Written By: Christine Garcia
Michele Benjamin first started her business in 2011 as a way to express her love for art and nature as well as her own personal memories and experiences. Michele’s pieces range from bees, birds, and seahorses to the movie Aladdin’s Genie Magic Lamp and even the NYC skyline. Not to mention that each piece, whether a necklace or pair of earrings is created using sterling silver, gold, brass, and bronze, to provide customers with a high quality experience. Michele also offers custom designs so customers can choose what they specifically want on the product whether it is a necklace or earrings. Making these custom orders essentially allows her to grow as a creator as well as they offer a new challenge every time. The idea for such a business however, did not come overnight.
Michele used to work within the garment district, specifically in fashion. She explains that it was her responsibility to “create price lists and contact buyers and offer wholesale labels that are made in Italy and France, well-known labels.” After developing so much experience with handling inventory and making offers, she realized she could be doing all of this for herself and her own passions as opposed to just working for other businesses. At that point she decided to go full-time with her own company.
The inspiration for her pieces and small business in general stem from various designers and business owners including Elsa Peretti, Alex Wu, and Linda Gates in addition to several of the powerful women within her own life who Michele says she would not be here without as it is ultimately “very inspiring to work with other people in the field and exchange ideas.”
In addition to creating jewelry, Michele also mentors two young women who are starting out in the jewelry industry as well. This experience as a mentor allows her to reflect on her own progress and how far she has been able to come as a designer as well as a business owner. She states, “ I’m looking back and sort of thinking ‘hey how this was me back in 2011’. So it’s great to see progress and great to also help others to progress.”
Unfortunately, just like many other small businesses, Michele’s business was drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Queens native, she was located within the epicenter of the outbreak and decided to ultimately take advantage of the terrible circumstances by creating an essentials that everyone was in need at the time, Face masks.
The masks consists of four layers and offers reversible designs. Due to the fact that masks were in high demand, Michele was able to deliver masks to essential workers and their families, women’s shelters, hospital staff, healthcare workers, and first responders. In fact, Michele contributed so much that she was able to be listed as a PPE COVID-19 supplier. Despite the fact, that circumstances are improving more and more each day, Michele continues to get orders for her face masks. She was also able to sell more face masks to more groups of people by listing them on Amazon where sales were able to skyrocket as more and more people were shopping online due to the inability to shop in person.
Despite these restrictions, Michele continues to grow as a business owner as she was invited to participate in the Verizon Mentorship Program sponsored Tech Incubator at Queens College. Michele sends special thanks to Ying Zhou and Ariba Razzaq as “it is very informative and [her] marketing skills are improving because of [it].”
As for any lessons she has learned as a business owner and jewelry designer, Michele pays for her business ventures as she goes while always on the lookout for new business opportunities. One recent opportunity she is looking forward to is being able to create travel accessories and souvenirs as traveling is becoming more accessible and common. She hopes to be able to take part in the creation of these products as she has learned that “It’s important to innovate and keep your customers interested and keep your audience tuned in”. In fact, she believes this so much so that one of the mottos she goes by is “jump first and the net will appear.”
To shop all her pieces customers can check her website as well as Amazon. As for specific items such as bee pins and seahorse inspired jewelry, customers can check the Whitney Museum shop in person and online, as well as the Bruce Museum store where her products will be available in early July. These venues are only a few amongst many which can be found listed on her website.
Connect with Michele Benjamin:
Website: Michelle Benjamin Jewelry Design
Phone: (718) 791-6249