Photo:Courtesy of Shelley Gibbs Sanders
Welcome to Second Life, a podcast spotlighting successful women who've made major career changes—and fearlessly mastered the pivot. Hosted by Hillary Kerr, co-founder and chief content officer at Who What Wear, each episode will give you a direct line to women who are game changers in their fields. Subscribe to Second Life on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you listen to stay tuned.
Many entrepreneurs build their business after identifying a white space in a market they deem to have potential. Shelley Gibbs Sanders identified that opportunity for a “cool, middle-of-the-road, fine-jewelry company,” but whether the market was sustainable enough to hold her own stake in was another matter. “I knew too much,” she tells Hillary Kerr in this week’s episode of Second Life. “I saw businesses fail. I saw them succeed and then fail. … I saw factories turn upside down,” she says. So how did she come to found the classic yet refreshingly cool fine-jewelry brand The Last Line? Keep reading.
After attending two years of undergrad at Parsons School of Design, Sanders left to pursue jewelry at a trade school in San Francisco, where she’d train “at the bench” in an intensive program, learning everything she could about the technical process of jewelry-making. Her skill set would be greatly expanded when she landed her first job out of school designing for a jewelry licensing company with clients like Playboy, Disney, and Rocawear. Soon, Sanders was acting not only as a designer but as the product head, responsible for everything from product ideation all the way to an approved sample. “I had a fierce focus and desire to make this work, and I knew that I needed to eat up every single aspect of jewelry,” she says.
Eventually, she went on to work as the head jewelry designer for dozens of high-end houses and celebrity brands, including House of Harlow 1960 with Nicole Richie, the Rachel Zoe Collection, and a jewelry line for A.L.C. with Andrea Lieberman. Regardless of the project, Sanders always asked her clients the same question: What had they been searching for in fine jewelry that they couldn’t find? Over the years, she kept a folder with solution-oriented, classic product ideas: hoops that hung right, huggies that actually fit, etc. The folder was getting thick. “A lot of [fashion] companies address fit, functionality, and technical materials, and no one really addressed it in jewelry,” she says.
In 2017, she could no longer ignore how well equipped she was to create the brand she had long been searching for and, alongside her husband and business partner, launched The Last Line. The brand was challenging the traditional fine-jewelry model with a focus on fit, and selling direct-to-consumer allowed the brand to keep prices lower than traditional retail markups without relinquishing control to the big retailers who would inevitably influence the brand’s designs to fit their customer demographics.
"I've seen retail fine-jewelry destroy some of my favorite collections I've ever worked on,” says Sanders. Instead, by bypassing the retail middlemen, she was able to lean into the brand's differentiators like selling earrings individually, offering product in unique materials and colorways, and designing classic pieces with a wild twist. In short, her strategy worked. Since launch, The Last Line has sold over 500,000 diamonds, 100,000 pieces of fine jewelry, and in 2019 was piercing over 100 ears each week between its NY and L.A. pop-up piercing parties. Sanders's extensive experience and thoughtful execution paid off.
Tune in to this week’s episode of Second Life to hear how Sanders quieted doubting voices and pushed forward to build a successful brand and find personal fulfillment. To shop some of The Last Line's best-selling designs, keep scrolling.