Jules Kim is sitting in the penthouse suite of the W Hotel, above the haste and hubbub of Times Square. She is surrounded by the glittering baubles of her past and present. There are jewels on plates in the dining room, on the nightstand in the bedroom, and embedded in black velvet cases in the living room. There are even pieces submerged in the bathtub, delicately placed on chunks of pink coral.
For four days, this is her own private showroom, an intimate space where she’s invited buyers, clients, and the media to interact with her and her designs. “There’s a reason why we’re high and not low,” she starts. “I could totally pull some Banksy shit and do something on the street, but that’s not where I want my clients to think. I want them to aspire to elevation.”
Jules is no stranger to hard-won aspirations. In 2002, she moved from her hometown of Richmond, VA with the promise of a fashion PR internship she had secured via a cold call. “I moved to New York with $300 bucks and a bag full of clothes.” She immersed herself in downtown’s nightlife and was soon throwing her own parties, promoting and DJing.
But the ephemeral nature of a night out quickly wore thin; she wanted to make something lasting. “I took Jewelry 101 in university and really enjoyed the process of making jewelry. I wanted to get back to that.” During a crash course in Brooklyn, she created a signature piece that has since defined Bijules: the bar ring. “The teacher asked, ‘What do you think a ring is?’ I kept seeing a circle, but I knew there had to be something outside of a circle. So I made a circle with a line over it.”
Over a decade later, Jules and her work continue to challenge the traditional boundaries of jewelry, stretching them in a way that feels futuristic and otherworldly, yet beautiful and wearable. “I’m a super active person, so it’s always been about making something that’s comfortable and functional but still looks kick ass.”
WORDS BY MIA SAKAI | PHOTOS BY ALESSANDRO SIMONETTI & MIA SAKAI | PRODUCT SHOTS COURTESY OF BIJULES
When you started Bijules, you were DJing, interning at a fashion PR company, and working as an assistant to a designer. How did all that prepare you to start a business?
That internship was when I understood what celebrity meant, what power was, and how to manifest power when it really wasn’t there. I learned all these core things and was sort of able to take them and run with them. At the same time, I was doing my own parties, DJing and promoting. Those were the days when you actually had flyers. People in New York are open and here to have an experience, so when I would give out a flyer, it was like, “What’s this about? What are you all about?” That’s when I started to understand how to aggregate ideas and community. I was also working for a hat designer as her design assistant, sales assistant, marketing assistant, everything under the sun. I learned what not to do with a small business, but also how to take ideas and manifest them into not only a product, but a lifestyle brand.
How did Bijules start? Why did you choose jewelry as your medium?
When you looked at the jewelry marketplace in 2002-2003, there was a gaping hole between what you and I could really want. There was Tiffany’s, which was about year after year of brand diligence, consistency, and customer service. At the other side of the spectrum, there was what was considered “streetwise,” which was about wearing what the ghetto thought was chic. I needed to pave my own place between those two. At the same time, I was doing all these parties and felt like everything — the fun, the hangovers — would last for a few hours and then you’d just be left with a fleeting memory. When you make jewelry, there’s a permanence in what you’re creating. There’s power in the fact that if you bury this, it will still be there. I’ll be way gone, but these pieces are going to last forever.
What’s important in growing a business?
Preparation and planning.
Creative risk management. Take those risks and jump!
What was your first big break — the one that made you realize you were onto something?
I was spinning at one of my weeklies at Ludlow Bar and wearing this nameplate I made. Andrea Linett, who was at Lucky magazine then, came and was like, “I want that. I want to feature that in Lucky.” I was like, rad, let’s do it. Andrea helped expose the fact that I existed to the world. We did a cover with Gwen Stefani, and then it just kept happening. I was featured four months in a row. When you’re featured in a buying guide, you best have a store! You have to have a point of sale, and I didn’t even have a brand name. So I sat down and made a brand name. Then I made earrings for Eve with her name in graffiti. Once the girls understood they could come to me for custom stuff, I knew I was going to have to get off my ass, hit the streets, and figure out where I was going to go with it.
Sounds like you were at the right place at the right time. How were you funding Bijules then?
At that time, I was working my ass off doing everything I could to get those bills paid: throwing parties, promoting, working at restaurants. In order for me to follow my passion, I needed to be able to pay for it. No excuses. When I started doing custom things, I’d turn them over as fast as I could, because the faster I could make something, the quicker I could get to the next one. I’d get the money for the piece, pay the graffiti artist, and set up my workbench on the coffee table my roommate found in the dumpster. I would just make shit all day out of my apartment in the East Village. At night, I would pack up my records — because, yeah, vinyl existed back then — and I’d be on the train with three crates. But I had to do what I needed to do to get to the next level. I didn’t even know what that was, but I knew I had a passion and an idea.
