“I don’t even know how I manage it sometimes…” laughs Cintra McGauley. This 22-year-old entrepreneur and College of Charleston class of 2011 grad, who studied arts management and business, started her own successful jewelry line before graduating high school.
“The best way for me to learn is to experience things,” she explains. “I like making jewelry, so I don’t even think of it as work.” McGauley began crafting her pieces at age fifteen, eventually creating the successful line Belle Tresor.
Her collection includes everything from semi-precious stones, larger stones like agate or chalcedony, Swarovski crystals, vintage charms and coral branches. McGauley makes a point of using only the highest quality materials, especially in her gold chains. “Because quality gold plating is not cheap, the bulk of my price is in the chains.” Prices range from $20 to $70 depending on the materials and metals used.
Belle Tresor jewelry first started hitting shelves at a local boutique when McGauley’s earrings caught her boss’s eye. She expanded from there, bringing portfolios of her jewelry to other nearby boutiques. “It’s as simple as that. My advice to anyone would be to start small and grow organically.”
To garner publicity, McGauley sells her jewelry in trunk shows featuring other local designers in addition to organizing and hosting her own. As a result, many brides-to-be have commissioned her work. Accessorizing Vail Duggan, PR director of Charleston Fashion Week, put more of her jewelry in the spotlight. In addition, she set up a booth at a Tri Delta fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and gave 50 percent of her sales to the charity, also donating pieces to their silent auctions.
Since high school, McGauley’s business has matured beyond uploading pictures of her jewelry to expanding her website for online ordering, which allowed her customer base to grow beyond locals. Building a strong presence on the web has helped her business grow tremendously—adding e-commerce to her website allowed for her to set up private online sales or special sales incorporating promotional codes.
As a senior in college, McGauley says she gained even more business experience and opportunities while pursuing her degree. Her high school profits meant shopping sprees, but the most important lesson she’s learned since is to invest the majority of money made back into her business. “That whole ‘three to five years’ wait time for entrepreneurs—it’s true…I wouldn’t have been able to expand if I didn’t invest back into my line” (a lesson she credits to her managerial accounting class). The money she made covered certain school expenses like architecture studio supplies, studio art supplies and software.
While she loves making jewelry and has considered expanding Belle Tresor nationwide, McGauley plans to also pursue other career opportunities post-graduation.
Although running a jewelry line takes up a lot of her free time, McGauley made focusing on her final semester of school her top priority. “I want[ed] to make sure I enjoy[ed] it. I think that’s important too.”