[10 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday all and welcome back to this week’s interview! We hope you- like us -have been using your free moments to reflect, learn and educate yourselves and others on the issues that have been affecting our world so greatly over the past few weeks. At this time, it is important to empower one another to speak up and speak out about injustices happening everywhere.
Someone who shares our beliefs in empowering others is this week’s interviewee Leora Moreno, the founder of jewellery brand Leo With Love. Leo With Love is a brand made with love, to share love with its customers and empower them.
In this week’s interview, Leora describes how her Mexican heritage influenced her decision to enter the jewellery business, shares her experiences dealing with anxiety and imposter syndrome and talks about her favourite part of creating the brand. So, grab a cup of coffee and without further ado, let’s get into the interview...
Hi Leora. Welcome to CAROLINA GMX! We always like to begin by asking our interviewee to describe their childhood. Do you feel that it has influenced you today?
I’ve always been interested in jewellery and starting a business. My parents are both Mexican immigrants in the US who have their own businesses and always worked irregular hours, so it was ingrained in me from a young age to make your own path. They weren’t really surprised that I moved to another country and started a business!
My Mexican heritage played a large role as my family would visit relatives that had a house near the silver-mining town of Taxco. I used to love walking through the town. It was filled with street markets selling silver jewellery, shops of independent designers and boutiques featuring intricate designs which encapsulated our culture. When I was 8 years old my brother, sister and I clubbed together to bulk buy silver charms from the market sellers and sold them to our classmates for profit.
As I got older, I would use beads and hemp to make bracelets for friends and family, but I was always interested in selling. After we sold all of our charms, I collected pinecones from the neighbourhood and painted them, then went door to door selling my “art” to our neighbours. When I was 12, I used to sell bags of Kool-Aid with sugar cubes in it (because they turned the colour of the drink when you licked them) to fellow classmates. Essentially, I sold each bag for the same amount it cost to buy the box of sugary powder at the store.
Wow, you clearly inherited that entrepreneurial spirit from your parents! I love that your heritage played such a formative role in the industry you chose as well. So how did you actually get started in the jewellery industry?
My sister used to be a tech pattern maker when she was in her 20s and I was a teen; she went to FIDM and London College of Fashion. Just by talking to her, I learned how the fashion world worked and how design was possible. My personal experience within the industry started when I did my first pop-up with Lone Design Club, which gave me first-hand experience of fashion shoots, runway shows and launch events.
"Each piece of jewellery tells a story of its incarnation, but it is the customer's to create new chapters with."
That is so great that you had a point of reference already in a creative industry to turn to. When did you decide to start up Leo With Love and why?
The idea was born in 2016, back in LA, where I’m from. My sister was recovering from a near-terminal illness and we were talking about how you only get one certain chance in life so you have to LIVE your life. I always knew I wanted to start a business and loved making jewellery as presents for people, but had never thought to put the two things together. My background is in marketing and I’ve always had super corporate jobs, but the experience with my sister’s illness helped me see what was important. So, I saved up for months at a job I hated but was a necessary evil, working on branding and designs in the evenings. After a few months, I was at a point that Leo With Love could get my full attention.
That is so inspiring! Sometimes you have to take a different path in order to get to where your dreams can start coming true. Here at CAROLINA GMX, the issue of sensitive skin is of paramount importance to us. In what ways do you consider sensitive skin throughout the process of selecting the materials to use in your jewellery?
I have sensitive skin, which is very reactive to high street jewellery and a part of the problem I had was that my ears would get itchy or I’d get the dreaded green stain on my skin. When I started the company, I focused on brass because it didn’t cause any skin reactions as it’s inherently nickel-free. All of the cleansers I use for cleaning pieces are made from sea minerals or food-grade materials. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating it because it probably doesn’t taste very nice...
Haha. Thanks for the heads up! Why do you think sensitive skin is an important issue for you?
Some of my family members have baby-sensitive skin due to medical conditions they inherited from cancer treatments and I wanted them to be able to wear nice jewellery that was made with them in mind.
It’s often a personal motivation that fuels this consciousness; it was for us too. What strategies have been key to the success of Leo With Love?
I believe it is a combination of the little details that make the customer feel special and will keep them coming back; particularly being authentic as a brand and having the jewellery represent something. Each piece of jewellery tells a story of its incarnation, but it is the customer's to create new chapters with. I hope that each piece will come to represent a particular time in the customer’s life that they can smile upon and remember fondly when they wear it. I also like to imagine each customer is someone that I’d want to be friends with, so that has definitely set the tone for Leo With Love.
I absolutely love that idea! I imagine it allows you to create a deeper bond between the pieces you produce and each customer. What is your favourite thing about having started Leo With Love?
The journey has been one of constant growth on a professional and personal level. It’s a legitimate representation of all the effort I’ve put in for the past four years. All the testing of new designs, branding, collabs, partnerships, panel discussions, pop up stores, interviews, sometimes metaphorical blood, literal sweat and tears all brought the brand to where it is now.
It’s a really profound journey building a brand isn’t it? What’s the best part of your job?
