It’s a Cinderella story, but in the case of this princess (or princesses, as it were), the damsel created her own happy ending — and the royal jewels to match. In 2009, a casual stroll through Manhattan’s Union Square turned the tables of fate for Stacy Herzog and Sarah Reid. The two young fashion designers were considering, with some uncertainty, the next steps in their careers. That day they happened to be sporting hand-woven friendship bracelets — a rite of passage for every American girl — but these were modified with own funky twist: intertwined strands of vintage rhinestones. By happenstance a photographer from “Women’s Wear Daily,” the fashion world’s analog to the “New York Times,” was also passing through. He spotted the bracelets, approached Stacy and Sarah, and told them that they deserved a feature in the newspaper. The bracelets, made on a whim, were instantly deemed the next big thing (and a viable business idea) by someone in the know. On February 8, 2010, a half-page “Women’s Wear Daily” feature on Frieda and Nellie was published.
And so the company was born. Named for one of each girl’s grandmothers, the label is fitting: these women knew how to wear costume jewelry that was eye catching and full of personality. Sarah says matter-of-factly, “With cotton embroidery thread and Swarovski crystals, brass, copper and different materials not considered high-end, you can make the most beautiful pieces – and that’s how our grandmothers made themselves sparkle.”
As with many entrepreneurs, a limited business acumen actually was part of their initial success. Though they worked in fashion prior to founding Frieda and Nellie, neither Stacy nor Sarah had studied jewelry design specifically, and this turned out to be a plus. Sarah says, “We don’t have any restrictions on what is considered right or wrong; nothing hinders our design process. We have an idea and we just try.” The creative process stems from a combination of fearlessness and an organic approach: “The piece kind of tells you what it wants.” Though they have a small team, Stacy and Sarah make most of the jewelry with their own hands in the company’s Flatiron district studio (a suitably whimsical space that was formerly a mansion, built in 1835, and retains its original tin ceilings). The control over the manufacturing process allows the company to be, according to CFO Nadia Boujarwah, “creative and nimble.” After numerous pop-up shops, a sold-out collaboration with J.Crew, trunk shows at Henri Bendel in NYC and Tomorrowland in Tokyo, as well as countless editorial features in major publications — including InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar, Japanese Vogue, Vogue Latin America, French Elle, Lucky, O The Oprah Magazine, and even The Wall Street Journal — it’s clear that the Frieda and Nellie formula works.
As the business matures, Stacy and Sarah now have wisdom to impart, as well as questions that remain. To provide a resource for the sharing of information, Stacy and Sarah co-founded “Movers and Shakers” (“‘and Moneymakers,’” Stacy adds), a consortium of women-owned, NYC-based fashion businesses that are under 10 years old. The roster includes Edie Parker, Stitch Collective and Donny Charm, among others. The group’s meetings allow the entrepreneurs to help each other on a range of topics, from advising on the best way to ship products to venting about the triumphs and travails of running one’s own company. It’s useful as the girls plan the next phase of Frieda and Nellie, which will hopefully grow the company into a lifestyle brand of home accessories (think frames, pillows, eye masks, petwear), clothing appliques, and a possible expansion of past dabbling in men’s accessories. Sarah and Stacy can’t imagine this company existing anywhere other than New York. In sourcing the vintage jewels that form the basis of their pieces, both New York City and State are goldmines (of the 14k variety). Their favorite Manhattan flea markets include the West 25th Street Flea Market (between Broadway and 6th Avenue), and another in the Meatpacking District on the border of the Hudson River. Along the the North Shore of Long Island and in Montauk, Sarah loves to scout out antiques and rummage sales in churches that dot the region; part of the fun is staying on the lookout for the small sign in yards and taped to posts that advertise these events. The girls also source from CJS Sales, an industry wholesaler in Manhattan’s Garment District.
Eschewing the seasonal trends declared by various designers, the girls head to the streets for inspiration. Though both have voyaged on inspiration trips to locations as far away as Ecuador, India and Japan, Sarah states that in NYC, “you basically get to travel without ever leaving; everybody comes to you.” Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, in New York “anything you wear or carry, it’s a very conscious decision” in terms of both lifestyle practicality and personal expression. Sarah continues, “It makes you think in a different way. How can you not be inspired by everything you see here?” Like the richly layered people — grandmothers, New Yorkers and, of course, friends — who inspire the jewelry, each piece is imbued with a sense of history, even as it’s given a new shape. The company’s tagline is to “Reuse, Reinvent, Repurpose,” and both designers want these vintage gems to be given a next chapter with each Frieda and Nellie customer; by incorporating the piece into her life, the new owner “lets the piece continue its story.” And that tale won’t end anytime soon; a Frieda and Nellie bauble is a guaranteed conversation starter. After all, the first words out of that “Women’s Wear Daily” photog’s mouth back in 2009? “These are fuckin’ awesome!”