Retailer Spotlight: ZFolio

Part of our new Design Center advisory board, ZFolio brings its experience and passion to the world of retail jewelry

I first met Natasha Lazorova, director of operations at ZFolio, at JCK Las Vegas last June. She was introduced to me by my mentor, Lori Gadola of Kelim Jewelry. We shared a delightful meal with her colleague Liz, Lika Behar and Vasant2 to name a few. The entire table was full of camaraderie, laughter, and joy. I never knew fellow designers could be this supportive and kind as I’d mostly been exposed to jewelry’s icy-cold closed doors. Lazorova, unbeknownst to me, was part of one of the most successful galleries on the West Coast. I had no idea of her stature as she took the time to get to know more about me, my design philosophy, and offered very valuable advice. It’s no surprise to me why ZFolio has continued success each year. Lazorova and her team are warm, thoughtful professionals who are extremely passionate about art and the fascinating business behind it. We are so thrilled to have ZFolio on our JCK advisory board this year as it has helped us curate a Design Center relaunch worthy of its discerning, yet humble, discretion.

The owners, Zdena Jiroutova (“Z”) and Michael Mendizza (pictured above) started their journey in glass!  I loved learning about their story on your website and how the ZFolio we know now started.  The Czech Republic’s glassmaking tradition is important to them and is still prevalent in the stores. Why the transition into fine jewelry?

During communism, the Czech artists were forced to keep their craft underground. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 the glass artists upholding a 700-year-old tradition were invited all over the world to demonstrate their craft and techniques, which inspired Zdena as a child. Z moved to the United States in 2001, met Michael, and they fell in love. At first they started wholesaling glass to various retail outlets but quickly realized having their own location would allow them more of the artistic liberties that they craved. In 2006, they opened the gallery in Solvang, a small and very special little town in California that has an older European feel. The couple was strategic in choosing this location as a few million tourists come through the town each year. It’s a perfect day or weekend trip from Los Angeles. After selling glass and Michael’s large-format photography for a while, jewelry became an organic fit.

It’s great that the owners recognize their awesome staff on the website. How long have you been with the organization? Can you tell us more about the dynamics and core values? It seems like a very tight-knit group.

I’ve been with the gallery for five and a half years. I’ve never seen two people who go out of their way to educate their staff and give them the tools to succeed. Michael and Zdena are always open to our suggestions and truly value our feedback. They give us each the ability to magnify our strengths and take the time to develop our skills wherever necessary.  They also make it clear that none of us can do this alone and we are all part of a team. The financial downturn in 2008 was hard on every industry, but we managed to flourish due to the incredibly strong bond of our team and their attention to creative detail. I’ve never worked with people who work harder. They are not just aware of every aspect of their business, but they are actively engaged.

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ZFolio’s Solvang, Calif., store

What do you attribute to ZFolio’s success?

There are so many reasons, but most importantly we sell the artist first and not the object. We’ve worked hard to develop powerful and respectful relationships with each of our artists. Michael is also a photography and documentary filmmaker (you can see stills of his beautiful work on our walls) and has taken the time to interview so many of the artists we carry in the store. These videos really allow our audience to get to know more about the mystery and magic that goes into the work that they’ve decided to bring home. We represent approximately 130 artists, and I have to say that we truly think of each and every one of them as family.

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ZFolio’s Solvang shop is accented by Mendizza’s photography.

What advice do you have for an emerging designer pitching their line to your store?

There are so many talented artists out there, but we have to carefully curate our galleries to carry designers that will work hard with us to build a business and following for their line. I think the best advice I can give to a new designer is to have patience. Sometimes it really takes time for the collection to find its niche. I think it’s really important to know everything you can about whom you are pitching your collection, what is your brand, and how it complements theirs. For example, you may love ZFolio, but have you taken a thorough look at our aesthetic and who we currently carry? Does it make sense with your brand DNA? You want to find stores that share your same philosophies and where you can create good synergy and trusted relationships with the staff.

It also doesn’t hurt to think like a retailer. How can you make the process as easy as possible for them? How do you manage your inventory? What are you projected delivery times? How easily and quickly are you providing this information? We have thousands of items across our three stores, and we must be extremely organized. It helps when the designer is organized as well.

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ZFolio’s Monterey, Calif., store

Any new projects that you’d like to talk about?

We are really excited about ZFolio Tailored, a customized buying experience for our clients. We’ve realized we can do more to tailor the service we provide. This philosophy allows us to provide the most individualized and exceptional service possible to our fine jewelry collectors. This program allows us to broaden our reach, delve deeper into the collections of the artists we already carry, and work with artists that we don’t readily carry in the gallery. Much to our surprise, it’s also allowed clients to bring us their gemstones or family treasures to create new heirlooms. I work with each client to match them to the right artist to take them through the adventure of redesign, from initial sketches to final product. That is the magical part of the fine jewelry: The materials are timeless and give us the opportunity to make something old new yet again.

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ZFolio Tailored before image: client’s heirloom earrings

Why are you excited for JCK Tucson?

It’s important to me to constantly be aware of new artists and collections. I’m constantly collecting magazine tears, line sheets, look books. and emails to review. I always read JCK magazine cover to cover, it’s such a valuable resource. At most shows I have to hit all of my priorities and responsibilities first. I go into each show with a buying plan and strategy. First and foremost, it is a time to connect to the valued artists we work with everyday. JCK Tucson is a much smaller show with a boutique feel. I’m thrilled for the few hours I get to devote to walking the show floor and taking time to reconnect with the people and the beautiful jewelry, not just from a business perspective, but for a love and appreciation for the craft.

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ZFolio Tailored after image: Ring by Annamaria Cammilli created with client’s heirloom earrings