bio

the ladies of imani jewelry

Nothing tops off an outfit like jewelry, and when Traci Lilly could not find the style of jewelry she wanted, she started her own jewelry company. In spring of 1984, Traci and her mother, Norma Lilly, went into the jewelry business–Imani Jewelry.
“My mom, Norma, was a salon owner and stylist of “The Best Little Hairhouse” in Laurelton, New York. I was the manicurist. To increase income, we took our love of costume jewelry (greatly inspired by my grandmother, Cora’s, vast collection) and decided to sell jewelry in the salon. We scouted the wholesale jewelry market but were disappointed at the lack of unique and creative jewelry,” says Traci, who trained as a graphic artist (BFA, Parsons School of Design).

The mother and daughter team were unable to find a unique, exotic line of jewelry to sell, so they designed and crafted the jewelry themselves.
“I worked for an accessories designer when I was in high school and was familiar with the wholesale bead and trim market. So, we decided to try to make jewelry ourselves. We began with one pair of pliers, wooden beads and base metals. Every night when we returned home from the salon, we headed straight for the kitchen table to make jewelry late into the night. It was a very bonding and almost therapeutic experience. As we expanded the jewelry line, we received a great response and ventured into street fairs and craft shows. By the way, to date, we have never had any formal jewelry training.”

Imani Jewelry has a unique style. “‘Our Earrings Don’t Match’ is our tagline. The collections consist of one-of-a-kind adornments. We design to style you from head to toe. The line is unique, exotic and eye-catching. The pieces are often referred to as ‘compliment getters’. Many are attracted to the asymmetry of the earrings. We use natural shells and stones that speak to women (and men) who like their style infused with elements of nature. We craft with the highest quality metals and guarantee our work,” says Traci.

Traci and Norma self-funded the venture. “Mom made the initial investment of a few hundred dollars. Then we reinvested from the sales,” says Traci.

Today, the company is now three generations as Traci’s daughter, Atiya, has joined the company. “I was pregnant and nursing my daughter, Atiya, when we had our retail stores in the 1980s and ‘90s. She literally grew up in the business. We owned our first store in Mart 125, in Harlem, and the second in Greenwich Village, N.Y.,” recalls Traci. “When Atiya was school age, her father and I decided to homeschool her. She even started her own business at five years old, called, ‘Power Girl’. She has worked with the company in various capacities over the years. Today, Atiya has taken on more responsibilities and is a vital part of Imani’s continued success.”

Now in its thirty-second year, the business has gone through various changes. “Although we’ve been in business for over thirty years, we restart every few years. Each time we’ve changed store locations, we’ve had to reassess and restart. When a boutique or salon consigns the collection, it’s a new start. When we created the website, which is like having an additional store, we restarted. This keeps us energized and expands our creativity,” notes Traci.

So what is it like for three generations to work together? “This is one of the most complex questions we’ve been asked. Working with your mom or your daughter is a gift. There is a level of trust and dedication that is unparalleled. Thank goodness we all have a sense of humor and can be downright silly at times. That has served us well. It is very complicated, as well. Moms have a tendency to pull rank. Daughters have a tendency to want to move into areas moms are not yet ready to relinquish. Patience is required. As with all relationships in life, it has its ups and downs. Thank goodness, the ups outweigh the downs. Overall, it has been a really positive and rewarding experience,” Traci answers candidly.

Throughout the years, there have been other challenges. “Being in the business for over 30 years, we have outlived many of the companies that we’ve purchased our materials from. So it is a constant challenge to source quality, reliable wholesalers.”

Also, technology has been a major challenge. “Mom wants nothing to do with it. I keep up because I must. Thank goodness, Atiya, has been our technology guru. She is a fantastic techie, as well as tutor,” explains Traci. “Over the past few years, Mom has slowed down on design and production and I have taken the role as lead designer. It’s a challenge that Mom has prepared me well for.”

The enterprising trio will be busy as they have many goals ahead. ”2016 is the year of the website re-launch. It will be ready for the holiday season. Stay tuned for the Imani blog, which will replace the newsletter that we’ve published in past years,” reveals Traci. “Also, the expansion of our studio space in Jamaica, Queens, is complete.”

This space invites our clients to receive personal shopping, styling and consultation. They can sip on a glass of wine and enjoy hors d’oeuvres as we work on their repairs and adjustments. It’s a really special way to personally experience the Imani Jewelry collection with the designers.”

Yet, there is still more. Adds Traci, “Our ultimate goal for 2016 and beyond is to continue to live our passion, making people feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside. We have recognized this as our purpose since the days of working in Mom’s hair salon.”

article by ann brown

september 12, 2016

the network journal, black professional and small business news