California Teen Jeweler Runs Non-Profit Business

When a teenager donates money to help non-profits, it’s a noble effort. But when a young adult gives to charities with proceeds from her own business, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment. Meet Quina Williams, a 16-year-old who owns a non-profit jewelry business that includes a small retail space in her mother’s clothing and accessories boutique and an e-commerce enabled website.

Quina has been selling jewelry on her own since last spring when she launched her Quina Designs e-commerce website. But she has been making jewelry for her mother, Roxanne Williams, owner of Sassafras Boutique in Tahoe City, Calif., since she was 12. 

Four years later, the self-taught jewelry maker is making beaded and wire-wrap jewelry with materials of more substantial dollar value. Quina’s favorite colored stone beads include green, blue, and blue-green tourmalines, and sapphire beads in a variety of fancy colors. The young designer also likes to work with earth colors and is typically inspired by themes from nature, with leaf designs her current favorite.

Between juggling school, homework, jobs that actually pay, and making and selling jewelry, Quina has made roughly 70 pieces of jewelry since she opened her business last spring. Average price points for earrings are about $20, bracelets $30, and necklaces can range from $30 to $100. Quina recently completed and sold a chunky turquoise and black onyx necklace, which retailed for $140, her most expensive piece of jewelry sold to date. 

A labradorite bead and silver necklace by Quina Designs.

At 16, Quina is unable to legally sign a contract, but she’s still able to manage most of her own business matters, pulling in her mother only for the occasional consultation. 

Unlike most for-profit jewelry business owners, Quina does not stress about profit and loss spread-sheets. But similar to other retailers actively involved in cause marketing, Quina is very selective about the non-profit groups she thinks are in need of “corporate donations,” no matter how modest they might be.

“I do research online and ask around town to determine which non-profits have the most urgent need for donations,” says Quina. “An example of that would be a donation I made to the Red Cross earlier this year to help Japanese people impacted by the tsunami.”

Other donations made this year include $58 to the Humane Society of the United States, $101 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and a $339 donation to Sea Shepherds to stop Seal Clubbing in Namibia, Africa. Quina’s current non-profit for October is Truckee High Envirolution, a group of young teens dedicated to “trashion” shows, making fashion clothing and accessories out of recycled materials to promote sustainability.

Since the price points for her jewelry are so low, it’s difficult to calculate how much money from each individual sale should go to Quina’s non-profit of choice. Instead, once she recoups her original investment in materials on a particular group of jewelry items, about 90 to 95 percent of the proceeds of each sale are donated to the non-profits of her choice. And Quina donates 100 percent of her labor. 

A hand-made mother-of-pearl and sterling necklace by Quina Designs.

As a junior in high school, Quina is currently enrolled in 3D design/AP (Advanced Placement) Studio Art. The fine arts class allows her to design and make some of her jewelry during school hours and she receives school credit for it.

But as she prepares for college, Quina has to make some difficult choices about the non-profit she started. With 75 percent of sales generated in the retail space in her mother’s boutique, she can’t rely solely on online sales from the college of her dreams, Stanford.

And her goal of majoring in plasma physics runs contrary to the less technical world of jewelry design. But these decisions are still a ways away. For now, Quina is updating her website a few times a week, is aggressively promoting her business on Facebook, and is encouraged by the outpouring of support from people in her hometown, and around the country. 

And, should Quina pursue that plasma physics degree, she’s confident jewelry design will always be a craft she can do in her spare time or return to at another point in her life.

“I’ve been doing this for so many years, it’s really a big part of me,” says Quina.