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Friends For 10: Lizzie & Kathryn of Lizzie Fortunato

In honor of Small Business Saturday, we decided to ask Lizzie and Kathryn the “Friends for 10” interview questions that we’ve posed to so many inspiring women this fall. After all, we thought the founders might have some good advice or at the very least entertaining answers. Read on to discover their tips for inspiring entrepreneurs and what’s in their purses! #LF10 

As many of you know, Lizzie Fortunato turned 10 years old this year and as a result, we’ve gotten to do a lot of celebrating and reflecting on what it means to have a decade-old fashion brand in New York City. Often we put our best face forward on our social media (we don’t Instagram the late nights at the office), but the journey has been equal parts grit and glam. The creation of our brand was somewhat unintentional: Lizzie was making jewelry at Duke University (where we attended undergrad together) and students would stop by our dorm room asking to buy pieces. We started hosting trunk shows (which subsidized a spring break to Paris) but still considered the fledgling business a hobby. After graduation, we moved to NYC to begin our “real” jobs (Kathryn on Wall Street & Lizzie in fashion PR), but demand for our hand-made designs continued and the company was born. To this day we are self-funded; we still work from a studio in the Lower East Side (our original stomping ground); we never had an official business plan, and we still have to remind each other to act like “business partners” and not twin sisters at the office. But just as things have stayed the same they’ve also changed: it’s no longer just the two of us (we now employ over 10 women in our office); we sell in over 75 boutiques and department stores worldwide; we’ve designed over 2,000 unique pieces of jewelry; we’ve joined the Council of Fashion Designers of America; we’ve been featured on the cover of WWD and Glamour’s September issue; and we’ve dressed A-list celebrities. These wins have kept us going, as have YOU – our customers – who always make working hard and innovating so worthwhile. You wear our product to work, you wear it on first dates, many of you have worn it to your weddings, and you report back on how happy and cool it makes you feel. We are so proud of the brand we’ve built and could not have done it without the support, loyalty, enthusiasm, and style of the people that shop our product. So thank you for being our muses for the past 10 years. Here’s to the next 10.

Q & A:

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1. What is one of your most poignant memories of starting the brand?:

LF: I have memories of crafting and creating that stretch back to the age of 8 or 9 when my paternal grandmother taught me to sew on her ancient Singer machine. I distinctly remember cutting up a pair of jeans my mom had bought me to make a pillow and a purse (foreshadowing my love of home design and accessories I guess?!) at a young age. I think it was around high school age that I roped Kathryn into helping me with my design ambitions: She was my mannequin for lots of sewing and craft projects, always getting stuck with pins.

KF: Lizzie officially launched the company in 2008 and I joined full-time in late 2010 (I worked at Goldman Sachs after Duke where I honed my excel skills and paid the bills for our fledgling start-up). While I was excited to finally be working side by side with my sister in our small start-up, I certainly had trepidation about leaving my comfortable and well-paid Wall Street career. I remember a 100-degree night in late August 2010 – my first week on the job – having a massive war with the packing tape and hearing rats scurrying in the basement below our ground floor office space and thinking “what the hell have I just done with my life?!?!”

Are you a Lizzie (creative) or a Kathryn (business)?:

LF: Obviously – LIZZIE! I don’t envy Kathryn’s job in the least because I’m not a numbers person. I’m so grateful I have her to keep our books (and do my taxes!).

KF: Business!

We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary (crazy, right?). What’s your favorite milestone that you’ve experienced in the last 10 years?:

LF: There are so many milestones that have kept us going over these last ten years (it’s the small victories that really keep you pushing forward when you’re running a small business). Some recent highlights include joining the CFDA (it’s really rewarding to have the respect and camaraderie of such talented members of the industry), selling to Matches Fashion (because it might just be my favorite place to shop online), and starting our Creative Women’s Dinner Series which has allowed us to meet so many interesting female creatives and entrepreneurs in a really friendly, supportive setting. I also recently designed fine (18k gold and semiprecious stone) jewelry for Kathryn and me to wear on each of our wedding days. It was a unique but rewarding challenge — the result was something I was really proud of. Obviously, we have so much going on that each day presents its own array of hurdles, opportunities, and ultimately enough small wins that we’re really inspired to keep trying to be great designers, small business owners and leaders within our jewelry community.

The Lizzie Fortunato Timeline

Friends For 10: Lizzie & Kathryn of Lizzie Fortunato

What is your favorite Lizzie Fortunato piece from the Fall’18 collection?:

LF: The Venice Heart Necklace.

KF: I love the Madonna Earrings because to me they’re sexy, Italian-inspired, chic and super-duper light. I also wear one of our Leisure Bags almost daily.

What is your favorite Fortune Find for your home?:

LF: Malka Dina Medium Triassic Vessel 

KF: I am obsessed with these new Yves Klein blue casseroles and other dishes we just added to the site.

