Since 2002, the symbol of a yellow, interlocking fleur has taken Texas and the world by storm, becoming synonymous with one woman and one brand: Kendra Scott. A woman who wears many hats, or rather, pieces of jewelry, Scott is a chief executive officer, founder, lead designer, philanthropist, wife, and mother. Her geometric designs framing natural gemstones embody the brand’s signature style, as these iconic shapes and silhouettes—like the Sophee Drop earrings and Elisa Pendant necklace—dangle from and decorate the ears and décolleteés of women everywhere. For nearly 20 years, the jewelry company, which is valued at over $1 billion, continues to change the way people think about and buy accessories, paving their own path in the fashion industry.
This path, led by the brand’s innovative namesake lovingly referred to as Mama K by her employees, was forged by meeting all challenges with kindness. In an interview with Texasliving, Kendra Scott reflected on her company’s core values, what it means to be a CEO in 2020, and the future of Kendra Scott jewelry. When Scott was nineteen, she launched her very first company: Hat Box, which she shut down five years later. “In the moment, it crushed me, and I swore I’d never go into retail again,” Scott said. “But looking back, that moment taught me that failure can be a gift.”
A blessing in disguise, Hat Box’s failure equipped Scott with a set of core values that she said brought her back to the drawing board ready to build her next idea. It was when Scott and her friends could not find unique jewelry at affordable prices that the entrepreneur capitalized on the opportunity.
She designed her first jewelry collection while balancing duties as a new mom. Scott said she sold the collection traveling from one store to the next, baby in tow. In the early years of the Kendra Scott brand, the founder kept her business close to home, running the company out of her spare bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas. The culmination of her experiences laid the foundation for the influential brand she would build. “I still have to pinch myself when I look around at where we are today—an international fashion brand valued at over $1 billion,” the CEO said.
The “we” she refers to are thousands of men and women working at the company’s home office, distribution centers, and retail storefronts around the world. After shifting from selling her designs in other stores, the Kendra Scott brand has displayed gemstone inspired earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and anklets in over 100 brick-and-mortar stores of its own. The original Kendra Scott store, located on South Congress in Texas’s capital, was the first to display the company’s unique, customer-centric business model in 2010.
“Coming to a Kendra Scott store is an activity, not just an errand,” Scott said. The founder said she built the store model around her customer, designing an interactive and engaging environment; where most jewelers seal their products behind glass encampments, Kendra Scott stores encourage customers to try on display items.
While each Kendra Scott store varies, all are designed with a chic, minimalistic style, and a touch of the brand’s signature yellow, a combination that allows the jewelry to speak for itself. The women managing the stores cultivate the brand’s magic, embodying the company’s core pillars of family, fashion, and philanthropy every day.
“The people that I have met in this company have been wonderful mentors to me, but most importantly, they have become my family,” Victoria Gonzalez, store manager of the Kendra Scott The Domain location, said. Gonzalez was pursuing her undergraduate degree at St. Edward’s University when she was hired as a seasonal associate at the original location in 2014. Since then, the manager said her journey with Kendra Scott allowed her to work at five different stores in Texas, providing her with numerous professional opportunities.
“These include traveling throughout the country, visiting our sister retail stores to facilitate new trainings, visiting local news stations in my market to spread brand awareness, and most importantly, [working] with some of the most influential individuals in the retail industry,” Gonzalez said.
In a fashion industry saturated with seasonal trends, the brand incorporates ways women can mix, match, and stand out in their style. “Kendra Scott empowers women to be bold,” Caitlin Peters said, assistant store manager of the South Congress Flagship location.
Peters resonated with the philanthropy pillar: when her brother passed away from cancer in 2016, the University of Texas at Austin graduate said she wanted to give back. A year later, she found the Kendra Scott brand and began working as a keyholder. “I don’t think people realize how much this company gives back, and how kindness is something we can always give,” Peters said.
Giving back, through Kendra Gives Back in-store events, specifically designed pieces tied to causes, and donations to charities and nonprofit organizations is the cornerstone of the brand. “While I love designing jewelry and have a true passion for leading this business and watching it grow, I believe our commitment to philanthropy is what truly sets Kendra Scott apart,” Scott said. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEO said the company donated over 3 million meals to Feeding America®, provided materials to donated over 3 million meals for Feeding America® through sales of their Everylyn bracelet, provided materials to donate over 4,500 masks to frontline workers, and hosted over a thousand virtual giveback events to continue helping local charities. A witness to the everyday charitable interactions, Gonzalez said, “We never say no, and are eager to help our community in any way that we can.”
The magic of fashion, family, and philanthropy is exactly what customers can experience at every Kendra Scott store, especially at the South Congress Flagship location. While the original storefront remains, the official Flagship location was conceptualized to foster community at a must-see destination for locals and tourists alike, offering plush patio areas, valet services, and a café. “It was such a natural fit to include our Sips and Sweets café as a part of the Flagship store,” Scott said. “Who doesn’t want to enjoy a latte or glass of frosé on a patio overlooking South Congress?” Built in an 1800s home, the building offers stunning views of the Austin skyline
While enjoying a fresh pastry from the café, many of which were handpicked from local female-owned bakeries, customers can shop around and customize jewelry at the Color Bar™. “The Color Bar™ is the biggest product differentiator for us,” Peters said. “No other jewelry store allows you to walk in and leave with a 100 [percent] custom piece in minutes.” The bar, another interactive element implemented into stores worldwide, allows shoppers to select their own stones and create pieces unique to their style. Many of these designs include the original framework of styles the brand began with in 2002.
“Every design at Kendra Scott literally starts with a pencil and paper,” Scott said. “It starts with an idea, a sketch, and then we start to collaborate.” This design process, which occurs at the Kendra Scott Design Lab, is a team effort as the CEO said she works “to constantly innovate, creating unique and beautiful jewelry that reflect seasonal trends as well as new styles we know our customer will love.” When customers voiced an interest in fine jewelry options, the brand listened, tailoring white Pavé diamonds and hand-cut gemstones into classic, Kendra Scott-esque designs.
From jewelry to home goods, the entrepreneur constantly creates ways women can feel their best. “Uplifting women is my number one priority,” Scott said. No stranger to facing adversity when building her brand, Scott said she believes she is meant to use her position to lead and encourage others to rethink the stereotypes of what a CEO should look like. “I believe being a female CEO in 2020 means being a CEO in 2020,” the entrepreneur said.
The CEO’s belief and priority became a reality when she partnered with the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 to launch the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute, a program designed to provide a plethora of resources to female entrepreneurs through workshops, speaker series, and networking opportunities. “Our mission is to equip the next generation of female leaders who will change the world as we know it,” Scott said. “Empowering women to lead, and encouraging the world to follow.”
The brand continues to lead, from designing an engravable sterling silver and gold vermeil collection to developing technological ways customers can try on jewelry. Looking to the future of fashion, the Kendra Scott brand “launched a virtual try-on tool on [the] website, creating a virtual try-on experience that mimics the capabilities a customer would otherwise be provided in a retail setting,” Scott said.
As the entrepreneur and her brand look to the future of retail, her mission and core values originate with the kindness Austin, Texas showed her nearly nineteen years ago. When asked what advice she had for future entrepreneurs, Scott said: “Operate with kindness. It’s always been important to me that I treat my coworkers like family and cultivate a culture of giving back, and I believe wholeheartedly that culture has helped make us the billion-dollar company we are today.”