We all love a good charm bracelet and probably all love, and collect, those beautiful Alex & Ani bracelets. The bracelets that everyone wears and shows off. They stack them and roll their sleeves back just so you can see the 10 bracelets they have on and each one means something different and is special for a reason.
Carolyn Rafaelian is an American-Armenian entrepreneur and businesswoman. Every Alex and Ani bangle comes with a “meaning card.” A Buddhist Om symbol, for example, “signifies God, higher power and the oneness of all beings in life’s cycle.” A simple sailboat charm “bestows peace to its wearer in times of change.” And this universe of good vibes encourages fans of the brand to collect them all. Rafaelian isn’t actually selling jewelry but positive energy, the jewelry just happens to be the vehicle. Rafaelian’s products let a generation that craves authenticity wear their affinities on their sleeve.
Carolyn’s father married into the jewelry manufacturing industry. Her father made costume jewelry of all kinds, but this son of Armenian immigrants was best known for American-flag lapel pins he sold wholesale. Carolyn and her four siblings were sent to the factory basement as punishment for misbehaving; strong-willed Carolyn remembers hours attaching little paper cards to the backs of ostentatious 1980s earrings. She would later go to the University of Rhode Island, then to the now-defunct for-profit American College for the Applied Arts, before moving to New York City at age 22. She worked on her first jewelry line from a Tribeca apartment above a bookstore, scoring small deals with the likes of Bloomingdale’s. She says “I created what I wanted to wear. I wanted cocktail rings. I wanted sterling silver.” At 25 Carolyn gave birth to her first daughter, Alex, and two years later she gave birth to Ani. Carolyn took up residence in a corner of Cinerama, her father’s factory. As she was filling $150,000 orders faxed in from New York, Ralph Rafaelian was trying to stay afloat, unable to compete with cheaper Asian manufacturing.
While doing this, she continued to dabble with her own label, Alex and Ani. Rafaelian patented the Alex and Ani 14-gauge expandable wire bangle in 2004; it’s one of about 30 patents the company now holds and the one she most regularly defends in court. An early sample sale at Cinerama was so overrun with shoppers that she called the police for protection. One woman set up a lawn chair four-hours before the doors opened. Rafaelian ran into the factory to start putting together charm bracelets herself. Alex and Ani grew steadily, mostly as a concession in department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. In 2009, she opened its first retail store in Newport. Alex and Ani has growth that many entrepreneurs can only dream of. The company has had $200 million in sales, 1,000 employees and 40 retail locations in just 3 years.
Carolyn has had tremendous success and continues to juggle multiple businesses. Each business holds a place in her heart. Had she not listened to the hunch she had about opening Alex and Ani stores, her business might not have been as successful as it is today. However, she listened to it and what her customers wanted. She shows that if you have a hunch and believe in the work you do you will be extremely successful.