09/28/2015 01:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Women in Business Q&A: Amy Rodbell, Founder and Creative Director, Swell Caroline


Amy Rodbell is founder and creative director of the preppy jewelry and monogram accessories brand, Swell Caroline. Based in Atlanta's posh Buckhead district, this boutique jewelry brand started out as a home based online jewelry shop but has quickly grown. Now one of the country's most sought-after costume jewelry brands, Swell Caroline can be found in over 200 top independent retail boutiques, including the original Lilly Pulitzer flagship store in Palm Beach, "C. Orrico."

Amy's past experience as a stylist at Ralph Lauren inspired her to create a lifestyle brand that would motivate customers to dress in a more "Swell" fashion. Combining her education in marketing and finance with a love of design, Amy created Swell Caroline Jewelry to appeal to women with a colorful sense of style who could use pieces to pull together their look in a fabulous, yet affordable, way.

Amy received her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Marketing at the University of Georgia and received her Master's in E-Commerce and Finance at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She previously worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill and in the Washington, DC office of The Coca-Cola Company. Amy lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two young children.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Swell Caroline was my first independent business venture and I did not launch until my late 30's. From my background working in Washington DC while learning from some of the best, most passionate thought leaders taught me how important self confidence is and the ability to communicate your ideas. As an independent business owner, I have found my most valuable trait is my ability to market and sell a vision. I believe in our products and our story and am able to confidently and clearly communicate our brand to potential buyers. There are so many times that self doubt can sabotage your best ideas and to me, the ability to maintain a positive outlook and really believe in what you are doing has been central to growing this business from a small venture out of my home to a jewelry and accessories line that can be found in hundreds of stores worldwide.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Swell Caroline?
My very first job out of college was as a stylist at Ralph Lauren. The way the Ralph Lauren Company channeled their unique lifestyle image not only through products but also through each signature store made the brand come to life. As soon as shoppers walked through the door, you could watch their demeanor transform. They would stand a bit taller, smile a bit wider and put forth their best manners. I wanted to create a brand that would do something similar. I design all of our pieces down to the packaging with a unique customer in mind and a way that I want them to feel when they click on our website, walk into one of our showrooms at market or open one of our packages.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Swell Caroline?
The best highlights are calls or emails from customers that we have delighted. There is no better feeling than to bring a bright spot to someone's life. We received the sweetest email from actress Lauren Potter's mother. She gifted one of our pink Cherry Blossom necklaces to her mother who was going through treatment for breast cancer at the time and she wrote us about how much the gift meant to her. The note that she wrote brought tears to my eyes and made me so happy!

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
I know it sounds cliché, but just do it! Getting input from friends and family is valuable but if you wait around to craft the perfect venture, you may never actually launch it. So many people get bogged down in the details, but if you get a general plan that you are excited about, just launch it on a small scale. The input you receive from actual customers will be so much more valuable than someone who knows you. Three years from your launch date, your company may look completely different than your initial vision!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am a married with two young children so maintaining a work/life balance is a huge struggle. I have always put my family first, even if it means letting an opportunity slip by. When I look back on my life, I want my children to believe I was an awesome mom. I rely heavily on my family as a support system. When I have to travel internationally or am away for a long trade show, my parents and in-laws have always stepped up to help my husband (who also works full time) manage our family. It gives me a huge piece of mind to know that they are well cared for when I can't be with them and it truly allows me to focus on my work when I need to.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have always found that being a woman has worked to my advantage. I have worked in many male dominated environments. I feel that being a woman set me apart and helped me to differentiate myself from other colleagues. I believe the biggest issue for women from what I have seen is when childcare enters the picture. It is so difficult to cover the cost of good childcare in so many jobs. Many women cannot justify the cost and so many jobs do not offer the flexibility that most moms need, so many drop out of the workforce.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My father has been my greatest mentor in both my personal and professional life. As a veteran entrepreneur, he came from humble beginnings in rural south Georgia. He paid his way through college working summers as a construction worker building casinos, including Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. To grow from pouring concrete in the desert of Las Vegas, NV into one of our city's most respected custom homebuilders, he is the epitome of what an entrepreneur should be. He led by example and my sister and I both inherited his entrepreneurial spirit. He taught us to never give excuses and to finish what you start; two mantras I live by.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Female leadership can take so many different forms. At this point in my life, I am more tuned in to women who are leaders at home. I am lucky to call so many female entrepreneurs friends and I admire the mothers who are able to prioritize. From my friend who dropped out of a partner track at her law firm so that she could be at home to have dinner with her children to my high school friend who gave up her job to focus on her special needs child's therapy, those women are the true leaders in my eyes and are so deserving of admiration and praise.

What do you want Swell Caroline to accomplish in the next year?
My hope for the company this year is to continue to reach new markets and to reach a point where we can sustain a charitable foundation. As the company reaches a consistent level of profitability, I feel strongly about giving back. My grandmother, Carolyn, for whom the company is named after, died of ovarian cancer when I was in college. I would like to be able to give to those who suffer from this and other cancers to offset the pain and suffering that financially burden so many families battling cancer.