What is your favorite way to style statement jewelry?:

LF: Recently, over turtlenecks and sleeves. I love an acrylic cuff over a fitted sleeve or a statement necklace on top of a knit.

KF: Statement necklaces for the daytime over a sweater (they’re not hard to wear, trust me!). Going out at night my glasses coming off and statement earrings go on.

What is your favorite accessory (this could be a belt / a watch / a pet / whatever!); Why?:

LF: Other than whatever statement jewelry I’m wearing on that particular day, my Dezso by Sara Beltran engagement ring and the chunky gold ring (my grandmother’s wedding band) that I wear on my right hand. It always reminds me of her and I adore it.

KF: My sister! Haha, it’s true.

We’re all about original dressers…what’s the weirdest thing in your closet? How do you accessorize it?:

 LF: I have a pair of pink sparkly Dries pants that I call my Disco pants. People always make comments about them but oh well. I wear them with a bright red sweater and one of our Wide Georgia Belts.

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"...each day presents its own array of hurdles, opportunities, and ultimately enough small wins that we’re really inspired to keep trying to be great designers, small business owners and leaders within our jewelry community."

What is the oldest accessory in your closet?:

LF: Saint James shirt that belonged to my mom’s very fashionable godmother.

KF: A locket from my maternal grandmother and turquoise and silver bracelets from my paternal grandmother (which likely were passed down from her mother).

What is the most random thing in your purse right now?:

LF: I always carry Washi tape, a ruler (with a mm side, because you never know when I need to measure some jewelry components) and a mechanical pencil.

I am a “_____” [insert occupation here] and I am passionate about ______:

LF: Designer; Creating pieces that tell a story.

KF: Female entrepreneur; Creating a sustainable business that we are proud of.

Small but impactful advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?:

LF: Be lean. Don’t overspend on silly things and don’t underestimate the power of getting out from behind your desk and meeting people. Getting out there is half the battle.

KF: Find mentors; surround yourself with people who know more than you do. Whether it be legal advice, business advise, industry advice, meet with them early and often and listen to the guidance they give you.

Lizzie Fortunato Press Highlights

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What gets you out of bed in the AM?:

LF: Coffee with almond milk.

KF: My sister calling me, she’s my second alarm.

The secret to your success?:

LF: A lot of diligent hard work.

KF: Always showing up.

My first job was _______:

LF: Babysitting, working at a produce stand on the side of the road, and in NYC, working in fashion PR.

KF: At a produce farm stand in Delaware where I grew up.

In my next life I want to be a ________:

LF: Designer.

KF: An economist or world leader who makes positive change.

Any secret talents?:

LF: People call me Hipster Handyman. I’m pretty good at DIY projects around the house.

KF: I can do a perfect frown, it’s a literal upside down smile. I can also do the splits.

What is the most played song on your phone (or iPod):

LF: Probably The Daily Podcast.

Lizzie Fortunato: Then & Now

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Lizzie & Kathryn photographed at the Lizzie Fortunato launch party, Please advise month, 2008
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Lizzie & Kathyrn photographed at their 10-year anniversary bash. May, 2018
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Poker chips necklaces featured in the inaugural collection
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10 years later, updated poker chip necklaces make their official come back in the FW18 collection
"I remember a 100-degree night in late August 2010 – my first week on the job – having a massive war with the packing tape and hearing rats scurrying in the basement below our ground floor office space and thinking “what the hell have I just done with my life?!?!”

What are you doing tomorrow?:

LF: Hopefully a yoga class.

KF: Selling jewelry at a trunk show in Chicago.

Beach or Mountains?:

LF: Dead tie.

KF: Love both.

Favorite place you’ve ever traveled?:

LF: Impossible! But most recently Corsica.

KF: East Africa, Morocco, and Japan are all on the top of my list. I also love the American West.

Would you rather win an Olympic Medal or an Academy Award?:

LF: Olympic Medal.

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Lizzie & Kathryn mingling with Anastasia Koutsioukis (of Mandolin Miami) during one of their Creative Women's Dinners

Up Early or Up Late?:

LF: Late.

KF: Up early.

If I were a NY neighborhood I would be _____?:

LF: The East Village.

KF: The East Village

One item you can’t live without when you travel______?:

LF: An oversized scarf (that doubles as a sarong, blanket, etc).

KF: Kindle.

What travel destination best matches your personality?:

LF: Tokyo.

What the twins are Loving:

Shop their favorites and more:

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Madonna Earrings
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Arc Cuff in Clear
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Leisure Bag in Day & Night
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Carolina Necklace
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Medium Blue Casserole
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Medium Triassic Vessel
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Ridge Cuff in Redwood
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Venice Heart Necklace in Pink
XX,
LF