BrooklynThread Owner and Designer Joanna Torres

Two things have always rung true for BrooklynThread owner Joanna Torres; she has always loved crafting and she has always wanted to start her own business. Knowing this, one might imagine it would have been a simple decision for Joanna to start her jewelry and accessories business, BrooklynThread. But like most things in life, success doesn’t always appear so easily, and it wasn’t until Joanna lost her corporate job during the recession that she took the big step of turning her passion into her career. 

Since launching BrooklynThread in 2009, Joanna has received many accolades for her work, most notably a product collaboration with O, The Oprah Magazine. Yes, Oprah. Let that one sink in for a moment. You can find her pieces at 25 different retail outlets, including West Elm and One Kings Lane. And all of this just five years after opening shop. Needless to say, we’re pretty impressed.

Name: Joanna Torres
Age: 33
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Title: Owner/Designer at BrooklynThread
Educational Background: Bachelor of Arts from Baruch College, several masters business classes at Baruch College

What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I interned at a small law firm for several years while in college. Once I graduated, I was offered a position as a real estate paralegal at a top Manhattan law firm. I wouldn’t have been able to land that job had I not worked while attending college.

What were you up to before you started BrooklynThread?
I was working demanding hours in the commercial real estate department of a fast paced law firm. My life revolved around my job. At the end of 2008 I felt the effects of the recession when the law firm collapsed and I found myself out of work. After the initial shock of losing my job, I realized that this was the time to make a change and pursue what I really wanted. Looking back, the timing was perfect and what felt like a bad situation at the time was really a blessing.

After the initial shock of losing my job, I realized that this was the time to make a change and pursue what I really wanted. Looking back, the timing was perfect and what felt like a bad situation at the time was really a blessing.

Starting your own business is such a daunting task, especially in the midst of a recession. Guide us through the process of starting BrooklynThread. How did the idea come about? What were the next steps you took after establishing your idea?
I’ve always wanted to own my own business, but I was at a good job and at the time, I just didn’t have the confidence to outright quit. It felt like too great of a risk. Once I was free of my corporate job, I was motivated and energized. I jumped in head first, working on branding, designing, photographing and setting up my social media pages. Initially I did not invest a lot of money. I had to be resourceful. I made my own light box and used a basic camera to photograph my designs. I blogged, networked and focused all of my time on developing my business. My husband surprised me with a professional camera and helped me set up an office and studio in our spare bedroom and garage.

You have such an incredibly fresh design aesthetic. How did you learn the art of jewelry making? Was it a natural talent?
From a young age, I’ve always loved crafting. In elementary school I made lanyard keychains and sold them to my classmates. I’ve made my own jewelry, trinket boxes and other macrame projects. After launching BrooklynThread, I took several classes so I could learn the proper techniques behind metal smithing and lost wax casting. I’ve also spent a lot of time reading books and doing my own research. Between books, the internet and so many inspiring entrepreneurs I have met along the way, there are many great resources available.

You started selling your first pieces on Etsy. How did you transition from that platform to your own website?
Etsy is an amazing platform for someone that is considering selling their handmade designs. It doesn’t require a big investment, other than time, and helps introduce your product to a large audience. After I started selling my first designs on Etsy, it soon became clear that I would need my own professional website. I wanted my customers to be able to not only shop my products, but also easily find our company information, blog and social networking links. Once the website was launched, BrooklynThread became a real brand.

Do you have any advice for our readers who might want to start their own businesses?
Just go for it. Start small, test the waters. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – they’re inevitable, and you’ll learn and grow from them. If you don’t go for it, you’ll be left wondering what could have been.

Just go for it. Start small, test the waters. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – they’re inevitable, and you’ll learn and grow from them. If you don’t go for it, you’ll be left wondering what could have been.

Is it challenging to stay true to your vision of only offering products in limited quantities and not mass producing? Does that limit the range of your business? How do you stay ahead of the competition?
I don’t think offering products in limited quantity limits my business. I want to keep things interesting. BrooklynThread’s unique selection ensures our customers won’t be wearing or decorating with the same thing as the next girl. I strive to offer a wide assortment of jewels for self & home, for the fashion lover and interior design enthusiast. My collection is both diverse and individual.

Do you do any marketing or advertising? What role, if any, does social media play in your business?
Social media is my number one form of marketing. I invest a lot of time in social media, networking and collaborating. Collaborating with other small business owners and bloggers has also been a great marketing tool. I’ve made a lot of great friends and business contacts along the way.

