“Two East Dallas best friends take a jewelry class, design some jewelry, have it bought right off their bodies in restaurants and grocery stores, start a jewelry company, land Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom as their biggest clients, travel around the country, sell a necklace and earrings to Mary Steenbergen while in L.A., and retire at 30 after being in business less than two years. Well, maybe not retire yet, but everything else is true.”
This is how two local entrepreneurs describe their version of the classic rags-to-riches fairy tale. They are Anna Bayes and Elizabeth Trowbridge, and they are the creators of a line of jewelry and hair accessories currently featured both at large department stores and local boutiques.
This is a business is borne out of a longtime friendship, and mutual love of fashion. “Elizabeth and I have known each other since our freshman year of college,” explains Bayes. “We lived across from each other in the dorm at UNT, and became friends then. We’ve been friends for 13 years.”
The two realized quickly that they shared an interest in the fashion industry. “Anna was majoring in fashion merchandising, and I was majoring in fashion merchandising and journalism,” says Trowbridge. “We both worked in jewelry stores in high school.”
The friendship, and proximity, endured after graduation when they moved into the same apartment complex in Dallas. They later married fraternity brothers, and migrated to different parts of Dallas. It was during this time that the duo signed up for the fateful jewelry making class that would lead them from friendship to a business partnership.
“Elizabeth and I signed up for the jewelry making class for fun,” explains Bayes. “We’d go home and play around with designs we’d learned in class.
“Pretty soon we were getting stopped everywhere we went. People wanted to know where we had gotten our jewelry, and when we told them we had made it ourselves, they were literally buying it right off our bodies.”
“It was pretty unbelievable,” adds Trowbridge, “but it kept happening, so we decided to take our cues from the public and approach some stores about selling our jewelry. Having a background in fashion, we were pretty selective about approaching boutiques where we thought our designs would do well.”
“We knew we were on to something when nobody we approached said no,” says Bayes.
In fact, stores were buying, on the spot, everything they had. Soon, were regularly designing jewelry for 7 local boutiques, including WOW, Animal Crackers and Kid Biz. The friends created two lines of jewelry — Liza Bayze is the women’s line specializing in semi-precious, crystal and European specialty beaded necklaces, bracelets and hair accessories. This line’s claim to fame is their coil memory wire bracelets, which can be worn as a bracelet, choker, waist wrap, anklet, arm cuff or headband.
Deux Amis is their junior line. The name means “two friends” in French, and the jewelry is sold in pairs with the idea that friends can have “one for you and one for me.”
The entrepreneurs believe that their staunch commitment to using quality imported glass beads is what sets them apart from less expensive look-alikes.
“We are targeting a customer interested in both trend and quality,” says Trowbridge. “She is someone who wants to stay trendy and fashionable, but has both the desire and income to purchase a quality product.”
“We never went to plastic beads,” says Bayes, “even with the junior line.”
Janet Schendle Finegold, owner of Kid Biz in Preston Center, agrees that is the quality of the jewelry that stands out to customers. “I think that what appeals to customers most is their use of unique stones and colorations,” she says. “We are a very contemporary store and our customers are very aware of current fashion trends.
“The Deux Amis line has done just great here, and we have a lot of moms who buy it for themselves.”
Bolstered by their success within local boutiques, Bayes and Trowbridge decided to pursue larger clients Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Since Trowbridge was working as a buyer for Neiman’s, they had an inside track to help them land the deal. Getting into Nordstrom, however, required a bit more creativity.
“A few years earlier, Elizabeth and I had attended a conference at North Texas where Pete Nordstrom was the speaker,’ explains Bayes. “At the end of the conference he handed out his card and invited everyone to contact him if they ever needed any help.
“Of course, nobody ever really does it, but we held onto that number. We didn’t know who to approach at Nordstrom, so we pulled out his number and just called him directly.”
Adds Trowbridge, “There’s nothing like just starting at the top!”
