Ever since she moved out on her own at age 15, Holly Daniels Christensen has been working hard to make her dreams come true. Jumping from job to job, working as a zookeeper, pharmacy technician, promotional model, real estate agent and more (and with no formal education in business), Holly finally found a way to turn her hobby, sand jewelry making, into a successful career. She has been so successful that her business, Dune Jewelry, received the 2016 Woman-Owned Small Business of the year award for Massachusetts and New England from the Small Business Association.
A Cape Cod native, Holly has always found a strong connection with the beach, which now inspires the concept behind Dune Jewelry. Seeking to bridge the gap between experiences and the jewelry industry, Holly’s designs use sand from beaches that hold special memories for her clients, such as the place where a couple first met or shared their first kiss. Even as her business grew from a one-woman show to having over 30 employees and multiple locations all over the world, Holly kept an emphasis on the personal aspect of the jewelry and the importance of the memories that inspire it.
How do you think moving out on your own at such an early age shaped you to be the person you are today?
I think your work ethic becomes drastically different than someone who can live at home and is supported financially by their parents because you basically have to earn a living to keep a roof over your own head. Your work ethic becomes different and because I was so young, the work ethic that was ingrained in me was so intense at such a young age that it’s carried through into my adult life.
Also because it’s been such a long work career that by the time I was launching Dune, when I was in my early 30’s, I had worked for so many different people and soaked in their knowledge and management style and their experiences so that I had a good, nice overview on how to grow my own team.
Of all the many jobs you have held, is there any experience or memory in particular that sticks out to you looking back?
I loved working at the zoo and being outside and working with my hands and caring for animals. We would always go to the beach after work, which was inspiration for what I do now. Those were where my childhood memories are, are working at the zoo, but I learned the most from getting into real estate in my 20s because, essentially, in real estate you are creating your own destiny.
You’re working off of commissions, so you’re reaping the fruit of your labor. The harder you work, the more money you’re going to make, which is similar to having your own business.
How did you realize that real estate wasn’t something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
In 2010, I was doing both, real estate and Dune Jewelry. My husband just said to me, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Why not give it your all right now before we’re settled down with a family? Take the freedom you have now and the small successes you’ve had so far and just jump in with both feet.” So that’s what I did.
Are there any specific memories you have from growing up around the beach that caused you to use this concept as inspiration for your jewelry?
The ocean especially. Lakes and ponds are still beautiful, but the ocean is so vast and so overwhelming when you think of the vastness of the ocean and the beach and where it can take you, so that was just attractive to me. I personally was more connected to other people’s connections and helping them to capture that because I know how deeply it touches certain people.
I still get calls from customers on a weekly basis and they’re in tears. They’re like, ‘I can’t believe you could do this for me’… Sometimes it’s really intense, really emotional stuff, and sometimes it’s really happy stuff. Capturing those memories is so exciting to me. It’s just fulfilling, and I love it.
Looking back to where you started, how do you think this whole experience has changed you as a person?
We just won 2016 Business of the Year Woman-Owned from the SBA, which was a huge confidence booster. It makes me feels as if I really have learned. I definitely have attained a higher education just through experience even though I wasn’t able to go to college because of my circumstances. I’m definitely more confident. I am a bit more– less nice [laughs]. I’m not as much of a pushover as I used to be.
Where do you see yourself, personally and with Dune Jewelry, in the future?
100 percent, I see Dune Jewelry being the bridge between experiences and the jewelry industry. I know statistically, the luxury jewelry industry, like diamonds and gemstones, is having a hard time connecting with the millennial generation, because for the most part, millennials would much rather have a trip to Thailand than a diamond tennis bracelet… But Dune is experiential jewelry. You can take a little piece of an experience, put it in a piece of jewelry, and it’s not a base metal, cheap type of jewelry.
What advice do you have for other young women who want to turn their passions into a successful business?
I think that you need to understand that if it’s truly your passion and your goal and your vision, than you need to know that you’re going to eat, sleep and breathe this business. It’s not like you go in Monday-Friday, 9-5 and you go home and you have another life. This is your life… But it’s so wholeheartedly the most fulfilling thing in my life besides my children and my family.
You have to find a mentor. I know jewelry and I had a vision and cultivated my own process and design, but I didn’t know about bookkeeping and taxes and more business related things that [my mentor] been able to get me through.
How has this been a positive experience for you– like you said, living and breathing your business and making it your life?
I think to me it came natural because of my work ethic and my upbringing… But most important, I think everyday, how to get better, how to evolve with the business, how to let more people know about Dune Jewelry because in the back of my mind it’s always because I want my two young daughters to have a very strong, smart, successful woman to look up to, which I didn’t have in my youth.
That’s the driving factor for me every single day. Everyday I wake up and every single decision I make does lead back to my girls and being able to give them everything I didn’t have. Not only monetarily or material items, but more so a strong individual to look up to so they know they can conquer the world, right? They can do anything, they just have to work hard and believe in themselves and be smart.