TARA's founder, Annette Lasala Spillane, is a Filipina entrepreneur who was determined to share the unique design perspective of the Philippines with the world. Having come from a long career in finance, she set out to prove that women can create the world they want to live in. I sat down with her to hear her inspiring story.
LM: Let's start with a snapshot of you and the company.
ALS: I am Annette Lasala Spillane and I founded and run the day-to-day operations of TARA. TARA stands for The Artisan Row Accessories, and we create buildable fine jewelry, with the intention of creating fine jewelry essentials that are modular, interchangeable, and can build on each other. The company was founded in 2016 on the back of a partnership with a non-profit microfinance company in the Philippines called TSKI. We currently sell our products online and through independently hosted pop-ups and trunk shows.
LM: Tell me about your origin story. How did you come to start this company?
ALS: Believe it or not, my origin story begins in an accounting firm (Ernst & Young) in Manila, Philippines. In 2004, I moved to the US with the firm and built a career there. In 2014, after having taken a year off from work, I realized I couldn't go back to a career in finance. I wanted to be out in the world, creating work that was meaningful to me. I wanted to do something which involved highlighting the excellent design and craftsmanship from the Philippines. Specifically, I was always impressed with the artisanal home and fashion accessories made in the Philippines. I had a real desire to show off everything I love from there. Around that time, I began conversations with the non-profit microfinance company that loaned money to the most entrepreneurial artisans living in poverty. After a few conversations, it clicked, I want to co-develop product with their producers and get their work in front of a global audience.
LM: What has been your favorite part about launching TARA?
ALS: It's a tie between the immense pride that comes with creating something from scratch with collaborators who desperately want the same outcome and the joy that comes when we connect with women who fall in love with the product and the mission. I'll never forget the time I was standing in line to board a flight from Newark to San Francisco when a very well-dressed woman complimented me on my earrings as she briskly walked past me towards the jet bridge. I told her it was mine and that I'd find her later. We connected when we arrived in San Francisco. Fast forward to today and she now sports a few TARA pieces and got her daughter and friends on to it as well. I see her wear TARA when she guests on MSNBC and I catch all the feelings I have no name for. There's really no other feeling like it.
LM: What was the inspiration behind the aesthetic/branding?
ALS: It was important to me that the brand reflects the reality of how the modern woman lives. And the truth is that the reality is complicated because she's discovering herself every day, mining new elements of her own persona, or in many cases, is unearthing parts of herself that she has kept so well hidden. She can be an executive at a top advertising agency with a penchant for hard-edged design, or an artist who leans towards clean and minimal lines, on some days maybe she has unkempt hair or a make-up free face. As a brand, we don't try to explain why she is the way she is, we respect that she just is. The aesthetic is merely a result of that observation.
LM: How did you come up with the concept of elements that can be adjusted to shift from earrings to rings to necklaces?
ALS: That concept came up when I was packing all my belongings for a move and realized that I had amassed an embarrassing amount of throwaway jewelry. I wondered if there was a case to be made for fine jewelry that behaved like our wardrobe separates (e.g. Pants and a top, t-shirt and a skirt, etc) that we can re-style and re-purpose forever. It really started there.
LM: Why do you think this concept has been so successful?
ALS: Success is such a tricky word because it presupposes that we've achieved what we set out to do and that doesn't paint an accurate picture of where we are at all. I will say that I believe the concept has resonated with many modern women because they want a brand to meet them where they already are. They are at a place where they have a real grasp on who they are, their personal style, and what it is they want to wear to fully express themselves to the world. They may look to brands for inspiration, even buy into a brand's vision, they may remain loyal to brands that they feel truly understand them, but they are auteurs of their own wardrobes, their style, and their story. Additionally, I think fine jewelry customers have already accepted that fine jewelry is an investment. So, imagine that now their fine jewelry can yield an even greater return because of an increased number of ways to wear a singular piece. I suppose ultimately women want pieces to work smart just like they do.
LM: What brands are you currently obsessed with?
ALS: 23&me is a brand that I will root for because of their lofty vision of making it accessible for regular people to have access to the human genome. Here's a tool that allows us to understand who we are down to the chromosome. What Emily Weiss & her team continue to do with the Glossier community is so inspiring. I also love everything The Wing is doing and their commitment to creating an experience for their female members.
LM: What is your take on the future of TARA? What's next?
ALS: In TARA's imminent future, we are hosting a one week pop-up on December 11-17 at 251 Elizabeth St. in New York and it features a very cool artist collaboration. There will be an opportunity to play with jewelry (and there will be loads at various price points) right before the holidays and I think it will be a lot of fun. On the big picture of what's next for TARA: we want to meet more of our women wherever they may be through curated events and experiences. We also want to serve our TARA customers in a deeper way by creating products for the wide spectrum of emotional needs and lifestyles they cop.
Talk about building your own future.