Have you heard of Sweet & Spark? If not, we are thrilled to introduce you to this amazing company and it’s lovely founder Jillian Bremer. Her mission is to “make vintage cool again” through carefully curated and one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. Scouring flea markets and estate sales across the county, Jillian pulls quality, designer costume jewelry hailing from the ‘40s to the ‘90s. Jillian tells us, “We believe it’s about what the jewelry inspires you to do.” We love that!
Jillian is no stranger to hard work and hitting the ground running: She’s been on the hunt for uniques piece for over 20 years, starting with father-daughter Saturday morning yard sale runs growing up. Not knowing then what her father was onto, it took a few years, and professional experience in the fashion industry for Jillian to realize that she too had inherited the vintage bug. In 2012, Sweet & Spark was re-imagined (it was initially her own personal blog) and re-launched by Jillian as the business it is today alongside her father, who is head buyer.
Jillian’s home is also a lovely combination of old-meets-new with its classic feel and pops of unexpected statement pieces. Having only lived in her San Francisco apartment for the past ten months, her goal was to make a home that reflects her (and her boyfriend’s!) personal style and feels meaningful. Mixing neutrals with saturated colors, Jillian’s home is the just right mix of bohemian and contemporary chic.
Read on for Jillian’s advice for how to find the right mix of high and low in home decor, how to budget as a self-funded small business, and her favorite book for fellow entrepreneurs. And the key to it all? “Don’t over think things, most of the answers are right in front of you. Focus on what’s working and simplify,” Jillian tells us. Enjoy!
Name: Jillian Bremer
Current title/company: Founder of Sweet & Spark, Curated Vintage Jewelry
Education: B.S. From Syracuse University in Retail Management & Marketing
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I remember my mom prodding me with ideas about what to study in college and I’d always snap back a quick, “no.” One day, she handed me a list of all of the possible majors I could choose from and told me to cross off everything I didn’t want to do. That left me with about 3 options all involving fashion; since I loved shopping at the mall and found stores fascinating, I decided to major in retail management. I chose Syracuse University because I loved how highly recognized the program was in the industry as well as the fact that it was such a focused major at a huge school. The summer of my junior year I landed an opportunity, through the university career center, to intern as a buying intern at Bloomingdale’s in NYC. It was my first corporate experience and I quickly learned that department store buying was too rigid for me, I needed something more entrepreneurial. During my senior year, I interviewed with a handful of retailers and was lucky enough to become one of twenty trainees in the 9 month retail management program at Gap Inc. in San Francisco.
Your fashion background certainly gave you a solid foundation to start Sweet & Spark! How did you launch your business? What gave you the courage to go out on your own?
Upon completion of the program, I ended up staying in the merchandising field for over six years eventually moving to Pittsburgh, PA to help American Eagle Outfitters launch a children’s brand. While on one hand, the experience at Gap taught me how to master a small department from a micro level, American Eagle taught be how to build a brand from the ground up while balancing a macro vision. It was an experience of a lifetime, taking an idea from paper to launching it online and then on to 25 stores. After four years, the brand eventually closed and I took some time off to travel and spend with family. After 20+ years, I found myself back at flea markets and yard sales with my dad and couldn’t believe how much cool jewelry there was out there. I knew I couldn’t go back to corporate America without giving this idea a shot. I’d been lifestyle blogging behind Sweet & Spark during my final year at American Eagle, experimenting with social media, photography and the basics of owning a website. Although my community was small, I decided that the name embodied my personal spirit and I wanted to use it for the re-launch into an online store.
Your mission is to “make vintage cool again.” What is it about vintage pieces that inspires you?
We focus on costume jewelry from the 1940s-90s and with such a broad range, there’s something for everyone. We believe it’s about what the jewelry inspires you to do. Back in the day, women had vast jewelry collections, decking themselves out for each occasion. At the core we’re about timeless classics, but we have a love for unique statement pieces. An individual piece can inspire an entire collection, much like it did for the Sweet & Spark for Piperlime collection. We literally started with my favorite pair of pearl earrings and built a capsule for the classic 80’s baby.
How is Sweet & Spark unique in the jewelry industry? Did you think it was important to find a niche when starting your business?
The jewelry industry is primarily dominated by very niche brands focused around one designer’s aesthetic. We see the opportunity in helping make your everyday style and special occasions unique with jewelry. With the rise of blogging, we’re feeling more confident in our fashion choices and more willing to take a risk and wear something that nobody else has. Vintage celebrates women as a whole and empowers us to show our confidence.
Sweet & Spark is a father-daughter team. We love that! What is it like working alongside your family?
When I re-launched my blog to a vintage jewelry company, I didn’t know anything about the vintage industry! My dad had been antiquing for as long as I can remember but I could never understand his love for it. In order to be successful, I know that I needed my dad’s expertise. Together we travel around the country hunting the best vintage jewelry and document our adventures on instagram @sweetnspark #sparkhuntin’ I’m based in San Francisco but my dad is in Florida so we meet every up every month or so. Sharing my dad’s love for vintage is the most meaningful part of this whole journey. Costume jewelry is pretty competitive, he’s teaching me where to find it and how to identify what decade a piece of Spark came from.
What is the greatest challenge you face as a small business owner?
As a self funded business, there’s a content focus on the budget. My strength is in the product assortment and building the strategic vision of the company, yet bootstrapping forces me to dabble in everything. I constantly struggle with executing ideas creatively and have made it a priority to invest in building an amazing creative team that understands my aesthetic and can help elevate the brand. Rather than looking at budget constraints in a discouraging manner, embracing them generates the most creative solutions. And at the end of the day, that’s where innovation happens.