It has to be getting responses from customers who bought a piece as a present and express how much they love it. I’d made a bespoke ring and pendant set for a woman who’s life took a 180 degree turn and these were the first pieces of jewellery she’d bought for herself in years. For the customer, the pieces became a physical representation of change and a reminder of who she is now - poised, exuberant and audacious. Another part of the job that I love is when I get a message from someone saying that I’ve inspired them to start their business. I want people to look at me and think ‘if she can do it, why can’t I?’. I didn’t have much confidence in myself at the beginning, and it’s still a struggle sometimes because I didn’t take the typical road travelled to get to this point. But when that unconventional journey inspires someone to feel capable to start their own business, it’s a wholesome and beautiful feeling.
I think so many women in business suffer from imposter syndrome, so you are definitely not alone in feeling that way. It must feel amazing to hear those words of motivation though. Do you think people are more conscious of the materials in their jewellery pieces nowadays?
Generally, people are savvier detectives because the information they want to know is so readily available. I think there’s also an awareness nowadays that each individual is a small puzzle piece that adds up to the bigger picture. This leads consumers to act more responsibly and hold companies accountable for their practices. A company can’t just tick boxes for corporate social responsibility anymore, production transparency is vital to ensure you have a customer’s trust, and that is a very good thing!
Oh, definitely! Speaking of social responsibility, could you talk about how sustainability factors into your business?
A few ways! All of my packaging is either reusable or recyclable. All stones used are Fairtrade certified and all metals used are either from recycled or Fairtrade certified sources. I’m currently looking at using sustainable tissue paper with seeds sewn in, which can be planted directly from package to soil.
What a cool, sustainable alternative to the usual packaging… Right, so which piece would you say was your favourite that you have ever created?
The CRONX GIRL earrings I did for an e-zine which I’m the Art Director for. It started with a friend of mine who’s a blogger for the Croydon area; we wanted to redefine the Croydon girl and featured local female personalities using brands owned by female Croydonians in local venues. It pushed me to try something new and was a proud moment because of how well received they were!
"The Carousel Mini Collection which recently launched is based on the concept that life is like a carousel; it’s a vibrant experience that literally goes full circle, so you choose how you ride the ups and downs!"
I love those! They are such a bold statement piece. What’s been your biggest “pinch-me” moment?
Having my earrings worn on the red carpet for the Star Wars premiere!
Wow! That is pretty wild! What inspires you?
My initial collections are inspired by the women in my life who’ve had a positive influence on me. I’ve mixed their style in with my design aesthetic to create something original that they would want to wear and named the piece after the inspiration. The core principle of Leo With Love is gratitude and love. I’m grateful to each and every woman that has been encapsulated within the collections. They represent a piece of who I am and are all strong, independent forces to be reckoned with - I’m beyond proud to know them.
Now I understand the name Leo With Love a lot better!
I love the life I’ve built, and Leo With Love is a massive part of it. As I branch out and keep creating, it’s important to commemorate certain times in life and all the people who have played a vital role. It would be amazing for my designs to be commemorative to those who wear them, eliciting good memories and feeling empowered by the love those memories bring. The Carousel Mini Collection which recently launched is based on the concept that life is like a carousel; it’s a vibrant experience that literally goes full circle, so you choose how you ride the ups and downs!
I love that idea! Ok, so in terms of day-to-day, what does an average day look like for you?
I wake up about 6:30/7 and the first thing I do is write down five things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s a word, a sentence or a few. Starting the day programmed with appreciation has significantly decreased my stress levels and feelings of imposter syndrome. I wrote a document that is the Leo With Love story and describes what the brand represents, which I make sure to read every morning. That emotive daily reminder reignites my passion every day. It’s bigger than just me; Leo With Love means something and that passion needs to be shared in order to inspire others to make the most of their one certain chance in life.
That is so powerful. Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Absolutely. I spend my time between this business and managing my social media clients, but it’s all on my terms. As a person who has dealt with anxiety and depression, I had to learn the hard way how important it is to balance the various facets of my life. It’s so important to be self-aware enough to know when you need to take a break, and it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional to help you sort through your ‘ish’. When Leo With Love got busier, I started seeing a CBT therapist because I was worried about self-sabotaging out of fear. She helped me recognise the warning signs when I was about to start an avoidance spiral. It’s okay to give yourself a break, have a pj day, but the key is to always get back to it.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience. So many people suffer with these issues and yet, it is only recently that we have begun to speak openly about them. At CAROLINA GMX, we believe that the more transparent we are in discussing the tricky things, the more progress we can make. What words do you live by?
I’ve got 2 mottos I live by:
The first one is “unfuck yourself”. By that I mean don’t hold yourself back by your own limiting beliefs. Think about the person you want to be, and what your optimal self would look like. Then, take an honest look at who you are and give yourself permission to change the things that make you unhappy to become your optimal self.
The second one is “embrace the adrenaline”. Being an entrepreneur with drive means meeting a lot of new people, having new experiences, and perpetually being out of your comfort zone. When you embrace the butterflies in your stomach and your heart racing in these situations, new experiences become a part of your comfort zone. Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in your own head and not see new experiences for what they really are, which is an opportunity and a sign of progress in your business. The only time you should look back is to see how far you’ve come and never get distracted looking sideways to what others are doing; your business requires your full attention in order to thrive.
I couldn’t agree more! Finally, what’s next for Leo With Love?
I’d love to see Leo With Love jewellery in independent boutiques across the world that have a similar ethos, but that’s more of a long term goal. I’m looking at doing more limited-edition pieces, jewellery parties and testing out running a pop-up. The possibilities are endless!
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