At foundingAustin, we know what success looks like—it looks like the many Austin entrepreneurs who are bringing innovation, solutions and progress to their industries. Every quarter, we bring readers inspiring stories from these business leaders who have learned lessons the hard way and now want to share them with you. These encouraging profiles are combined with articles containing advanced wealth planning strategies for high-net-worth individuals creating a well-rounded resource for all your entrepreneurial needs.

Nina Berenato is Fearlessly Designed

Nina Berenato is Fearlessly Designed

As the artistic visionary behind collections with names like Warrior, Shaman’s Trance, and Hidden Universe, jewelry designer Nina Berenato is not afraid to share the significance she finds in powerful women and cultures throughout history. When asked what makes her jewelry special, she says, “I try to create something that makes a woman feel really powerful, really capable. I create pieces that do more than spruce up an outfit when you wear them. I try to give women jewelry that really makes a statement for them both internally and externally.”

Nina has set out to create the jewelry that she wishes existed. The popularity of her work, which has been featured in fashion magazine staples such as Vogue and ELLE, is definitely scratching the market’s itch for fresh, alternative, bold designs that are meant to be noticed. But her work isn’t just about being bold—it goes far deeper than that; even a casual glance at her collections online (www.ninaberenato.com) reveals lessons in Russian architecture, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, modern art and ancient Greece.  Her newest collection, Lumiere, celebrates the color spectrum and reflections of light. She utilizes pastel quartz and prismatic shapes to represent the behaviors of scattering beams of sunlight. 

Underneath the surface of this heady, smart, inspired artist, however, beats the heart of a true—if unexpected—entrepreneur. “I was never like; I’m going to be an entrepreneur. I’m going to be a business owner.  Instead, I was more like, I’m going to make these things. I just wanted to be in the studio, making things, nonstop. The second I realized that some stores might want to carry my line, I had to switch focus and think about this as a business. Once that happened, my whole mentality changed. When I realized there was a demand for what I was making, and an interest, I became addicted to the business side. Now, I have less and less time in the studio. I get more and more excited about things that I never thought I would be excited about, like reaching these challenges in marketing, or hiring.”

Photo by Leslie Hodge

Photo by Leslie Hodge

Her Austin store showcases her personality, in a renovated 1959 Airstream Bambi that she’s fashioned into a unique boutique at The Picnic on Barton Springs, where you can meet her dog, Sunshine, and make your own custom charms. It is a popular stop for women who want to feel empowered and emboldened by their accessories, but her first trade show experience at Capsule in New York didn't necessarily indicate success was in her future. “Most people wait a few seasons after they've made a good body of work to hit the marketplace but I didn't. I took my first eight pieces to market and nobody bought it that first season. It was devastating, watching people just walk past. So I watched and learned. First of all, I set up my table and immediately realized that I was way out of my league. My table looked like a craft show table. Everybody walked past it. Nobody stopped. But I was able to at least see what I needed to be. The next time I did a trade show, it was with one of the most successful collections that I'd ever made. That was in my second season. It was called Semantic, and I still carry it and it still sells like crazy.”

If she sounds fearless—heading to a trade show with little experience and just eight of her first pieces—it’s because she very often is. “Sometimes I think that I should be more afraid, but I'm not. I have had so many failures, so many times where I feel like I've really just jumped right into a black hole with no return. I'm bummed about it for five seconds, then I just move on. My bigger fear lies in disappointing people with the designs. I have so much focus every season to try and make something better, to come up with something that really pushes me. I really look for something that clients will be obsessed with. I'm fearful that I maybe I'll create something that will let them down. When I think about spending money or taking risks in the business side, those things don't scare me. I'm not afraid of failing in that aspect. I know there will always be another route I can find that will get me to meet my goals.”

How does an accidental entrepreneur get a handle on funding her business? In Nina’s case, by working almost non-stop. “At first, my business was all self-funded. Looking back now, I think it was a mistake for me to keep a full-time job as a buyer for two stores while creating my jewelry designs. It really slowed me down because I was overworking myself. Five days a week I would be at the store from ten to seven, then I would go to my studio until one. I had no life. Later, I was able to get funding from my family. Once I had established myself, I started reaching out to people who knew me personally and took loans from them to help me get my business off its feet. Nobody offered me anything until they had seen it grow to a point where they felt like they could loan me money without much risk. Now I would tell people not to be afraid of asking their family, friends, or people they know who have funded other people's businesses, because that's what they want to do.”

Photo by Leslie Hodge

Photo by Leslie Hodge

Self-funded or not, every entrepreneur needs to understand how to manage expenses and build toward a profit if they want to succeed. And sometimes, that’s a lesson you have to figure out on your own. “You have to be willing to change things in order to maintain a profit, yet business owners are often scared to change their prices. When I started, my rings were a different price than they are now. Every year my production costs change. My costs of running a business change. With that, the price of my jewelry changes. You can’t be afraid to alternate your pricing and because of your costs, you have to keep reviewing it. You can't just price something one day, and then move on, and ten years later expect to still have the same profits on it. 

“But you also have to consider how much time you, the business owner, are spending. I never factored in my own time. I was only factoring in when I was paying other people to do labor. But you have to continually track your personal labor’s expense because one day, you're not going to be doing that labor. You're going to be paying someone else to do it. So you need to charge for your labor the same amount you would pay someone else. Then, when you do pay someone else, it's already factored in. 

“Lastly, you need to pay attention to your invoices, too. Your suppliers can be changing their costs as well. Cover yourself. Do not undervalue yourself. Don't undervalue your time.”

But as Nina can tell you, pricing merchandise isn’t just about profits and costs; it’s also about competition. “I am competing with a lot of other designers that make their products in China, or have different production processes. I need to stay on par with them, which is constantly in my head when I'm designing. I have to regularly ask myself if the piece I’m working on can be made for the market price. I have to know that I can produce it and create a profit at the price I need it to sell for. You may want to make something that's really avant-garde, but you need to know you will be able to both sell it and make a profit.”

So what’s the best part of being an entrepreneur for someone like Nina, who never planned on it? “It's still making stuff. There's no high like when I’m making a new piece. When you've just made something new and you can’t wait for people to see it. There's just something about being a maker and actually putting something out into the world that someone's going to wear on their body, or take with them, or give as a gift to someone that they love. You know that when you're creating it, that this is going to be special to someone. There's no other better feeling than that.”

To browse Nina’s handmade collections online, visit www.ninaberenato.com or in person at The Picnic located at 1720 Barton Springs Road. 

Photo by Leslie Hodge

Photo by Leslie Hodge

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