THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Holly Daniels Christensen, Founder, Dune Jewelry

02/10/2015 06:18 am ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

Holly Daniels Christensen from Dedham, Massachusetts is a self-taught jewelry designer and the founder of Dune Jewelry, the Original Beach Sand Jewelry Company®.

Dune Jewelry's patented designs are handmade in Boston using beach sand from thousands of locations around the world. Hercompany creates tangible reminders of life's greatest moments. It could be a childhood beach house, a place you and your friends meet each year, the place where your partner proposed, maybe it's where you had your wedding or honeymoon. Dune's unique,custom collection is something that will help you hold onto thosecherished memories for years to come.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I did not have a privileged upbringing and have been living independently since I was 15 years old. My Dad passed away when I was 8 years old due to complications with Type 1 diabetes and my Mothernever recovered from his passing so I had to become an adult at a young age. I grew up on Cape Cod and every summer since I was 11 years old Iworked at a small zoo feeding and cleaning up after the animals, giving pony rides and hayrides. I started at $5 per day and worked my way up to $5 per hour by the time I was 18. This really showed me the value of hard work!

Throughout my life I've had all kinds of jobs including zookeeper, pharmacy technician, promotional model, bartender, cell phone sales, cruise sales and then finally, real estate agent. It took me a long time to figure out what I loved to do, and not to just base my work purely on survival. There were times that I would be working 3 jobs every day to pay my bills and throughout all of it I soaked up every bit of information. I learned from each and every manager that I came into contact with, all the while knowing that I needed to do something that I was passionate about. I knew that I wanted to be my own boss; I knew I wanted to use my creative side and I knew that I loved everything to do with entrepreneurship and growing a business. It sounds bizarre, but "work" is something that has always been there for me. It became my stability over the years.

I've learned the hard way that how one handles adversity defines character. Everything is a choice and I choose to keep moving forward one step at a time, even when life seems overwhelming. Being able to compartmentalize fear, anxiety, stress and doubt makes room for strength, courage, hope and endless possibilities. I believe in order to gain respect you need to lead by example. All that I went through as a young adult made me the strong and determined person I am today; and it has made me a firm but fair leader to my team at Dune Jewelry.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a businesswoman and designer?
Transitioning from Dune part-time (because I was still working in real estate) to Dune full-time was a hard decision for me because I enjoyed working in real estate and craved the financial stability. As the Boston real estate market declined, my husband saw the reaction to Dune Jewelry (which I was making as a hobby) and kept telling me relentlessly that it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to do what I truly loved. He encouraged me and gave me the confidence to make the transition and thank goodness he was right! Working in real estate for as long as I did afforded me the financial opportunity to follow my passion and become the entrepreneur I had always dreamt of. With my extensive background in sales I learned how to anticipate my customer's needs, set personal goals and follow through with projects. In real estate everything you put into it, you get something out of it. You are essentially running your own business so I learned the basics throughout those years in real estate.

Since staring Dune Jewelry I have learned it's mostimportant to listen to your customers. Your customers know best and your customers are the people who will help to build your brand and your business simply by word of mouth. With social media so prevalent in our society it's easy to hear what your customers are saying...all you have to do is ask. Then (most importantly) follow through. Everyone at Dune makes it a general rule to beactive on social media and our customers are very interactive. We are not just a jewelry company weare helping people capture their favorite memories. Dune Jewelry sells memories...not just jewelry.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as CEO of your own company?
This past year Dune Jewelry broke a financial milestone which is an indescribable highlight in my life. Along with this success comes pressure which can be a challenge, however for me, I try to look at the pressure as fuel to keep moving forward andcontinue our growth.

Other highlights for me thus far have been donating back to coastal preservation programs on a regular basis, partnering with Joslin Diabetes Center to raise money and awareness about such a prevalent disease and creating jobs! We're a small artisan company that creates fulfilling jobs for artists right here in Boston, MA and I'm thrilled to be able to offer exciting opportunities for such talented people.

Tell us about the new projects that you are working on.
We have several exciting projects going on for this year!

One of the biggest projects has been upgrading our website www.dunejewelry.com to tell our story better. We photographed over 2000 unique beach sands around the globe to be able to share the different textures and colors of each sand. It's amazing how each and every one of these sands holds special memories for our customers.

At Dune we want to continue to grow our social media presence, have people share their stories and why the beach is so important to them. We want to create a rich, social environment for people to share these stories.

In 2015, Dune Jewelry has launched approximately six new designs, which is huge for my company, and it's extremely exciting.

Something new we are trying out this year is the Dune Jewelry Trunk Show Tour. Starting March 2015, we will be sending our featured sand artists on the road to educate people about Dune. These artists will be appearing at various retail locations, starting with our retail partners in Florida. Visit theDune Jewelry Facebook page for updates on this tour.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
To women looking to start their own businesses, the key is simple... just start it! Write out a basic business plan and put one foot in front of the other. You will need a sounding board to start. If you believe it and people around you believe it its worth going for it! Don't let negativity stop you, follow your gut. Once you start your own business surround yourself with people who possess strength where you are weak. I'm not the most organized person in the world, and believe me I know it! I have learned to surround myself with a great team and it takes each and every one of us to make Dune happen.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The best example I can set for my daughters is to work hard to achieve my goals. My family is as much a part of my company as I am; they've been there every step of the way, from the very beginning when I started Dune at our kitchen table. The more success we've achieved the more demanding the job becomes at times but as with all things, the pendulum swings and through hard work I am able to step back to spend more time with my husband and my two gorgeous baby girls. The great thing about having your own company is you can take your "family time" when you need to.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace happens when rejection is taken personally. This goes back to what I said about overcoming adversity. It is completely understandable that a person will be discouraged when they don't achieve what they set out to right away, whether it is a raise, a promotion, or a quota. This is where I encourage my staff to use that and turn it into something powerful and something creative. Don't beat yourself up, get back up and keep moving forward.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship through SCORE has been an incredible experience for me. SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Relating to another entrepreneur and old school business professional humanizes the experience of starting and running a business and makes it far less daunting. In my personal life, my mentor has helped me release guilt when I have to say no so as to avoid spreading myself too thin. Working with them has helped me and Dune Jewelry significantly.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There was a woman born into poverty in Saumur, France. She became a cabaret singer and with the financial backing of a lover she opened a hat shop in 1910. She went on to revolutionize fashion by freeing women from the corsets and frills that dominated the apparel industry at that time. Her name was Coco Chanel and many of her early pieces, the little black dress, her tweed suits, her ballet flats and her quilted bags with a chain strap have remained classic staples in fashion for nearly a century. There is timelessness to her art that I can only hope to emulate and a poetic beauty to her story that I, and I think many other women can relate to. At the risk of sounding cliché, it doesn't matter where you come from, what matters are where you choose to go. Coco reminds us of that.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
2014 has brought Dune Jewelry to a tipping point. We reached some magic numbers and goals so it's time to expand even further in 2015, developing the Dune brand and bringing it into the spotlight. Not only do we want to help people hold on to beach memories but we have also been working with golf courses, ballparks and a lot of other locales wherepeople have great memories and adventures, this will further expand our audience, which is very important to our brand. We also have a lot of new designs in the works that we will be introducing that we are very excited about. Our goal is to remind people to "live for the moment and (with a little help from Dune), take it with you...."