Designer Jewelry Meets DIY at a Connecticut Bead Boutique

The inspiration for Femmegems, a jewelry store and custom design workshop in Greenwich, Conn., came from an unlikely source: New York City’s no-frills bead emporiums. In 1999, owner Lindsay Cain, a former New Yorker, started selling jewelry she handcrafted from materials bought from local bead shops. One day, she was struck by the idea that “no one has taken the bead store to the next level. You walk in, you buy the supplies you need, and then it’s a living room ­project,” she says. “I thought, What if I opened a place that was designer jewelry and design-your-own-jewelry?” Cain opened the first Femmegems in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood in 2002, which quickly caught the attention of iconic Fifth Avenue store Henri Bendel. Soon after, the retailer debuted a shop-in-shop inside the department store and another inside Marshall Field’s venerable State Street flagship in Chicago. Cain opened the Greenwich store in 2003, currently Femmegems’ only location. But make no mistake—this is a business concept with legs longer than a supermodel’s.

How is the store laid out? How does it operate?

Half the store is designer jewelry from brands including Marcia Moran, Suzanna Dai, Lee Angel, Miguel Ases, and R.J. Graziano. And half is design-your-own space. I have designers who work in the corner of the store and customers come in and design things, picking from all kinds of [elements]. I have huge, oversize gold leaf frames that are filled with hooks holding strands of gemstones and materials displayed by color. Below the frames, we have endless little bowls of beads and baubles and trinkets and pendants. It’s supposed to feel like a candy store. We carry stock in mostly gold fill and gold vermeil and sterling materials, but we special order whatever our customers need. We have lots of semiprecious stones and pearls. We supplement with gold chains, silver chains, leather cords, satin cords. It’s all a mix of fine and costume.

How do women utilize the design-your-own studio?

We’re in a luxury town—Greenwich is dripping in gold and diamonds. I’ve positioned Femmegems as the fun stuff. It’s girl-friendly, it’s chatty, you can make stuff, you can buy stuff, you can pick up a quick gift. The whole store is priced under $400 and that has been a very successful model for us. We also do repairs, we rehab old jewelry, change the length, break it apart. The customization is what started it all, but we’re definitely still stocking the great jewelry for people who aren’t creative or don’t want to make their own. The price range for a custom piece averages from $50 to $150.

Private parties are a big part of your business. How do those work?

I started private parties in New York—packaging wine and hors d’oeuvres with jewelry designing. Turns out, there are a lot of people who have to entertain clients for a living. That idea has evolved to involve a lot of charities here in Greenwich. We will donate our parties to different groups for auction. The cost for parties is $38 per person, which includes food and wine, staffing, and use of the store after-hours. The jewelry they choose to make is paid for the night of the event. Most parties are two hours, and from four and 14 people.

You also offer parties for kids, right?

I had lots of moms in Greenwich asking me to do kids’ parties, and I constantly turned away that business because who wants a bunch of 8-year-olds running through the store? A year ago, I experimented with renting a back room of another store and doing parties for girls. It went great. I launched Sparklers in February 2013 in Pound Ridge, N.Y. It’s not a retail store; it’s a big, adorable studio—all lemonade, Taylor Swift, cupcakes, and jewelry-making. It’s a 9-year-old girl’s dream come true. We don’t water it down and make it little-girl-princess-y. It’s a natural extension of what we’re doing for moms.

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