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How Jewelry Startup Founder Chari Cuthbert Shifted Her Company to a Work-From-Home Operation

4 minute read

The world of fine jewelry, typically inaccessible to anyone looking for an affordable-but-sturdy pair of earrings, has seen a boom in recent years, fueled in part by jewelry companies built on direct-to-consumer business models. Among the numerous jewelry brands that have grown largely via the internet is ByChari, founded in 2012 by Chari Cuthbert to address the “gap in the market for great pieces at an approachable price point,” as she puts it.

While Cuthbert is a jewelry designer by trade, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced her to shift into a more businesslike mindset. She leads a team of five, and feels responsible for making sure every person is healthy as the company continues to design and sell jewelry. When the virus took hold earlier this year, the Los Angeles-based company, already used to dealing with customers online, was able to shift relatively easily to work-from-home life. The staff packed up their workshops, transformed their dining room tables into shipping stations and began sending out jewelry orders from home.

“Luckily enough, jewelry is mobile,” Cuthbert, 36, says.

Because Cuthbert’s team is relatively small, it’s been easier for her to have the frank conversations required of any business leaders during a pandemic—and to take precautions to keep people safe. ByChari recently allowed workers to head back to the office if they so chose. Employees who returned got tested for the coronavirus, they get regular temperature checks, and they work with acrylic barriers dividing their desks.

“It’s the peace of mind to know that they can come in to grab things, do what they need to do, and go back home, and not endanger their family or their spouses when they do that,” she says. “We’re doing it with the consent of the team. It’s based on how they feel and what they need to get done.”

On ByChari’s website, customers can find a range of selections and prices, from trendy hoops to delicate chains to stackable rings that cost anywhere from $20 to $500. Cuthbert acknowledges that, whether people are dealing with unemployment or illness or the prospect of being stuck at home for several more months, buying fine jewelry is not everyone’s highest priority. So she wants to meet customers at their level.

“One of the most important things right now is being able to provide quality pieces at any price point,” she says. “Especially with the uncertainty of income and spending at the moment, we really focus our concerns on pieces that are attainable to anybody.”

To Cuthbert, buying and trying on new pieces of jewelry can be a way to interrupt the monotony that many people are feeling in pandemic times. The days of dressing up for the office are on pause for now, but, as she notes, people can wear a new necklace or a nice pair of earrings for a video call.

“Jewelry is something you can put on and just feel really good about yourself,” she says. “More so now than ever, we’ve found it very important that people who want to be able to get themselves something nice feel good about themselves.”

While ByChari targets all kinds of consumers, the company focuses on mothers, using the hashtag #BYCHARIMAMAS, featuring stories about mothers on their website, and promoting pieces that spell out identifiers like “mama” and “mom.” As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the United States and throughout the world, forcing parents into a struggle of balancing school, work and life, Cuthbert says she’s been thinking of the mothers she knows—both among her customer base and at her company.

“That balance of being able to work from home and take care of your kids around the clock has definitely been really difficult for most people,” she says. “We’ve been really pushing that message of self-love—just taking a little time to yourself, even though we know with screaming kids in the background, it’s kind of impossible.”

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com