At heymama, we love that we have the opportunity to connect with so many women who pivot from one career to another. Take Maya Brenner, a former social worker with a jewelry side-hustle who used a family loan to follow her dreams. Today, her jewelry is a favorite of the Hollywood elite and coveted by women nationwide for it’s classic, simple and modern design. Not only has Maya collaborated with design heavyweights like Clare V., J.Crew and Liberty of London, she has recently expanded into decor with the launch of her home line. We love how this mama is growing her business and we’re so excited to see what she has in store. Read on…
Your designs are beautiful and beloved by so many women. Tell us how you got started?
I had a career as a social worker in NYC. I worked full-time and made jewelry on the side until I had too many orders to keep up with. Even then I didn’t quit my day job, I just went part-time. Finally, I borrowed $3,000 from my grandmother to “launch” my business out of my apartment. I had no formal training as a jeweler and I taught myself how to string and wire wrap. Soon people started asking me on the street about the handmade jewelry I was wearing, and the rest as they say, is “herstory.”
What’s been your biggest career challenge so far? How did you deal with it?
We had an opportunity to do a 24-hour discount on the Today Show for Christmas 2010. Our States Necklaces were heavily discounted and we thought we’d sell a bunch, but we ended up selling 25,000 overnight! We had no way of producing all of those pieces and had a malfunction in the ordering system, which left most customers without an email confirmation. It was a customer service nightmare that nearly broke my business. I quickly rented more office space on my floor, hired as many people as I could and started contacting customers to explain the situation. It took us until February but we shipped every single order, and for that, I’m very proud. This experience taught me that when you take the big stage-you better be ready!
How would you describe the Maya Brenner Designs style?
Versatile, wearable, whimsical and timeless.
Name three words that are powerful to you.
Devotion, bliss, discovery.
Do you have any funny stories about building your brand while balancing motherhood?
When my daughter, Sadie, was about eight weeks old, I was designing for Stella & Dot and had to fly up to San Francisco for a design meeting. It was in the beginning days of the company and we were working in cramped quarters and she was sleeping on the floor swaddled, propped up with InStyle magazines. This is a constant reminder of the struggle of working mothers and how smart, creative and flexible we are!
Your Maya Brenner State and Letter Necklaces had an incredible reception when they came out. What do you think it was about them that resonated with so many people?
I think the modern yet keepsake/heirloom aspect of the jewelry really speaks to people. The State Necklace gives a piece of home and represents a lot of state pride. The Letter Jewelry allows people to have loved ones initials on a delicate piece that can be worn daily. And now that you can add letters to our necklaces, our jewelry can grow with you as your family grows or changes.
What’s your superpower and when does it come out?
I don’t sweat the small stuff. Ever. I’m a pretty easy going and relaxed person and it takes a lot to rattle me. But my superpower goes away when I feel like I’m not being heard-whether it’s my kids or my employees or my man!
Tell us about your company culture.
I would say: Fun, supportive and driven. We get to make beautiful jewelry everyday so Maya Brenner Designs is first and foremost a creative and happy workplace. Since we are a very small team everyone is very goal-driven, but we are also very supportive and helpful to one another.
Describe your philosophy as a boss and as a mother. How does your approach to business and motherhood differ or are they the same?
I try to be as flexible as I can in both areas and focus on solutions instead of wallowing in the problems. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get overwhelmed or stressed, but usually a good venting session with my man helps!
You were such a mentor to Ariel Gordon. What was that like? How does it work to mentor someone in the same field without being competitive.
When Ariel worked for me, she gave my business everything. Once she went out on her own she had that same drive for her business and it was an instant success. And I’m really proud of her. My philosophy is that there is enough to go around for everyone. I’m confident in what I’m doing so her successes don’t detract from mine. We still talk often and share resources and information.
What is your morning and night routine like?
I’m up early and have coffee right away, then the kids go to school. I usually work at home or the office, depending on what needs to be done. I make sure to be there by the time the kids return from school for homework, dinner, hanging out and watching a TV show together. I usually try to take a bath and relax, put on a face mask or something else that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. This helps me to reset and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
One of the benefits of running my own business is not being tied down to a set schedule.
What does a perfect day look like to you?
I love going to a Korean spa in LA. You pay a $20 entrance fee and spend as much time as you want in the jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and Himalayan salt room. They also have a restaurant with Korean BBQ so you can stay all day without breaking the bank.
How do you handle negativity in the workplace?
I think creating an environment of open communication is one of the keys to dissipating or avoiding negativity. It also boils down to who is on your team. When hiring, I look for positive individuals. When you have a group of people who are willing and able to communicate their issues then it usually takes care of itself.
I also like to make sure that my employees feel supported. All too often people’s mistakes seem to be highlighted while their hard work goes unacknowledged. Obviously mistakes need to be addressed but it is just as, if not more important, to celebrate a job well done.
You’re expecting another little soon! Congrats! Has motherhood changed the way you work? Do you expect having another baby to change your process again?
When my older kids were born (Jack, age 14, Sadie age 10) I ran my business out of a guest bedroom in my house. There were babies, kids, nannies, workers, delivery guys, stylists, all traipsing through the house on a daily basis. It was chaotic and the work/ home lines were quite blurry. Once the kids were older, I moved my offices to downtown Los Angeles and have kept it separate from my home all these years. Now, I’m setting up my desk again right outside the nursery and will need to figure out how to do it all over. I’m not quite sure exactly how it will all play out but I’m confident I will figure it out once I’m in it.
What are some ways you prioritize your home life with a busy business?
One of the benefits of running my own business is not being tied down to a set schedule. I can go to the office in the morning and be home early enough to be there for my kids after school. They know that I might need to jump on a call or answer emails—the juggle is constant and never easy. To make it work, I have really good household help, an amazing boyfriend and a mom who will always fly in, if needed.
I also have a color-coded calendar on my computer with categories for work, school, home and for the kids. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening!
What’s next for Maya Brenner Designs?
Maya Brenner Designs has grown so much in this last year and there are no signs of it slowing down! This summer we moved into an office space double the size of our last one and enlisted the help of Sarah Sherman Samuel to remodel it. That project was completed just in time for us to gear up for the holidays, which is always our busiest season. We launched our French-inspired collaboration with Clare V. and we’re adding some amazing pieces to the collection including diamond bezels for the letter necklaces, ear cuffs and a Tahitian black pearl collection.
3 pearls of wisdom
It takes a village, so accept the help.
Take a shower-it makes everything feel better.
Behind every great kid is a mom pretty sure she’s messing it all up, so don’t be so hard on yourself and know that you’re doing a good enough job.