Jewelry maker builds loyalty with ethical message

By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
In addition to its standing atop the largest company category in Providence Business News’ Fastest-Growing Private Companies list, Rhode Island-based jewelry brand Alex and Ani LLC recently was named one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies by Inc. magazine. With revenue shooting up from $2.2 million in 2009 to $79.8 million in 2012, Alex and Ani ranked fourth in the Top 100 Retail Companies category and 94th overall. CEO Giovanni Feroce attributes this growth to a “triple bottom line” approach – profitability, environmentalism and charity. More

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Jewelry maker builds loyalty with ethical message

PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
POWERFUL MESSAGE: The combination of Alex and Ani’s positive aesthetic and behind-the-scenes military precision have driven significant growth for the homegrown manufacturer and lifestyle brand.
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By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
Posted 9/16/13

In addition to its standing atop the largest company category in Providence Business News’ Fastest-Growing Private Companies list, Rhode Island-based jewelry brand Alex and Ani LLC recently was named one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies by Inc. magazine. With revenue shooting up from $2.2 million in 2009 to $79.8 million in 2012, Alex and Ani ranked fourth in the Top 100 Retail Companies category and 94th overall. CEO Giovanni Feroce attributes this growth to a “triple bottom line” approach – profitability, environmentalism and charity.

“We feel those three components, hand in hand, are truly the pillars of the company that propels our growth,” Feroce said.

The company’s mission is to make “eco-friendly, positive-energy products that adorn the body, enlighten the mind and empower the spirit.” This mission is so entrenched in the company that a real person answers the phone by asking: “How can I make a difference in your day?”

“I get a lot of feedback. It’s absolutely comforting to know how effective that message is,” Feroce said.

Now that he’s taken his message to the world, his next step is to take it to Wall Street. Feroce says an initial public offering is likely in the coming years. It’s not set in stone, but Feroce says the IPO strategy occupies the bulk of his time.

“We may go public next year or the year after. In all likelihood it will be the most attractive [non-tech] IPO since Michael Kors in 2012,” he said, referring to a top-shelf women’s clothing designer.

In existence for a decade, Alex and Ani seems to be everywhere on the Rhode Island landscape. The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation will debut a 10K race this year during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, supported by Alex and Ani.

The jewelry maker recently launched a partnership with the New England Patriots as the official sponsor of the Patriots Cheerleaders.

The company’s Charity by Design line entered a partnership with Roger Williams Park Zoo, hosted a family day there, and will donate a portion of its monkey charm sales to the zoo.

Rhode Island College recently unveiled the new Alex and Ani Hall arts center that was partly funded by the company.

As evidenced by their collaboration with top-tier brands such as the NFL, the company based in America’s smallest state is making a big impression with its numbers and its brand. If Feroce is the numbers man, Alex and Ani’s founder, Carolyn Rafaelian, is the heart and soul behind the brand.

Rafaelian, Alex and Ani’s creative director, comes from a family of jewelers for whom mastering their craft was an aspiration and a family tradition. She believes it is her life’s work to support communities and organizations while inspiring her customers to relish what is unique and authentic.

It is not lost on the Rhode Island native that her home state was known as the jewelry capital of America. According to Feroce, Rhode Island once produced 75 percent of the world’s costume jewelry. That number today is about 12 percent, much of which comes from Feroce’s insistence on making his product in America.

“We believe strongly that the way things are made is as important as what they look like,” he said. Referring to inhumane labor practices in countries that produce products for American consumers, Feroce said, “I frankly am in awe of how ignorant some manufacturers are – looking the other way when it comes to manufacturing of products. We all know the horror stories.”

His belief in the American workforce is equal to his belief in the American way, something he fought for as an Army major and Iraq combat veteran.

“We certainly incorporate the military style of leadership and also, more importantly, a military decision-making process. Every decision, ultimately, has been well thought out and executed,” Feroce said. “Complete the objective. That’s how we operate.”

Feroce firmly believes his customers respond to the Made in America promise with passion and loyalty. One of those customers is Lisa Valentino of Warren. Valentino had never purchased a trend bracelet before she discovered Alex and Ani. She did some research and found out the company was local, green and charitable.

“If I’m going to spend my money, I want to feel good about it,” she said. “It makes me proud to see a Rhode Island company do well. It’s certainly an example for other local companies.”

Alex and Ani’s jewelry is instantly recognizable yet personal. You can tell someone is wearing an Alex and Ani product from afar, but you have to get up close to see the individuality of the wearer through her choice of charms. That is in line with the company’s philosophy – every individual has a positive message to share with the world.

This objective is accomplished by using eco-friendly, recycled materials made entirely in the United States. Alex and Ani is able to purchase metals from local mills that have received recycled scraps from refineries, which use those pieces and sell their scraps back to the mills. Manufacturing in the United States and reusing and recycling materials is a part of Alex and Ani’s mission as a conscious and eco-friendly company.

Feroce calls it a “circular economy,” in which his company uses local resources to build a local brand and hire local people, having grown from 23 employees three years ago to 864 today. And he can’t imagine doing it anywhere else.

“We love Rhode Island,” he said. •

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