Along with operating your own e-commerce website, BrooklynThread is also offered at 25 different retail outlets including West Elm and One Kings Lane. How did you go about finding these distributors?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been contacted directly by all of our current stockists. Most have found BrooklynThread through social media, blogs, magazines and collaborations that we’ve worked on with One Kings Lane and RueLaLa. Every collaboration helps to increase our visibility.

In 2013 you received some of the biggest press a small business-owner could ever hope for: a product feature in O, The Oprah Magazine. Tell us how that came about and what the experience was like.
This was a dream come true. I’ve received requests in the past from print & online magazines for product samples for consideration, but I’ve learned that you can’t get your hopes up.  More often than not, the product won’t work for what the magazine is looking for. With O, I sent the magazine an assortment of gemstone magnets that they turned out to be really excited about. They selected an assortment of their favorite stones and we made an exclusive “Oprah” magnet set. The “Oprah” set has been our most popular item for the last year.

How often do you produce new collections? Where do you find inspiration?  Once you have the vision, what is the actual process from production until the product lands on your website?
I find a lot of my inspiration in interior design trends and historic Brooklyn architecture. I know most designers launch new collections by season. My style hasn’t been the norm. When I design something new, I’m excited to get it out there quickly. I don’t want to wait for the next season, especially since we try to limit the number of pieces available.

Go for it and start immediately. Your 20’s will fly by. Do not get stuck in the 9 – 5 corporate cycle where you’re working only for the weekend. I genuinely feel that you’ve got to do what makes you happy. There’s a lot of pressure out there to make money and make it quick. While everyone’s situation is different, I’m a true believer that success follows happiness.

Being an entrepreneur has incredible challenges but also huge rewards. What characteristics do you think are most responsible for your success?
You have to be persistent and know how to deal with disappointments. There will be a lot of set backs but you have to keep pushing forward. Time management is also so important. I play so many different roles in my business and it’s a challenge to fit everything into a work day. I refer to my to-do list and calendar often throughout the day. Organization is key.

How do you think your previous work experiences contribute to your work today?
I worked in a fast paced environment, so this definitely carried over into my own business. Sometimes I have to remind myself to step back and take a break. If I’m having a bad or stressful day, I remind myself of my previous career at a job I didn’t really like. I remind myself that I am my own boss and with hard work, I can make anything happen.

Take us through your average day.
There is no “typical” day for me. I need to be an early bird to get all of my work done. Over my morning coffee I tackle emails and prep for shipping out open orders. There are of course the daily tasks that include coordinating carrier pickups, supply ordering and phone conferences with other businesses we work with. I usually focus on design work in the evenings when it’s quieter, or on weekends. I end each day with updating a to-do list for the days ahead.

What advice would you give to your 23 year-old self?
Go for it and start immediately. Your 20’s will fly by. Do not get stuck in the 9 – 5 corporate cycle where you’re working only for the weekend. I genuinely feel that you’ve got to do what makes you happy. There’s a lot of pressure out there to make money and make it quick. While everyone’s situation is different, I’m a true believer that success follows happiness.

Joanna Torres is The Everygirl…

If you could go to lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Tory Burch – I admire her so much. She’s an entrepreneur, designer, smart business woman, all while being a mom. She also has a strong commitment to charity work.  I am always so inspired by successful women who manage their time in a way that allows them to be great mothers.  I would probably order only a beverage so I can focus all of my attention on the conversation and not be distracted.

Life motto?
I have a print above my desk that reads “If not now then when.” In many ways, that philosophy has been integral in getting BrooklynThread off the ground. That’s really what starting your own business is all about. Sometimes, you just have to dive right in.

Favorite way to unwind?
Because I work from home, people assume I always want to get out. Not true. I guess that’s the beauty of doing something you love. Although that’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good night out, my favorite way to unwind would be movie night in with my husband and our pets.

Coffee order?
French vanilla from my favorite local diner

Dream vacation?
Marrakech, Morocco. I’ve always been drawn to eclectic and bohemian design. I think visiting Marrakech would be truly inspiring.

Product Sources

Sofa: Ikea 
Pillows: Amber Interiors and Sheeps Road 
Moroccan Pouf: Lulu & Georgia
Faux Fur Throws: One Kings Lane (purchased last year)
Desk: Tyler Kingston
Desk Chairs: West Elm (from a few years ago)
Desk Lamp: Nate Berkus for Target (bought on clearance, I don’t think it’s available any longer)
Wicker Baskets, Frames & Wood Stationary Box: TJ Maxx
Wall Shelving (above desk): West Elm
White Shelving with White Storage Baskets: Shelving made by my dad, white baskets and mason jars from local dollar store
Printer Stand, Side Table, Jewelry Cabinet, Jewelry Chest and Mirror: all flea market finds

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