Ariel Gordon Maffei on Balancing it All

Photographed by Emily Scott

After the first night I spent in her presence, I was convinced - Ariel is a super woman. Not only is she a fun-loving friend (the kind who breathes life and humor into any situation), she also happens to be a creative force, founder of an incredible jewelry line with a cult following (I have this beauty and it makes me happy every day I wear it), and it makes me happy every day I wear it), a loving mother and committed activist. She makes you wonder, "how DOES she do it all, and all so well!". I am so thrilled to have Ariel as part of our world and am constantly learning from her rich and multifaceted approach to life. Her insights on everything from running her business to balancing work and motherhood are ones I cherish. See below for her thoughts on being a busy mother / doer and for photos of her and her sweet babes.

– PD

Ariel wearing the Jane Blouse in Yellow Jasper and Mia wearing the Evangeline Dress

10 things I’ve learned owning a business for 10 years

1. They don’t call it work for nothing

Like most things in life that are worthwhile, owning your own business is exhausting in every possible way. There are no shortcuts to get where I am. The hours are long, the stress can be high, the work can be grunty, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim. For the first few years of AGJ, I couldn’t afford to hire anyone (I also still had a full time job) so I had to roll up my sleeves and dig in. I was doing all of it - production, shipping, customer service, pr, web development, photography, photoshop, etc, etc. I even had a fake ‘accounts payable’ email address so I could play a little good cop/bad cop when I had to wrangle late payments from stores. The late nights and long hours that I put in were well worth it to grow the company to where it is today.

2. Tame the beast

90% of what I do on a daily basis is running a small business (customer service, accounting, marketing, sourcing materials, pr, website maintenance, product photography, graphic design, order fulfillment, styling photoshoots, HR, negotiating shipping rates, etc.). When it’s all floating around, sometimes I can feel paralyzed with the immensity of it all. This is where the Virgo in me really shines… there is no one here to tell me when things are due or what projects I need to be working on. For better or for worse, I am the master of my ship. While in the abstract that sounds liberating, the truth is that it can be super daunting to know where to begin. I use various programs to keep me organized (some of my faves - Slack to chat with my team and make sure emails don’t get bogged down; Airtable to keep track of to-do lists, new design samples, wholesale orders, and a bunch of other things; Google Drive to have all my documents synch to the cloud company-wide; LastPass to keep all my passwords secure and accessible). I just start at the top of my to-do list and work my way down. Before you know it, I can start to see the light.

Ariel wearing the Caramel Dress in Red Ambridge Rose Floral

3. Knowledge is power

Everything that I’ve done in my life has led me to where I am now. For a little context: My first job out of college was for a marketing firm founded by Caroline Graham who was a titan in the magazine world. She was the West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Talk Magazine under Tina Brown (if you don’t know who Tina is, look her up). She taught me so much about marketing, PR, event production, proper etiquette, and so much more.   Then I went to work for a PR firm producing gifting houses at award shows and film festivals. Needless to say, that left a lot to be desired. During this time, I took some jewelry classes at a local jewelry school in Santa Monica to escape the hectic pace of the industry. This led me to the Revere Academy in San Francisco, where I learned metal-smithing and stone setting (The Revere Academy sadly closed in 2017 but it was one of the only places at the time you could go to have a comprehensive course in jewelry fabrication, soldering, wax carving, casting, gemology, stone setting, etc., etc. It's so hard to see its era come to an end. So many great jewelers got their start there). Once I moved back to LA, I sent my resume to every jewelry designer in the area (from Caroline I learned to be fearless and to this day I can cold call anyone) and ended up working as the right hand to Maya Brenner for 5 years. She taught me tons about how to run a small business – from making line sheets to sourcing materials and everything in between. I launched my own line, Ariel Gordon Jewelry, in 2009 and haven’t looked back. Flash to the present day and I’m super proud that I have the skill I used to make all of the jewelry myself at my dining room table in my Santa Monica apartment. I quickly reached a delta where that wasn’t scaleable and I now have a super skilled team of craftspeople in LA who do all my fabrication. But having the intimate knowledge of my materials and how things are made informs so many of my design decisions. That foundation guides all the conversations I have with my vendors. It gives me confidence when I’m in a workshop full of old men and I need to navigate a production hiccup with them because I know my materials so well. Knowledge truly is power.

Ariel wearing the Kaia sweater in Rhubarb

4. Just say yes

I feel like success begets success. It radiates outward. There is a groundswell that starts building and once you have a little bit of momentum it sort of takes off. As your clientele and network of people starts to expand, so do the opportunities that come your way. Game recognizes game. Go along for the ride. Say yes. Take the risk. Follow up with the girl you sat next to at that dinner. You never know what door those conversations will open. All of the collaborations I’ve done were born out of relationships with women who were friends first. Running a company can be isolating so it’s important to reach out into the void and see what comes back in return.

5. Just say no

2 years ago my family moved to the Bay Area for my husband’s work and to be closer to family. The AGJ team and all my production still happens in LA. The result of this move is that I travel back and forth. A lot. Sometimes twice in one week. As a mother of two young kids who runs a company based in a different city, I’m learning I need to set boundaries. My most precious commodity is my time and I need to protect it. While rapid growth sounds validating for my ego, slow and steady is much more sustainable. Climb back in the box, Ego. My priorities are shifting. Five years ago success looked like my jewelry being worn by celebs and being on magazine covers, big store orders and lots of schmancy dinner parties. Today (with a company that is many times more profitable than it was 5 years ago), I’ve shifted the balance. Success looks like a weekend with my kids where I don’t pick up my phone to look at email or social media. Success is relative to where you are in your life. That doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious anymore. I’m just evolving things so they work for me, not the other way around. And if that means some things fall by the wayside, then that’s ok.

Ariel wearing the Caramel Dress in Red Ambridge Rose Floral

6. Say it loud say it proud

Recognize you have a voice. Use it. Loudly. As a conscious consumer, I know I want to spend my money with brands that have values that align with mine. I know some peers who own businesses who are afraid to speak up about politics for fear that it might affect their bottom line. To them I say - it’s a luxury to stay silent and not everyone can afford that luxury. My name is on the door and I want my brand to stand for the values that matter to me. This company is deeply personal and I feel a moral obligation to speak up about causes and policies that are important to me. If that doesn’t align with a customer, then I am fine with that too. In a broader sense, I don’t want my kids to see me as a woman who works so hard to just make pretty things. I want them to know that I stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. I want them to know that I vote. I want them to see me advocate for policy reforms that affect our society. I want them to know that my company supports a whole network of families and artisans. We are all members of the same broad community and need to take care of each other.

7. Lead by example

Be nice. To everyone. In my office, I try to make a s