By the Christmas 1999 season, the jewelry was being sold at stores across the country. It was during this time that the pair hired a crew to produce the jewelry. They had outgrown their dining room table workshop, but still hold the occasional “bag and tag” party to ready their orders for shipment.
“If necessary, we’ll get our husbands, friends and family to pull an all-nighter in order to get a shipment out in time,” says Trowbridge. In fact as recently as this past Labor Day weekend, they had a crew at their house bagging and tagging for a holiday shipment.
The partners then began traveling around the country to add a store-to-store personal touch; this aspect of the business has become one of their favorite parts of the job.
“We were on our way to L.A. to do our first in-store appearance out there,” recalls Bayes, “and we were so excited that the (airline) crew asked us about our trip. When they heard our story, they gave us champagne to celebrate.”
It was at a personal appearance in Los Angeles that they sold a necklace and earrings to actress Mary Steenbergen.
“We were at the store doing our demonstration when she walked up to me,” says Trowbridge. “I knew who she was immediately, but I wanted to play it cool, so I greeted her and started talking about the jewelry. Pretty soon, Anna saw that I was talking to her and started elbowing me and whispering: Do you know who that is?
“She was incredibly nice, and even agreed to take a picture with us.”
The pair hopes to get more celebrities into their designs. Recently, Oprah Winfrey purchased some of their pieces, and is considering featuring them in her magazine.
“Everything Oprah touches turns into gold,” says Trowbridge, “so we are really hoping to work something out.”
These days, the two women are juggling their day jobs with their enormous duties as business owners. In addition, Bayes is teaching at UNT while working on a Ph.D. They both live in Lakewood, which they “adore.”
Trowbridge and husband, Patrick, moved to the Lakewood area immediately after getting married. Says Patrick:“ In Dallas, it’s hard to find homes like the ones in Lakewood, which have great architectural integrity and are historically interesting. I think it is absolutely the greatest area in the city.”
His wife agrees, noting that she also loves all the wonderful restaurants and shops in the neighborhood: “Lakewood feels like a very chic small town.”
Bayes and her husband, Chet, are more recent additions to the Lakewood neighborhood.
“We couldn’t get here fast enough,” says Bayes — the two couples now live within a few miles of each other.
“I love the friendly neighborhood feel of Lakewood,” says Bayes. “Elizabeth and I walk together every morning — it’s our time to go over our business plan for the day — and we always see the same people out walking the same dogs.
“It really gives you the feeling that everybody knows each other.”
Bayes and Trowbridge spend up to 50 hours a week together working on their jewelry business. And yet, they have managed to merge their friendship and business partnership almost seamlessly.
“I’m glad it was the two of us who paired,” says Bayes. “We have the same vision and goals.”
Trowbridge agrees: “I tend to be a bit reactionary, and Bayes is very calm. We are a very balanced team. Being able to focus on the long term goal helps us get through the short term stresses.”
Her husband Patrick adds, “They are a good combination. Elizabeth is a real taskmaster, while Anna is more global in her thinking. From a business perspective, they are an excellent match because Anna’s background brings in vendor awareness while Elizabeth brings retail awareness to the company.”
At this the inaugural stage of their entrepreneurial endeavor, busy schedules rarely allow the two women much time with their husbands.
“After one all-nighter at Anna’s house, my husband called at around 6a.m.,” says Trowbridge. “He had woken up to an empty bed and couldn’t figure out if I had come home late and left already, or had never come home at all.”
Amazingly, both men remain supportive and enthusiastic. “Elizabeth lives her life full force,” says Patrick, “there’s nothing part-time about her. I knew this when I married her, and it’s just who she is. Obviously, there are times I wish she was there, but we both understand what we’re doing and how we’re getting there.”
Chet agrees: “I always knew she was a hard worker, and the most important thing is that she is happy.”
And, says Patrick; “I got a T-shirt out of it!”
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