Q&A: Realia by Jen Jewelry Designer Jennifer Scheffler

Minneapolis jewelry designer Jennifer Scheffler founded Realia by Jen in 2008 after years of dabbling in jewelry making. Since then, she’s made a name for herself, selling her line in retailers throughout the country and having a strong local presence through events including Maiden Minnesota, the HAMMS Event, the Red Dress Collection fashion show, and events produced by MNfashion and the Twin Cities chapter of Fashion Group International. Recently, Scheffler has reimagined the Realia by Jen brand as a series of seasonal collections, each with their own art-directed lookbooks.

This weekend, the brand launches “Venus,” a collection of glittering confections perfect for autumn and winter soirees and cocktail parties. The simple yet classic designs–made from pearl, Swarovski crystals, natural stones, antique patina-plated metals–offer just enough sparkle to set off a head-turning look.

I chatted with Scheffler about her background, her design process, the brand’s evolution over the years, and what goes into running a small business.

How did Realia by Jen get its start?

I had been dabbling in craft for a long time. Jewelry was one of those things that people would request–they would give me pieces and have me remake them. In 2008, I was asked to be a part of a boutique in New Prague (Minnesota), where I’m from. I got first-hand experience on that side of the industry. After a couple of years, I got wholesale requests, so I went into wholesale.

What’s your professional background?

My background is in education, and I think that has played a role. I have a master’s in education and I was working on the administrative level, and I think that helped me to be organized, run a team, and be confident in TV segments. I also want to educate the public in feeling good about fashion, and not being afraid to learn new things.

Your bio says that traveling has been a big inspiration behind your work. How has a sense of place influenced your two most recent collections, “Bollywood” and “Venus”?

Venus is inspired by Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” I saw while in Italy. “Bollywood” was a different take. When I was in high school, I was exposed to India from a classmate who had studied abroad. I realized, the world is so much bigger than you realize. India has been on my list of places to visit. I lived over in Japan for a decent period of time, and there’s a lot of Indian influence on the culture there as well. The colors and the spices, and I love Bollywood films–they’re so loud and colorful, so that’s what this collection was drawing on, the desire to see a place and what I imagine it to be.

Realia by Jen Venus Mixed Metal Bracelet, $170 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

How has the brand changed over the years?

“Venus” is my fourth collection since I started working in collections. It’s been a journey on how to do collection, the art direction, the images I create to go along with them, lookbooks.

How does your design process work?

It’s constantly changing. I start with the inspiration. I’ve tried to be reflective and define my process over time. So getting to know local resources for clothing and photographers, that influences what you can do. I also try to research what’s trending in the market, and try to make smart business decisions along with artistic decisions, so the process is a blend.

As far as my design process, I’m trying to design things that are functional and beautiful. They gravitate toward it because they’re versatile, they can enhance any outfit. My extra-long pearl necklaces are multi-functional–they can be worn six different ways and as a bracelet. You’re investing in something you’re going to get a lot of use out of.

What else goes into your business? Do you have employees or manufacture?

I have a lot of contract employees–graphic designers, web designer, photographers, stylists. I have some part time help with production right now because things have been growing. I have different manufacturers for the individual pieces, and I put them together. All my crystals are Swarovski crystals from Austria. My natural stones are indigenous. I’m pulling from all these different places and dealing with the ebb and flow–there’s different demands depending on the time of the year.

One of the services you offer is custom design. How does that process work?

People typically email me and request it. I asked them to send me a picture of the pieces they have, the timeline they need. It’s usually memory pieces–they want to incorporate it into a design that’s more modern-looking. It does sound intimidating–people think it’s going to be astronomically expensive, but it’s not.

What tips would you give someone who wants to start an independent jewelry line?

Organization is huge. Being really realistic about expenses. Make sure you have great people giving you advice. Make sure you are getting good legal counsel–it’s important to protect your work. Not being afraid of failure–I don’t think a day passes when I don’t deal with some kind of rejection. And knowing how to create a good problem solve if things aren’t happening the way they initially are happening. And I think that people don’t have that in them, it wouldn’t be a good adventure for them.

“The Venus Collection” launches Friday, August 15 at 11 locations including Bachman’s, Goodthings, Houndstooth, Lily and Violet, Uptown Boutique and Grand Avenue at the MSP Airport, House of 365 in Wayzata (opening soon), and realiabyjen.com. The “Bollywood” collection is now on sale at 50 percent off at realiabyjen.com.

More photos from the collection: 

Realia by Jen Venus Jasper Natural Stone Necklace, $135 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

Realia by Jen Marquis Bracelet in Silver & Black Diamond, $75 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

Realia by Jen Swarvoski & Pearl Extra-long Necklace, $150 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

Realia by Jen Venus Drop Earrings, $55 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

Realia by Jen Venus Mixed Metal Bracelet, $170 @ various retailers & realiabyjen.com (beginning Friday)

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