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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Q&A: Erin Schaut and Eleni Tongas, the Co-Founders of EVIE Jewelry

An impromptu trip to Paris was the beginning of a successful jewelry business for EVIE Jewelry co-founders, Erin Schaut and Eleni Tongas. Designed for sustainability, affordability and style, EVIE Jewelry launched in November 2020 with the goals of creating quality jewelry and giving back. 

Schaut and Tongas — studying fashion and textile design, and retail and consumer behavior, respectively, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — started as best friends. While studying abroad in Florence, Italy, Schaut and Tongas decided to jet off to Paris and ended up in a boutique, shopping for matching, gold-plated necklaces. To their surprise, the boutique employee informed them that the affordable necklaces would not tarnish through daily wear. As the duo jaunted around in their tarnish-free necklaces, they came to the conclusion, “there needs to be more of this in the world.” From there, EVIE Jewelry was born.

From their travels abroad in March, to the first Instagram launch announcement in November, the ladies now feel as though they have created an established business. After feeling nervous energy and uncertainty prior to the release of their first collection, Tongas and Schaut are now proud to announce EVIE season three will be coming out in early December. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity

You both are clearly very close friends. Has your relationship changed since moving from simply being best friends, to now, business partners?

Schaut: I would say it hasn't really changed at all, if anything, we got closer. We do so much together, and for me, one of the best things about having this business is that I get to do it with Eleni. It's a full-time job, but it doesn't feel like one because I'm doing it with her and we are in the same mindset all the time. It's very fluid and it's just fun!

The development of EVIE Jewelry began in March of 2020, but was not officially launched until November. Were you keeping the idea a secret in the beginning of the production stages?

Tongas: You’re correct, we started working in March, and we didn't tell a single soul about it except our parents. We didn't tell any of our friends until November which is the month we launched. This was definitely an interesting decision looking back, but thank God we did because I feel like it allowed us to be confident in ourselves and to just tackle the challenge head on. When you have all of these different opinions coming at you, they can be really helpful, but also really hard on your confidence.

Social media is a huge part of marketing and it is also a huge part of many college age kids' lives. Because of this, do you believe promoting your brand through platforms like Instagram and other social media has been fairly easy or have you found it to be challenging?

Schaut: Social media has been one of our main marketing techniques. It allows us to reach another audience that we wouldn't get otherwise through word of mouth. It's definitely been a challenge figuring out different algorithms and hashtags considering marketing wasn't either of our majors. Navigating this space has been interesting and overwhelming, but without these platforms we wouldn't be as successful as we are.

Tongas: One thing that we really focused on is creating content that's more than just a photo of a ring. If you're scrolling through your feed and you see a ring, you're like, ‘oh, that's boring.’ So, we try to style cute outfits and get influencers to style EVIE into their everyday looks. I think that that really helps people envision themselves wearing EVIE jewelry.

EVIE Jewelry 1
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I understand you have a patent pending! Could elaborate and explain the ‘double clasp’ concept you have been working on?

Tongas: We came up with this idea where on each end of the necklace there's a clasp. What that does is it allows you to wear two necklaces that are the exact same length by clasping one necklace directly onto the other. When you put them on, they layer properly even though they're the same length. Since they are hooked together, they also do not tangle!

One of the parts I enjoy most about EVIE is the emphasis placed on giving back and sustainability. How did you decide this needed to be part of the EVIE jewelry mission?

Schaut: For me, sustainability had to be a must. As a fashion major I understand how the fashion industry works, and all of the problematic companies that are in the industry. Having my own business, I didn't want to be part of the harmful acts that these companies were contributing to. One way to prevent this was through packaging. 

Tongas: Every sticker, piece of tissue paper, and printed stamp label is sustainable. Also, all the jewelry is stainless steel which is a 100% recyclable material.

Schaut: We started our company during COVID. A time where there were a lot of issues regarding social justice, climate change and so much more. All of these problems were brought to the forefront during the pandemic. Having a company that was able to give back some of the profits was something that was really important to us. 

Tongas: We know as a small business that the donations we're going to make aren't going to be what these huge corporations are donating. But, if we can just donate a little bit every six months to a new organization that aligns with our beliefs, those little donations will make an impact. Hopefully one day we'll be able to give back millions, but for now, we'll just keep plugging away.

Is there a certain part of running your own business that you both have found to be the most rewarding? Has your perspective changed since becoming a business owner?

Schaut: I really enjoy trunk shows where we actually get to be with people trying on jewelry. Seeing them smiling and getting the opportunity to talk is really rewarding. Also, walking around Madison and having girls run up to us showing off their jewelry and giving positive feedback never fails to put a smile on our faces. 

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