Can’t knock the hustle! How were you selling your pieces and spreading the word?
When I would go to the clubs, I would wear two or three bar rings at a time because I would sell them. The first time that happened, my girl’s husband took me in the bathroom and was like, “I want one for Samantha.” It literally happened in the bathroom, like a drug deal. Then in 2006, I did my first tradeshow, Project. I was like, I don’t know what the gimmick for my brand is because I haven’t quite named it yet, so I guess the gimmick would be me. That’s when I understood that I was going to be the face of my brand. Everything was made by hand by me, so there was a certain level of custom jewelry instilled in every piece. After I did that first show, I started doing every tradeshow I could get my hands on. I’d sell my ass off. I was writing orders for $25,000 a day because buyers would come in looking for clothes, and then they’d see me and realize they needed jewelry.
You have a lot of celebrity clients — Rihanna, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys. How have you amassed such a high-profile following?
It exploded not only from Lucky, but also because I was everywhere all the time. I would go to parties strapped with a bag of jewelry. If there was a celebrity there, I’d walk right up to them. I had nothing to lose. When I would talk to people or stylists, I’d be like, here’s my thing. Let’s share it and build a community. Good business, regardless if it’s jewelry or not, is based on relationships and maintaining those relationships through good communication. If you don’t have that, it means you’re unable to have a back-and-forth conversation. If you lack that exchange, then there is no negotiating, no power in your business. You have to be proactive and fully activated to be able to have a good sell-through business.
Why did you choose to start a business on your own?
There was no choice. I was raised to be an independent thinker and to be strong and outgoing and to support myself. No one’s going to take care of me other than me. Being raised with that very strong-minded type of mentality, I knew that when I started my business no one was going to do it for me. There was no chance for failure, and if I was going to do it, I was going to do it 210%. Not 100%, that’s just not good enough. I’ve worn every hat a business owner in fashion could wear: marketing, sales, design, distribution, press, research, sourcing, everything. I needed to make sure that with all the opportunities I was creating for myself, if one didn’t happen, then there should be another one right behind it. If not, then that’s poor planning Jules. You have to keep ten steps ahead of yourself.
How has the brand developed and changed since you first started?
It’s grown up a humongous amount. When I started, I was a straight up kid. Straight up, a child. And my clients were too, so they were willing to take that risk and that plunge with me. I still have women come to me with silver bar rings they bought in 2004. Now they’re buying them in gold. They’re making more money, they’re buying houses, they have kids. The brand has changed parallel with them to the point where it’s developed into an adult. Silver is where I started, and I will always manufacture in silver because I would never abandon the people that got me here. I always want to embrace the integrity of how I started. Because regardless of how much money you make, or where you live, or who you carouse with, there’s always been something that’s true, authentic, and original in the brand identity of Bijules. That’s how the business started, how it will stay, and how it will continue to evolve.
What’s been instrumental in achieving and maintaining growth throughout the years? What’s kept you focused and on point?
It’s always been consistency and diligence, meaning that I’ve been telling the same stories for over a decade. The consistency in what I’ve developed over the years is the one thing that holds not only my business together, but my spirit. Being able to be courageous and a risk-taker is part of it, but also showing face, and being present and open as a person, as a worker, and as a business person. That really does pay for something. I follow my intuition, not only with my designs, but with my business. Once you understand the format of how to operate a business and how to respect the ebb and flow in the nature of business, then you’ve gotta ride it like a pony. You literally have to strap yourself in like a cowgirl on a bucking bull. There’s times when you’re like, ohhh my goood, I’m gonna fall. But you just have to rein it in and keep on riding.
Any last advice for aspiring jewelry designers?
For anyone that wants to start a jewelry line, just to do it. Actually, it doesn’t even matter if it’s a jewelry line. In terms of starting a business, prepare yourself and devise a strategy. If you have a business plan or a strategy, you’ll be able to form a successful business based on an artistic, creative vision. Be prepared. I dove in, but that’s the way I was raised. Like, dive in the deep end with no floaty tubes. My personality can absorb that; I can take that on but there are some entrepreneurs that find that uncomfortable. We only have a very short amount of time on this planet, so do what you can with it.
The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life. New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009.
FUZI-UVTPK. Devoration. Paris, France: Classic, 2013.
More on Bijules
Kim, Jules. “Tucson Gem Show.” www.grey-magazine.com. May 26, 2014.
Warrington, Ruby. “To the Future: A Mystical Journey with Jules Kim.” www.thenuminous.net. October 26, 2013.
Day, Karen. “Bijulesterie.” www.coolhunting.com. June 19, 2012.
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