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Meet Nancy Jamar of Gilding the Lily in Fullerton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nancy Jamar.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I bought two hats. When I look back on how Gilding the Lily started, it started with two hats.

I was working as a graphic designer, but loved going junking on the weekends. I loved vintage, and loved hats, and bought two little 1930s Easter bonnets with flowers all over them. The seller kept egging me on to buy more, but I held the line on getting something really vintage, and told him so. He said, “I’ve got a warehouse in Long Beach, and I’ve got a thousand vintage hats there.” First step down the slippery slope.

I didn’t go there with the intent of starting a business, but bought hundreds of hats nonetheless. Then I started looking for stuff to refurbish them, hunting down vintage feathers, flowers and veiling. One Saturday morning, as I was sitting in the middle of my 10×20 storage space and wondering what I was doing with all this stuff, I decided to dip my toe into retail and consigned some things with a friend who had a store downtown.

It went well, and the business grew. I outgrew my consignment, took over half a space around the corner, and Gilding lived there for two years. In 2007, we moved our design studio out of its office downtown and I moved the business there, a cool space in a 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival hotel that suits us pretty well.

Somewhere along the way, I got interested in jewelry making and started attracting the attention of makers and artists who liked working with vintage materials. These two things were brought to a finer point when I moved the business, and the slightly smaller space seemed to focus the business more on vintage supplies and components, and that, along with a lot of product development has brought us to where we are today.

My daughter Nathalie and I run the business, two web sites, and work with designers all over the country who come to us for something unique. People like working and designing with vintage because it brings something different to the mix, and the quality is so high. About half the business is jewelry related, and over time, we have added a casting line, plating services, many components we make ourselves, and a line of sequenced bead chains that are designed and produced in our studio. We also work with milliners, costumers, and entrepreneurs of all kinds.

Over the years, we have acquired inventories of ribbons, buttons, jewelry findings, and have one of the largest inventories of Miriam Haskell pearls on this coast, the happy result of a ten-year search. All that hunting is fun, but the best part of our job is working alongside so many creative people. My mother once asked me what I most liked to hear in the store, and I told her, “I like to hear the wheels turning.” It’s more than exciting to see what people do with our things, and it makes parting with them a little easier!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Smooth? Not so much. We’ve had to contend with lots of competition, the internet, Etsy, an aging demographic, and the economy, which has beat us up pretty bad at times. We have several channels that we are working: Our brick and mortar store, our own web site, vintagedesignresource.com, and a recently opened Etsy store that focuses primarily on our Haskell pearls, since that is such a specific search for people. We’ve also started doing some shows to let people know who we are and what we are doing, and have had calculable results from that, driving new business to the store. We’re working to grow a younger demographic for the store, and Nathalie is instrumental in guiding a lot of that effort.

Along the way, we’ve dealt with theft of intellectual property, and have found we have to maintain a delicate balance of inspiring one segment of our clientele, while protecting the interests of our wholesale customers who buy our finished jewelry for resale, or have us contribute to designing their lines. Often this means disappointing retail customers who see a component in our work that may be unavailable for the term of our production for a client. We try to keep enough new stuff coming in to please everyone and keep them inspired.

Another issue we deal with on a continuing basis is quality. The majority of the findings and components readily available are produced overseas and lack even the pretense of quality. We have hunted down old tooling and have new products made here in the states, have our plating and casting done here, and are happy to have taken that route. Sometimes people ask, “Why does it cost that much?” and we try to educate our customers as to “why it is worth so much.”

Gilding the Lily – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I think the products we design and produce ourselves are what set us apart. Our signature line of sequenced chains are designed by us and handmade in-house; our casting line is replicated from vintage and antique originals. We’ve recently introduced a line of coin pendants based on old European coins that are bezeled in vintage coin holders from one of our sources back east, and we often combine multiple components from our inventory to create one of a kind focals that are not available anywhere else. We also love working with old metal chains and have designed several pieces that are assembled from vintage chain and components and clad in sterling that are really fun to work with.

I think what sets us apart from other supply stores is the mix. People may not buy all the different items that we sell, but they are inspired by them. A jewelry designer may not purchase the vintage textiles we carry in the store, but may be inspired by a color palette or combination of textures; mixed media artists often combine the metal findings and filigrees with antique papers for something unique. It’s a lot to ride herd on, and it is definitely a challenge to stock so many different things, much less merchandise them, but we keep trying!

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to make more money and have less bumps in the road, but I am doing what I want. Owning your own business is an enormous responsibility, and a crap load of stress. The economic vagaries make it difficult to strategize, and for a person who counts among their mantras, “Be proactive, not reactive,” that’s a hard one.

But I get to work with my daughter, as well as designers and makers from all over the country and the world, and that’s pretty cool. Some days, I define success by how weary I am and how many hours I spend on my feet with clients. Other days, I quantify it by simply saying, “I’m still here.” On the best days, I realize I am still excited by what I am doing and the amazing things I get to work with. Sometimes it takes looking through other people’s eyes to realize how cool it all really is.

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Image Credit:

Nancy Jamar
Gilding the Lily

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1 Comment

  1. Charlotte Anne

    April 29, 2018 at 02:47

    Your store is amazing and wish I could visit. I love ribbons. Whether a broach or hat! I just love soft vintage colors.

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