In addition to our online store, we also have a wedding collection, sell wholesale to brands like Piperlime, and host our Spark Party around the country so essentially I’m running four different businesses all with different strategies and customers. I recently read Todd Henry’s book, The Accidental Creative, and have been exercising intentional focus instead of being reactive. It’s really helping me feel confident where to spend my time.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer other female entrepreneurs?
Don’t over think things, most of the answers are right in front of you. Focus on what’s working and simplify.
How do you see Sweet & Spark evolving in the next few years?
We’re focused on building a community of women that appreciate the meaning of vintage, Wearing Spark is a reminder that we’re all connected and encourages our true confidence to shine. Focus is key for the early years of a business, so I’m dedicated to learning everything I can about vintage jewelry through research, traveling and talking to vintage experts. We’re dedicated to staying true to our classic core and will continue to scout the most unexpected pieces for our seasonal trend collections. And of course, we’ll continue to Spark Hunt & Spark Party all over the country!
What has been your greatest “pinch me” career moment?
You know what, there hasn’t been one moment that’s been a complete game changer. It’s all of it together that makes it awesome. It’s Olivia Palermo wearing our jewelry, Sweet & Spark for Piperlume, brides Sparking their special day and unexpected sweet notes from customers and old friends. As a big fan of Danielle LaPorte, I believe in deciding how you want to feel each day and taking actions to achieve that instead of focusing on huge milestones. Enjoy the ride, there isn’t a destination.
Now, let’s talk about your lovely home! You live in San Francisco; how did you find your current home? Do you rent or own? Tell us about the search process.
I’m originally from Buffalo, NY so after going to college only three hours away, moving to San Francisco was the boldest thing I’d ever done. I instantly fell in love with the juxtaposition of new and old everywhere. From old victorians with incredible detail to the entrepreneurial vibes in the community, I love this city so much that when I moved from SF to Pittsburgh for work, I dreamed about the time that I would move back and settle in for the long haul.
My boyfriend, Alex, and I rent in Pacific Heights on the top floor of a 1930’s apartment complex, we still use the original elevator! As I’m sure you’ve heard, the rental market in San Fran is really competitive. We found our place about 10 months ago on Craigslist. The moment it listed we emailed immediately. Within a 1/2 hour, Alex was there looking at it. I happened to be unavailable that day so he had to put in the application without me, and when we found out that we got it, I still hadn’t even seen it. Thank goodness he has good taste!
How do you approach the home decorating process? How has your home evolved?
When it comes to decorating, I believe that less is more. I think that it’s important to start by investing in few new pieces to anchor the room and then go from there. I’m becoming more comfortable mixing prints, colors and textures. When we first started decorating, everything was coming up white, gold, and pink. From there I began experimenting with different textures (marble, wood, rattan) and deep accent colors. When it comes to home decor, the end goal, is to reflect our personal styles and feel meaningful.
As a vintage connoisseur, what advice do you have for those of us on the hunt for one-of-a-kind decor pieces?
You never know what you’re going to find so always go vintage hunting with a list of what you’re looking to add or change up in your space. Make sure to include measurements and bring along a tape measure! Make sure that you absolutely love something, because you won’t be able to return it. I recommend starting with small decorate objects such as brass bookends, and statues, glassware, vases, trays, and mirrors. These types of decor are inexpensive and will let you experiment with vintage without making a huge investment!
Did you decorate with a budget in mind or find budget-friendly pieces along the way?
The key to mixing high and low is to invest in a few key pieces that are timeless and will last for a long time. I didn’t have a set budget for decorating our apartment, we bought the big stuff first and then over a few months, filled in with meaningful vintage finds. I admit to a love for the Joss & Main app, it’s for amazing printed rugs, pillows and linens.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
If you were to ask me before I started decorating our apartment, I wouldn’t have known how to answer! It started timeless and as we added more decor, it evolved somewhere between contemporary and boho chic. I love mixing bright neutrals with saturated colors.
What is your favorite part about your home?
Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time in my office which I absolutely love. It’s small but, cozy and I have a beautiful view of a quintessential row of victorians from my window. I also love how bright each room stays all day long.
Tell us why you love living in San Francisco!
Aside from the crisp blue skies and picturesque views from every corner, San Francisco is a huge city with a community vibe. Everyone I’ve met in the entrepreneurial space has been so supportive and inspiring, you can never have a “bad idea”!
Take us through a day in the life of Jillian Bremer.
Regardless of the days tasks, it all begins around 7am with a hot cup of coffee. When I’m not out Spark Hunting, I’m in my home office figuring out how to drive business through creative strategies. I wish there was a recipe for how to do that! It’s a lot of collaboration with fellow entrepreneurs, pitching press, reading books & getting inspired. Instead of being reactive to all of the noise that’s constantly happening with email and social media, I’m consciously trying to be more proactive in setting daily and weekly goals. I’m not a big TV or movie person so in the evenings, you can often find me curled on the couch with a gigantic jewelry book. I have a book dedicated to each designer and am fascinated by the rich American history.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old-self?
Nobody knows where the future is going to take them so don’t focus so much on work. Get out of your comfort zone, travel the world and meet new people outside of your industry.
Jillian Bremer is The Everygirl…
Grande Americano Black
Favorite travel destination?
Kailua, Hawaii to get a re-charge from my entrepreneurial sister who owns a paleo company called Good Clean Food Hawaii.
Signature styling trick?
Top knot and statement clips
You only live once.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Danielle Walker from Against All Grain, hopefully she would be cooking for me!