After being rejected from law school, 22-year-old Anna Stainsby felt lost and confused when her boyfriend’s mother suggested she sign up for an adult class. As Anna says: “That was the beginning of everything.”
Smart Girl Tribe: What was the catalyst for becoming a female founder?
Anna: I knew that learning to work with metal would take a while, but I wanted to start building a brand right away. That meant having to start with less technically demanding pieces. The barrette idea was born because the ones I saw online were either incredibly expensive or sold in large packs for children – there was a gap in the market for affordable, unique accessories. I decided to put them online almost as a placeholder as I learned to make fine jewellery.
S: Who has had the greatest influence on your work?
A: My grandmother. She was forced to drop out after grade 3 to provide for her family. She has worked every single day of her life, sacrificing endlessly for the future of her children and grandchildren. She once told me she never had the time to question her strength or her abilities, so she just kept moving forward. I don’t doubt that my hustle gene comes from her.
S: How did you fund the business at the start and how did you secure
customers in the beginning?
A: I started the business with a $150 investment (me being the sole investor). Before launching, I amassed a small following on Instagram. I followed everyone I knew and all of their friends, too. Once I released the first collection I gained more traction. I connected with some influencers, gifted some pieces, and gained even more traction from them. It’s crazy to see their influence as it happens — whenever they post photos in my pieces my numbers grow. Marianne Theodorsen was my muse from the start so her support has been incredible. I credit a lot of my success to her and Pernille Teisbaek, who have been so generous and supportive but also lovely people who I am so grateful to have connected with.
S: Law school to jewellery making- that is such a huge shift. Tell us your career path so far?
A: I’m quite restless, so I’ve always had projects going on. When I was 12 I launched a wedding planning website with my best friend, so I guess that was my first business. It’s crazy to think that any bride would ever trust us but it taught me a lot about branding, using your platform and fully committing. I then worked as a fashion writer for a magazine start up. Even though it never launched, my experience there was incredibly empowering. Our Editor-in-Chief gave me so much confidence to speak up in boardroom meetings and spearhead my section. Having a mentor at that transitional age is invaluable — someone who is absolutely subjective and can provide you with career advice and validation. I launched Neophyte in October of 2018. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was an entrepreneur or that I was launching a real business. It barely feels that way now! It just felt like another project I would learn from.
“Having a mentor at that transitional age is invaluable — someone who is absolutely subjective and can provide you with career advice and validation.”
S: What is the habit that contributes most to your success?
A: Putting in the hours. Running my business is the first thing I do when I wake up. Planning my day in 15-30 minute increments is really helpful. Accounting for each waking minute may sound overboard but it’s been my favourite productivity habit for about 5 years. It’s my advice to students everywhere — you’ll realize you have more time than you think.
S: What do you do when lacking inspiration?
A: Look up old jewellery online. Whether it’s antiques or jewellery in paintings, I love seeing old designs and trying to figure out how I’d reinterpret them.
S: How important is social media for your business?
A: Right now it’s the lifeline. Everything happens there: my interactions with customers and influencers, updates on new products, launch teases and releases. Instagram is also my portfolio. You can see who has worn my pieces, what you can buy, and what we’re all about in terms of aesthetic and style. That said, our website is about to become a little more important.
S: What is your design process like?
A: Mood boards, terrible drawings, trial and error. Some pieces really take off with my customers and then I end up making more in line with that idea. But I always want to switch it up. Like I said, I’m restless.
S: Can you tell us what your day-to-day looks like?
A: My mornings consist of coffee, emails and spreadsheets. Most of my business is in Europe so I play catch-up when I wake up. Then I go to work and enter data all day. In the evening I try to squeeze in a little gym time to have a breather between jobs though this doesn’t always happen. Most of the time I’ll work from 6 pm to 10 pm or midnight, depending on how heavy my workload is. I’ll make barrettes to restock, complete custom orders, package, run to the post office, meet with Toronto customers who are able to pick up their orders, update the website, shoot content… I try to read before bed but I’m not making it past a few pages a night these days. Another thing I’m trying to get better at.
S: The hardest part of your journey so far?
A: The week before launch I was sure I would fail. I questioned why I even made a website and told everyone I knew I was starting a project that was doomed to crash and burn. My boyfriend gave me two pieces of advice that shook me out of it: 1) That Cartier wasn’t Cartier overnight, and 2) To look at Neophyte like a hobby and creative outlet — people don’t stress about the possibility of not becoming a professional musician when they learn to play an instrument. There have been stressful moments since then — handling restocks, suppliers, legal things — but I doubt myself a lot less now. I’ll figure it out. And if I don’t, it’ll be a learning lesson.
S: What do you think then are three traits every self-starter needs?
A: Self-motivation, energy, relentlessness.
S: You have so much going on right now, especially with the website. What is next for you?
A: More accessories (we’ll be launching handmade bags soon) and more fine jewellery. I’m taking a mould making class this winter and I’m so excited to introduce more designs.
S: Lastly, what would you tell your younger self?
A:Ask for help, but also give people a reason to say yes. Outsource the things you’re not good at but preemptively offer something you can also do for them — no matter how small. It’ll be worth it.
S: What is the step-by-step process to making jewellery?
A: The barrettes are quite simple to make but the jewellery takes a lot longer, especially as I’m still so new to it. Ring making consists of measuring for ring size, sawing the metal, filing the edges, hammering it shut, soldering, pickling, sanding it, polishing it. Right now I’m starting to work with moulds, so the process is more so like sculpting, sending the mould off to be made and cast, and polishing at the end. It takes a lot longer but it really does beat instant gratification.
Fashion- As a freelancer what does your everyday outfit look like? Since I’m not yet a full-on freelancer, my outfits still need to match my day job’s environment. That said, I work in a pretty relaxed office so most days I’ll go in in jeans, a tee, a blazer and some booties. That’s what I feel best in.
Books- One entrepreneurial book you would recommend?
I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list: Contagious. It’s about why some ideas catch on and businesses blow up. I’m excited to dive into it soon.
Influencer ways- What is one rule you should abide by if sending off
pieces to fashion influencers? Try connecting with them first and making it personal! I’ll always add in something extra and a personalized note. I only send my stuff to people I genuinely admire, so I take the time to let them know why and how excited I am for them to own something I’ve made.
Travelling- When working is there a particular beauty product that you swear by? Moisturizer with SPF. It really is the simplest thing but it goes a long way. Right now I’m also applying Blistex every hour. I’ve tried lots of different brands with cuter packaging and fun flavours or tints but nothing works better than Blistex during the cold dry months.