Hometown entrepreneur expanding its lead

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
There is no mystery as to why Alex and Ani LLC’s bracelets have become an overnight fashion sensation: the Cranston jewelry manufacturer is pushing all the right marketing buttons. More

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FASTEST GROWING & INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

Hometown entrepreneur expanding its lead

PBN PHOTO/NATALJA KENT
POSITIVELY GLOBAL: Alex and Ani’s Anita Koljian processes orders to be shipped out of the jewelry manufacturer’s Cranston facility.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 9/24/12

There is no mystery as to why Alex and Ani LLC’s bracelets have become an overnight fashion sensation: the Cranston jewelry manufacturer is pushing all the right marketing buttons.

The signature bracelets are made largely of recycled metal, which lets the company brand its product as eco-friendly. The designs incorporate New Age and religious imagery that are now in vogue. An innovative, adjustable mechanism replaces the clasp, which means a bracelet can fit almost anyone. And the company is opening boutiques or partnering with shops in fashion hot spots around the world, including Newport, Manhattan, Martha’s Vineyard and Palm Beach, Fla.

Last year the business made Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing companies in the United States. Sales for 2011 topped $17 million. This year, that figure is expected to be somewhere between $50 million and $70 million.

The company plans to expand its workforce of 400 to more than 1,000 over the next two to three years. Many of those jobs will be part of the company’s growing worldwide retail operation, but Rhode Island is reaping benefits as well. Everything the company sells is made in the state.

Another reflection of the company’s success: This year Alex and Ani purchased Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton for $8.45 million.

“At Alex and Ani, we are proving you can be a successful, entrepreneurial business based in Rhode Island,” said CEO Giovanni Feroce. “Creating jobs, reinvesting in the community and practicing sustainability will continue to be among our most important guiding principles as we grow into additional domestic and international markets, and add new products and lines to our business.”

At the same time that it was buying Sakonnet Vineyards, Alex and Ani was in the process of purchasing a four-story building at 159 Weybosset St., where it will house its latest retail concept, a Teas and Javas coffee shop, as well as AA University, an extension of its in-house corporate training program that it will make open to the public, as well as Seven Swords Media, the media company formerly known as Mediapeel Inc. that it bought into last spring. The building reportedly cost $3.3 million, and the company is expected to spend about $750,000 to renovate the space.

And earlier this month the company committed to donate $1 million to Rhode Island College to support jewelry-making curriculum. In return, RIC is renaming its art center Alex and Ani Hall. But more importantly, the school will help rebuild the skills necessary for a local jewelry-manufacturing industry.

“RIC’s jewelry program, together with our company’s need for a well-trained workforce, is a collaboration that would be of benefit to both entities,” Feroce said in a prepared statement.

The driving force behind the business is Carolyn Rafaelian, the owner and chief designer. She’s the daughter of the late Ralph Rafaelian, a prominent figure is the state’s jewelry industry.

Her bracelets – or bangles, the word the company uses – often include charms with either a spiritual symbol – such as the Egyptian Eye of Horus – or something to which the wearer has strong emotional ties, such as a college, a favorite vacation spot or a hometown team. There are also charms for fundraising partnerships with organizations such as Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

“Jewelry has an energy that is conductive,” Rafaelian said. “By controlling the production of each piece, knowing who’s making the product, and how, positive energy is set into motion. These pieces, made in America of recycled and vintage components, featuring patented design elements and powerful, ancient symbolism, have quickly become fashion essentials – uplifting and empowering wearers worldwide.”

Even the company name is driven by her quest to produce positive energy, having been named after Rafaelian’s two oldest daughters.

One of the most popular and distinctive features of the Alex and Ani line is a patented sliding mechanism that makes each piece adjustable and a perfect fit. The original design is also available on chain necklaces and hoop earrings. To make the product earth-friendly, the bangles are made primarily from recycled brass, coated with silver or gold.

The bracelets can be worn singly, but they are designed to be stacked. Several or more can be worn on one or both arms to create a dramatic fashion statement. While the company emphasizes the aesthetic appeal of wearing multiple bangles, making the items collectible is an effective marketing strategy as well. To promote the concept, prices are set at what the company calls “affordable.” Bangles start at about $21.

“Our customers choose different styles as an expression of their individuality,” said Melissa Carden, the company’s vice president of communications. “Bangle charms with birthstones, astrological signs, initials and ancient, sacred symbols are among the designs people can choose. Our customers tell their personal stories through their bangles.”

A marketing campaign often depends on media coverage, and Alex and Ani has done its homework in that department. Its products have been featured in numerous national and international publications, including Vogue, People, Us, Redbook, Golf Digest and Contemporary Bride. There have been product placements on TV shows, including “Gossip Girl” and “Enough About Eve.” And while the product is marketed largely through traditionally women’s outlets, this year’s campaign included a Super Bowl commercial as well. •CEO (or equivalent):

GIOVANNI FEROCE

2011 REVENUE: $17,589,206

2009 REVENUE: $2,259,534

3-YEAR GROWTH %: 678

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