need to be kind to yourself (oops, that is 2 things!).
What other moms in business do you admire?
MS: Oh, so many! Barbara Palumbo (featured earlier in your series), Amanda Gizzi, Brandee Dallow, Andrea Hansen, Debbie Hiss, Jackie Cohen, Jennifer Dawes, Bernadette Mack…too many to list! It sounds cliché, but being a mom is the toughest, most rewarding profession in the world, so anyone who takes on a job in addition to that is a hero.