How a jewelry entrepreneur's clever idea and sustainable focus allowed her to turn the family business into a line of popular fashion accessories.
Alex and Ani founder and president Carolyn Rafaelian
As we process applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eye was Cranston, Rhode Island-based Alex and Ani.
The market for high-end jewelry is exclusive and competitive, but Alex and Ani's line of patented expandable wire bracelets and rings, chain necklaces, and hoop earrings aim to be a cut above the rest. Founder and President Carolyn Rafaelian patented a sliding mechanism that replaces traditional clasps, allowing their wearers to adjust each piece to their individual size.
"It introduces a functionality that's unique in the jewelry world, because nothing like that's been done before," Rafaelian says. A lot of people have caught on to the customizable concept, including a list of celebrity followers like Anne Hathaway, Miley Cyrus, and Sandra Bullock. The company's revenue grew from $654,000 in 2006 to $2.2 million last year.
Integral to that success is Rafaelian's commitment to the environment and to philanthropy. All Alex and Ani jewelry is produced entirely in the United States, using recycled, natural materials, and the company introduced a line of products designed specifically for charities. "Because the bangle is so universal, we have been approached so many times to work with different charities," she says. "I thought it would be a great idea to incorporate a special meaning behind a charm specific to each organization, and then partner with them so that there is an awareness for their cause."
Last year, Vogue sought out Rafaelian in their effort to increase cervical cancer awareness. Every piece of the individually designed charm saw a portion of those proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.
Rafaelian began working for her father, a jewelry manufacturer, shortly after her first child was born. It was there she began building the brand that became Alex and Ani, keeping it in the family by naming it after her first two daughters. She incorporated in 2004.
Alex and Ani recently opened their first retail store in Newport, Rhode Island, and plan to open seven more within the next two years, in cities like Honolulu, Boston, and Miami. They've also begun opening up Bangle Bars, which are full Alex and Ani set-ups within high-end boutique stores, and are expanding in the spa and salon market. They're also looking internationally, finding their expandable bangles have caught on in the Japanese market. "The orders are coming in, it's amazing," Rafaelian said. "I'm so excited that it's really caught on."