For years, Rachel and Omar Ajaj felt they had a clear path: The high-school sweethearts held upper-management roles at jewelry giant Alex and Ani and were working their way up the corporate ladder. But as they became parents, the husband-and-wife team saw a bleak future ahead.
Those long hours at work? Not as much fun when you have a baby at home. Then two. Then three. Separately, Alex and Ani was also in flux; the future was in question. Everything that once felt like it meant the world was shifting.
“We lived crazy, hectic, run-all-day-every-day lives,” Omar says. “We looked back over 10 years and wondered what happened. We had corporate positions and tons of responsibilities. But we also had three kids during that time and we couldn’t figure out where the time went.”
The couple quit their jobs at Alex and Ani, Omar in 2018 and Rachel in 2019. (Alex and Ani would go on to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past June.) During those early months on their own, they held fast to the fact that they had marketable skills, entrepreneurial drive, and one other huge asset: a family-owned factory where Rachel’s grandfather had also designed jewelry.
They began thinking about what mattered to them. They knew people bought jewelry for major events, like graduations, engagements, or weddings. But what about those other memories people might want to preserve? Could they create jewelry that celebrated little victories or everyday moments? Rachel, a prolific designer, was all-in. Omar, used to turning her ideas into action, agreed.
They created a new brand: Air & Anchor. Air for what lifts you up, and anchor for what holds you to the earth below. The branding was simple: Their jewelry and lifestyle goods would celebrate every moment in between those significant life events. You could be both anchored in the moment and elevated.
The couple debuted Air & Anchor in April 2020—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. The decision was also relatively simple: They already had the website built, the packaging done, the products ready. But just like there’s no perfect time to have a baby, they knew there would never be an ideal moment to start a business. So they jumped in.
They also created an Instagram Air & Anchor account in anticipation of starting the brand. Their first photos teased the story and feeling behind what they wanted to create. One day, they spontaneously made the decision to use the platform to talk to their audience about what Air & Anchor jewelry would look like.
“We went on Instagram Live and just started talking,” Rachel says.
Now, those Instagram talks are known as “Thoughtful Thursdays”; they allow Omar and Rachel time to reflect on what’s going well, what needs to change, and how grateful they are for the smaller moments in life, like picking up their kids from school together. Recording themselves talking about parenting on their smartphones might not seem like a special memory, but for these workaholics, it is.
“We were always charging for a goal, but at the end of the day, we forgot what we were going after,” Omar recalls. “Today, it really is the realization that the little moments in between the have-to-dos and the should-dos that look simple to other people were, to us, very important.”
Not everything has gone perfectly—they sold out of their best-selling necklace because a two-week wait on their cuff keeper turned into a six-month delay. Yet some things have turned out surprisingly well, like incorporating the vintage pieces created by Rachel’s grandfather into their modern-day work.
Now, their aim is to develop Air & Anchor into a lifestyle brand with in their home state of Rhode Island. As such, they’ve added everything from handcrafted pottery coffee mugs to homemade aprons to dreamy candles to the online mix. They also want to open a retail store soon.
And when Rachel walks through the family factory today, she says she can look at Omar and still say two important words: “No regrets.” All of their jewelry is made in-house. All of the photography is done right in the factory. They can take a short car ride to visit all of their vendors.
“I grew up in the factory that we’re running now. Every nook and cranny has amazing memories for me, and now that’s true for my kids,” Rachel says of their children, who are ages 4, 6, and 8.
Omar agrees. “Our jewelry is a reminder: Life is crazy, so enjoy the s— that matters.”
Top: Air & Anchor was founded by Omar and Rachel Ajaj, a husband-wife team of jewelry industry veterans with 10-plus-year tenures at Alex and Ani. (All photos courtesy of Air & Anchor)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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