The forward-thinking moms behind Allie + Bess chain success in bracelets
Allie Wardlaw and Bess Callarman, mothers and entrepreneurs from North Texas, entered the jewelry business with the world against them.
Wardlaw and Callarman started Allie + Bess in August 2019 – just months before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed shopping habits.
The jewelry designer duo met while working as therapists at the Traymore nursing home in Dallas and quickly became friends, bonding over their shared love of fashion. They are known for their signature bracelet stacks.
The bracelets “were just for us, and then our friends started seeing them and kept asking us where they were from,” said Callarman, 39, of Dallas.
The couple invested $50 each to buy beads and they started making stretchy bracelets to please busy moms.
“Almost all I wore were bracelets because … kids pull on necklaces when you hold them,” said Wardlaw, 36, of Richardson. “We started with stretch wristbands for ease. I’m not going to take the time, when I have three kids, to attach jewelry. It’s not functional.
When friends and family started buying what they were making, they started an Instagram account. Initially with a view to being sold in high-end boutiques, Callarman said he had “no intention” of turning the social media platform into a source of product sales.
“We were just playing and seeing what we could do,” Wardlaw said.
New followers began asking about purchasing the bracelets, which led them to launch Instagram-based sales through direct messages over a six-month period, Callarman said.
They sought to find wholesale accounts, the first of which was a successful pop-up event at Dallas luxury retailer Stanley Korshak, Callarman said. But when consumer buying habits changed during the pandemic, they opted to sell directly to customers.
“When the pandemic hit, nobody was buying in bulk. The stores weren’t buying anything,” Callarman said. “So we literally, within a week, created a website and had the website up and running.”
The pair see their lack of traditional business experience as an advantage, allowing them to “develop new ways of doing things and think about things differently from most people,” Callarman said.
Their approach is succeeding, with sales exceeding $1.7 million last year. Allie + Bess is on track to top $2.5 million this year.
“We doubled [in sales] every year. I think we’d just like to keep growing,” Callarman said.
Bringing communities together
Their bracelets are made from beads sourced from India, Asia, and Africa, as well as others produced specifically for Allie + Bess. Some are vulcanite, a material made from repurposed vinyl records.
“We want to give the consumer new and unique things,” Callarman said.
Early in their entrepreneurial journey, a friend recommended trademarking their products, Wardlaw said. Both founders are mothers of young children, so they incorporated five black pearls into their brand, representing Callarman’s two children and Wardlaw’s three.
As demand for wristbands grew, Callarman and Wardlaw expanded their administrative and production teams. They wanted to have a positive impact on the community, so they chose to hire four local refugees to assemble the bracelets.
“Everything we do is visual. You don’t have to speak a [certain] language to be able to work for us. It’s all visual art,” Callarman said. “It creates a more inclusive work environment.”
Their community outreach also extends to local charities, including Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support. The company recently created a partnership with Genesis that allows children at the shelter to design a bracelet that Allie + Bess will sell. A portion of the proceeds from every bracelet sold goes directly to Genesis, supporting the brand’s goal of giving back to women and children.
“Social media is constantly evolving. It’s just constantly evolving, and we have to evolve with that,” Callarman said. “Because we don’t come from a traditional business background, we like evolution. We love change. We thrive on it.
Allie + Bess often showcases products as styled or fashion photos, rather than just product shots, which helps customers visualize how to style their own bracelet stacks, Callarman said. The founders and some of their children also appear in their Instagram feed.
“People know who they’re buying from because we’re big on stories,” Wardlaw said. “We are very involved and getting to know people.”
They also quickly got to know social media influencers, partnering with over 75 who wear their products. Wardlaw said influencers “got us to where we are today.”
“Most of our influencer marketing is gifted, it’s not paid. We really believe in word of mouth and our product, kind of, standalone,” Callarman said.
The company recently launched a ambassador program which gives affiliates a chance to earn profits on sales and referrals, as well as potentially earning free gifts or being featured on the brand’s channels. He recruited nearly 20 ambassadors in the first month.
“It’s interesting and amazing at the same time, because we’ve spent so much time getting out of it,” Wardlaw said.
While most customers Buy Allie + Bess onlineher jewelry can also be found at select pop-ups, as well as at her Dallas office headquarters, where customers can pick up their orders or shop the latest collections in person.