A longtime lover of art and appreciator of creativity, Mclaine Richardson blends her business savvy and artistic talents at the helm of Margaret Ellis Jewelry (ME). Mclaine brings her work to life in the form of timeless handcrafted artisan jewelry. Her business savvy and knack for conjuring up creative, timeless designs are only the beginning of a long list of ways she has continued the growth of her brand. Wearing many hats with her company, in addition to jewelry making, she can be found tackling billing, photographing new designs and designing graphics, in addition to volunteering in Nashville. It is with great pleasure that we introduce you to this small business owner who is making a big impact, Mclaine Richardson.
Give us a little background on how you got into this industry.
I knew since I was a little girl that I would be doing something creative. I just didn’t know exactly what it would be. When people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d answer a “paintist.” When asked if I meant a painter or an artist, I’d say that I was going to make up my own job. If only I had known?! I explored all mediums of art throughout high school and college, but it wasn’t until studying abroad in Italy that I realized my love for jewelry design. I moved back to Nashville and accepted a job in marketing at a healthcare company. I instantly knew that it was not my thing! As fate would have it, the company was sold and the entire marketing department was let go. I was thrilled to leave the corporate world behind and began pursuing freelance graphic arts and photography projects. My mom posted a request for me to borrow a light box for one of my projects on Facebook, and Margaret Ellis responded. Mom had been a longtime Margaret customer and friend, so she connected us. When Mom called to thank her, she casually mentioned that I had studied jewelry design. Several weeks later Margaret called to see if I could possibly help her out while one of her employees was out sick. She emphasized that this was a short-term gig. About a month later, Margaret offered me a full-time job but clearly let me know that she had plans to retire soon. Three years later, Margaret asked if I would be interest in buying her business — and the rest is history!
Margaret Ellis founded the business in 1983, and you bought the business in 2013. How has the company changed in the past four years?
It was important to me to honor Margaret and our long-term customers by embracing the name Margaret Ellis and her design aesthetic, but instill my voice into the brand. It’s often simply referred to as ME now. I was 26 when I took over and Margaret was 69, so our taste and perspectives are obviously a bit different. Edward and Anjy worked with Margaret since the beginning, so their expertise is still in every piece they make, but now the designs are all mine. I own the rights to all of Margaret’s old designs, so I make a point of using elements from them in every collection.
I was very hesitant to take risks with the first collection, but I am much more confident now. I know what my collectors like, and I want to make sure that I give that to them each season, but with their encouragement I started infusing more of me into my designs. I am continually told by both my studio and wholesale accounts that they love the modern direction that I’m taking.
I have also automated and updated all of our systems and launched an e-commerce site in the fall of 2014. I spend a lot of time on marketing. I really love the fashion editorial images that we produce for each collection to bring ME designs to life.
What are a few of your favorite pieces from the current collection?
This season I personally love the Neville earrings and necklace. As soon as they were made I started wearing them. I’ve literally sold these earrings out of my ears twice now!
Do you have a most treasured piece of jewelry in your personal collection?
People often comment that I’m not usually decked out in jewelry. My tastes are simple, and I tend to wear the same things over and over. My most treasured pieces have sentimental value. My first piece of jewelry was actually a ME ring that my mom had Margaret custom make for me for my 10th birthday. I don’t wear it anymore, but it has greater meaning today than it did before I bought the business. The other piece that comes to mind is the very first ring that I ever made at Margaret Ellis. Margaret let me wear it to Nashville Fashion Week in 2011 and gave it to me afterwards.
What is a career highlight thus far?
I have lots of proud moments that I am sure I will look back on as career highlights, but right now I’ve just striving to keep getting better at what I do. I love seeing the faces of my collectors when they see a custom piece for the first time. I love hearing that I’m the best-selling jeweler for my top wholesale account. I loved seeing the designs that I did with Amanda Valentine for Project Runway on the New York Fashion Week runway. And I love that Carolina Herrera owns my Electron Bracelet. I hope that there are a lot more of these opportunities to come!
You have a deep involvement in the Nashville fashion community, primarily through Nashville Fashion Week. How has the community grown and what do you see for Nashville-based artisans and designers in the future?
The Nashville fashion community has earned the spotlight! Until Nashville Fashion Week started in 2011, there really wasn’t a platform for local designers. Nashville Fashion Week has taken the interest of a few and turned it into a strong supportive community. I’m so proud of the entire NFW team and grateful for their time and commitment to showcase Nashville’s growing fashion community each and every year. It’s such a gift to the designers and to our city.
I have been the creative director for NFW since the beginning and highly involved in all other aspects of the local fashion community for a long time thanks to my mom. Her passion for people is contagious!
Nashville fashion is a young industry. It’s strange to me that I’m often seen as the voice of experience since I’ve been doing this for four years now. There are so many new designers and fashion-related businesses opening their doors every day. I’m happy to offer words of advice and encouragement that I wish that I had had. I have learned a lot through my involvement with the EO Catalyst program at the Entrepreneur Center. There is definitely a need for creative people to be exposed to the business community rather than limiting ourselves to the fashion bubble.
I’m concerned with the future of small businesses in Nashville. Real estate prices are making it more and more difficult to find affordable commercial real estate. Our locally owned businesses are what make Nashville Nashville. I would love to see more people take a stand to shop and support local businesses.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
My mom always uses silly little sayings and I pick up them up from her. They are so ingrained in me that half the time I don’t even realize that most people have never heard them. But the one I’m really trying to own, that she’s preached to me for years, is, “Be present.” We live in a loud world where we are pulled in 90 different directions on a daily basis. It’s difficult to focus, but I find it incredibly important to be there for friends, customers and anyone that I have the pleasure of coming in contact with throughout the day. I’m working on checking my phone at the door and just trying to “be.”
What are three things — excluding faith, family and friends — that you cannot live without?
Mia. My external hard drives. Radnor Lake.
A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos!
She’s a former teacher who could no longer deny her calling. Catina Parrish, this month’s FACE of TriStar now ministers to patients at TriStar Southern Hills. She’s both inspired and inspiring. Click here to read her story.