101 For the Money: How Jewelers Capitalize on Kickstarter

Kickstarter.com banks on the group ­(funding) ­mentality

When designer Wendy Brandes began making texting-inspired pieces in 2010—things like LOL and OMG ring sets—she knew she was on to a good thing. But like many jewelers, she didn’t have enough cash to make the collection a reality.

“I sampled the designs in New York City, but if I produced them here, they were going to be expensive,” says the New York City–based designer. “I wanted to produce them in Asia, but, of course, if you’re getting a lower manufacturing cost there’s going to be a minimum order.”

And so Brandes turned to Kickstarter. The 4-year-old website, which describes itself as “a funding platform for creative projects,” gives artists, designers, and visionaries the opportunity to fund their projects through money pledged by friends, family, strangers, and fans.

Brandes originally needed $7,000 to help with production costs for her two ring sets. When she added another set, she raised her goal to $10,000 and continued to offer rewards to backers based on the amount of money they pledged. “The minimum order was more than I could pay for myself, so I went to my online fan base with the concept,” Brandes continues. “It basically worked like preordering for me.”

People who pledged $20 received a shoutout on her popular blog (­wendybrandes.com/blog), while supporters who pledged $300 received the OMG rings as a preorder. With the help of her backers, Brandes pulled in $10,115—enough to fund her project—within just a few weeks.

Kickstarter utilizes an all-or-nothing model to motivate entrepreneurs to raise funds. The idea is simple: If you reach your monetary goal, you get the money to back your project. If you fail to achieve the amount you requested by your self-set deadline (one to 60 days), then none of the money is taken from your pledgers.

“Our focus is helping creative projects come to life,” says Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark. “Kickstarter allows you to retain 100 percent of control and ownership of your company while building a strong connection with fans.”

Sterling silver LOL ring set; $320; Wendy Brandes, NYC; 212-213-3504; wendybrandes.com

At press time, nearly 40,000 projects had successfully received financing though Kickstarter. Both independent and well-known artists have capitalized on the crowdfunding source. In May 2012, singer Amanda Palmer, formerly of the music group The Dresden Dolls, made headlines when she raised $1.2 million—11 times her request—via Kickstarter to fund her solo album and tour.

Recently, the campaign to create a movie based on Warner Bros.’ 2004–07 TV series Veronica Mars has garnered tremendous press for the site. Show creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell (aka Veronica) debuted their Kickstarter page in March, hoping to raise $2 million. Offering rewards ranging from a copy of the script to an actual role in the yet-to-be-made movie, they reached their goal within 10 hours—a Kickstarter record. At press time, 56,274 backers had pledged $3.7 million for the film.

While the majority of projects are film-, video-, and music-related, the site currently counts nearly 3,000 individual projects related to fashion. Within the fashion category, backers have pledged a total of $10.1 million. Former Gap designer Patrick Robinson recently turned to Kickstarter to help fund his new urban-casual clothing line PASKHO. In his Kickstarter video, Robinson tells his prospective backers, “I want to have a direct relationship with you. I see design as a collaboration. Ultimately, you’re going to decide what I produce.” Robinson hopes to raise $50,000 for his first men’s and women’s collections.

So what’s in it for the backers? While they won’t have a share in the company, they will get a chance to help artists achieve their visions. They also are offered a material reward for a donation: for example, a copy of what’s being made (Brandes’ rings); a limited-edition souvenir (e.g., the Veronica Mars script); or a customer experience related to the project. For $2,000, Robinson’s donors receive dinner with the designer plus a complete outfit.

As Brandes realized, the key to a successful Kickstarter project is to attract fans. “The projects that have been successful not only have a good product but also have a big social media following,” says Jamie Hart, head of investor research and crowdfunding at The Pitch Clinic, a consulting firm for entrepreneurs.  

From there, you must successfully tell the story behind your project. “The more you can make a story out of your project, the better,” Hart says. “Successful projects are usually atypical. Jewelers need to find the edge that is going to make them different from the rest.”

Lexi Daly’s Kickstarter page, where she pitched her Wearable Jewelry to potential investors

For California-based designer Lexi Daly, that edge was innovative and eco-friendly sculptural jewelry. “I used Kickstarter to fund four new sculptural pieces, creating a new line of jewelry using higher-end gemstones in November 2012,” Daly says. “I knew a few people who had been successful with Kickstarter, so I thought I would try it.”

On her Kickstarter page, Daly described the story behind her pieces. “The ideas forming in my head for my newest sculptural jewelry pieces combine my three favorite ­mediums: fine metals, woven gems, and recycled or repurposed materials,” she wrote. “But as the price of gems and silver keeps going up, my savings keep dwindling. I know I can create incredible new artwork and a line of jewelry that I can sell in galleries all over the country, I just need a little kickstart to buy gems and silver!”

Wendy Brandes’ page, plugging her OMG rings

Daly hoped to raise $4,000 for materials. “It was very nerve-racking setting such a high goal, but I had ­confidence that I could get the word out there and raise the money,” she says.

In addition to sharing her story with potential funders, Daly devised a strategy that included a clear set of rewards to incentivize funders and social media initiatives like email blasts to her friends and a Facebook event with continuous updates.

After a little more than two weeks, Daly achieved $5,000. “Since my jewelry is higher-end, it was difficult to come up with something handmade by me as a reward for smaller pledges. For the small rewards, $10 to $25, I made jars of maple butter. For the larger rewards, I gave jewelry, such as feather earrings or their choice from my fair trade jewelry line from India,” Daly says.

The designer learned that like the campaigning, even the reward selection required a strategy. “If someone wanted jewelry they would have to pledge more, which was a good incentive to get people to pledge larger amounts,” she says. “It was a lot of work to raise all that money, but it was well worth it. Kickstarter not only helped me fund my project but it helped get my name out there.”

Unfortunately, not all jewelers can boast similar success. According to Kickstarter’s stats, less than half (43.56 percent) of projects are successful. And only 27.32 percent of fashion-related projects achieve their funding goals.

JewelGram, an Italian company that creates rings and pendants from Instagram snapshots, failed to meet its high Kickstarter goal of $29,000 in February. “Creating the molds for the plastic JewelGrams will cost thousands of dollars,” says cofounder Michele Marzotto. “This is why we were searching for help via crowdfunding.” Backers pledged only $3,301 by the deadline, which means the company won’t receive any funding unless it has success with another Kickstarter campaign. (Although JewelGram didn’t make enough on Kickstarter to ensure the line can be mass produced, individuals still can order pieces on the company’s website.)

Ultimately, when planning Kickstarter campaigns, ­jewelers can learn from other industries. “Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the most successful ­projects tend to come from dance and theater sectors [70 percent and 64 percent success rates, respectively],” Hart says. “This is down to the fact that these sectors have ­communities and networks in which people are happy to help each other.”