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Meet Ying Tao and Brittany Connors of Myra Ave in Culver City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ying Tao and Brittany Connors.

Ying and Brittany, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Myra Ave was started with one simple idea, women shouldn’t have to endure pain for beauty.

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, but when I do dress up, I tend to go for really fun and expressive statement earrings. Wearing earrings has always been my favorite way of expressing myself. When traveling around the world, I would buy a pair of earrings from each place I visited. I loved having a unique collection of statement jewelry but hated that I could only wear my pieces for an hour before my ears started swelling and throbbing with pain. I got my ears pierced in high school and started experiencing allergic reactions to earrings in my early 20’s, which has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. By the time I met my co-founder Brittany, my right ear hole had completely closed due to an allergic reaction and I had stopped wearing jewelry altogether. My entire jewelry collection just sat in a box collecting dust.

Brittany and I met at a yoga retreat earlier this year and we quickly bonded over our sensitivities to metals used in fashion jewelry. While I had stopped wearing all jewelry, Brittany resorted to wearing expensive pieces that were 18k gold or higher. She was frustrated because she felt like she was limited in her style options, which was disappointing given her deep love of jewelry that has existed for as long as she can remember. As a little girl, she used to carry around a Tiffany’s catalog and spend hours staring into a photo of a 5-carat emerald diamond. She has always been drawn to bold, standout pieces, but has always had trouble wearing the kind of jewelry she loved because of her severe skin allergies. While wearing real gold is always a solution, it’s an expensive one.

We knew we weren’t the only ones with this problem, so when we saw there wasn’t a great solution in the market, we set out to create a new standard of hypoallergenic jewelry. Becoming an entrepreneur was not foreign to me as I had already built a profitable e-commerce business prior to starting Myra Ave. However, I did not know anything about the jewelry industry and that’s where Brittany comes in. Brittany was working as a high-end stylist for a major brand and had also previously worked for a fine jewelry company. She knew all the best jewelers in Downtown LA and in the beginning, we ran around the jewelry district trying to figure the best way to make our earrings hypoallergenic. We quickly realized our initial assumptions were not scalable or even possible and had to go back to the drawing board multiple times to come up with a viable solution.

Neither of us had a lot of money to invest, so we bootstrapped everything and wore many hats (even hats we had never worn before) to build this company. Looking back, we’ve learned and grown so much since just the beginning of the year. After countless hours of research, development, testing different types of metals on ourselves, and consulting with dermatologists, we are proud to have created a line of hypoallergenic jewelry that women can wear with confidence.

We finally launched our website in July 2020. Our collection features dainty everyday styles, fun statement jewelry, and all kinds of hoops and huggies. What you see on our website is a culmination of all the styles we dreamt of being able to wear but couldn’t. According to the American Chemical Society, about 17% of women suffer from metal allergies, but after speaking with many women, we have realized so many more suffer from allergies and don’t even realize it. They just have always thought pain is normal! How crazy is that? We hope our story will reach more women and that our line will give women the ability to wear beautiful, sensitivity-safe jewelry without breaking the bank.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Starting a company is never a smooth road, but our first major bump is not something most entrepreneurs normally encounter. We started this company at the beginning of a major pandemic, Covid-19. When we began in January, the virus was thought to only be in China. Never in a million years did we think that this was going to be a global issue, especially one that has completely changed the way we live our lives. Despite all the social and economic uncertainties that we were faced with (and continue to be faced with), we believe in our vision and keep forging on. From the beginning, we planned on creating an e-commerce company and now believe that quarantine will push the market towards online shopping even more.

Covid-19 made manufacturing and shipping difficult as we had many inventory delays and lost packages. In fact, most of our inventory was delayed for months, with some of it not ever making it to us at all. Our launch date was pushed back multiple times because we simply couldn’t get inventory. We’ve had to constantly adapt to the world crisis that continues to change daily.

The quarantine lockdown made things interesting for us as we worked remotely and had to figure out how to take pictures without any models. We mostly worked on designs during this time and had to wait a few months to be able to even work with each other in person. When it finally was somewhat safe to conduct photoshoots, most people still didn’t feel comfortable shooting, so we are grateful that our friends stepped in and were willing to be our models.

Aside from COVID, we also had challenges trying to figure out how to make our ideal jewelry styles hypoallergenic. We learned that nickel, cobalt, chromium were the metals most likely to cause allergic reactions. We also extensively researched which metals are truly hypoallergenic. From consulting experts in the industry, we were able to quickly find out what type of manufacturing was possible and not possible using the metals we knew were safe. While we originally wanted to use titanium for our jewelry, we learned it wasn’t the best metal to use for our designs given its chemical composition. Our collections are comprised of gold-plated sterling silver and gold-plated surgical steel free of nickel, cobalt, and chromium. We are proud to have created a line that women can rely on to be safe and can wear with confidence.

Myra Ave – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Creating an affordable, sensitivity-safe jewelry line for women is a very personal mission for us. We are our own customers, so we know what’s important: comfort, design, quality, and affordability. Our jewelry is designed to be safe to wear for those with metal sensitivities, but of course, our customers don’t have to have metal sensitivities to enjoy our pieces! We really pride ourselves in making sure the jewelry we sell meets our high standards of quality. Almost half of our original prototypes did not make the cut! Our collections range from everyday pieces to statement jewelry when you want something a bit more fun. Our goal is to offer unique jewelry that allows women a variety of ways to express themselves.

We don’t believe in paying designer prices for fashion jewelry. We were shocked when we found out that most major jewelry brands sell gold-plated brass pieces that are $60+, which we know is overpriced for what it is. We believe it’s not only important to offer our customers a positive experience wearing our jewelry, but also for them to trust that they’re not being taken advantage of in terms of price.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to us is to able to reach the women who suffer from metal allergies and give them the opportunity to wear beautiful and pain-free jewelry in a variety of styles. As soon as we realized we were able to wear our jewelry for days without experiencing any pain, we became our own customers for life. We knew then that there was no way we could ever back to cheap costume jewelry that made our ears swollen, red and irritated. We are overjoyed every time we hear how excited our customers are to be able to wear jewelry again. We know if we can continue to deliver these types of positive experiences, we have achieved success.


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