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Charmed by jewelry

Stephens College student creates pieces to raise awareness of breast and ovarian cancer
Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Every week for 15 to 20 hours, Shira Wasserman sits in her office — a desk tucked in the corner of her bedroom — and makes jewelry for the company she has been nurturing since she was 16.

Now, 21 years old, the Stephens College senior has single-handedly made Shira Melody Jewelry into a notable company, selling her creations in stores in Columbia, Kansas City and Lawrence, Kan.

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Wasserman works on a piece of jewelry. She makes bracelets that benefit a Sept. 11 relief fund, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Humane Society.

Her technique shows she’s been doing this for a while. With nimble fingers, she takes a needle, almost too small to see, slips some teal stones, a charm that says “Imagine” and a sterling silver ovarian cancer ribbon onto a string, attaches a clasp and sets it to the side.

Another bracelet done. She adds it to the pile of bracelets she’s made to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

“A friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer,” she says. “My friend called and asked if I could make something, so I did the research, created the design for the bracelet and sent it to my friend for approval. The ovarian cancer bracelets I’m making are for her friends, family, sorority sisters and anyone else who wants one.”

While she was doing research on ovarian cancer, Wasserman realized that with October — breast cancer awareness month — coming up, it would be a good time to create one for that disease as well. “It’s similar to the ovarian cancer bracelet but has pink stones and the pink breast cancer ribbon,” she says.

When her hands begin to cramp, Wasserman takes a break to show another element of the company. “I’m in the process of making a catalog right now for the holidays,” she says. “I think it would be really cool to let people design their own necklaces, choose the beads, pendants, stones, whatever you want, and I’ll put it together.”

Jazai Fletcher, a roommate and friend of three years, is amazed by the dedication Wasserman has to her company. “This year she’s really spent a lot of time in her room making her jewelry; she truly loves it,” Fletcher says. “I know she gets tired and bored sometimes, holed off in her room, but she never stops.”

Wasserman says that as a high school student in Kansas City, she worked for a boutique that sold jewelry she thought she could make. “I saw how some of the jewelry was selling really fast, and I felt like I could make it pretty cheaply, so I started out making small stuff like simple bracelets and necklaces,” she says.

Wasserman began by selling her creations to family and friends. “I generated a lot of my profit early on by doing shows at my house,” she says. “I also ended up selling a lot of stuff off of my own body; people would see me wearing my jewelry and ask where I bought it.”

The idea to begin selling her jewelry in stores came from her father. “My dad told me to start going to buyers in the Kansas City area,” she says. “He really helped me with the technical aspect.”

Early on, Wasserman says, it was difficult to get in touch with buyers and to get them to take her seriously. Despite that, she was able to sell to buyers her first time out. Since then, the interest has been steady.

“I have to build my inventory up,” she says. “I’ll just make jewelry for a few months and then I’ll call businesses and try to get them to buy.”

For the past year, Wasserman has sold her jewelry at Poppy in downtown Columbia. Jennifer Perlow, co-owner of the store, says they have established a good rapport.

“Her work sells very well,” Perlow says. “She does something very smart in that she keeps an eye on current fashion trends and makes jewelry that is popular and unique to our customers.”

As a fashion merchandising major, Wasserman says she is constantly looking at trends and seeing what is fashionable.

“I try to keep up with the industry by making things that I see on celebrities,” she says. “I recently saw Sarah Jessica Parker wearing a necklace and made one just like it. I do that a lot because I know people want to wear what the celebrities are wearing.”

To make things easier for herself and to sell more jewelry to a broader base of people, Wasserman has created her own Web site.

“People can go to my Web site and see an entire inventory of all my jewelry, and they can buy it online as well,” she said.

Wasserman says she has never sat down to figure out how much money her business has generated. “I spend a lot of money on raw materials; I shop online to find rare pendants and precious stones,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m making much money.”

As a December graduate, Wasserman is looking for a job. She is not sure whether she wants to follow as a career something she looks at as a hobby.

“I’m happy with it being a hobby — that’s what it’s always been,” she says. “I’m not sure if I want to risk that happiness by trying to make a career out of making jewelry.”


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