In the Limelight with Clarissa Burt interviews Jasmine Penna: Founder of Congés Fine Jewelry
We are In the Limelight today and I have a really beautiful lady from Los Angeles and what a story she has got. Talk about some gorgeous products. We’re going to get to that in a minute. I did want to go ahead and introduce Jasmine Penna to say hello and welcome.
Jasmine Penna: Hello, very nice to meet you.
Clarissa: It’s lovely to meet you, too. We speak a lot to women entrepreneurs on this show. What we love to do is hear about all of their successes but I’m sure somewhere along the way things went wrong or you had some difficulties. We’d love to understand how you overcame some of those moments. Let’s go back to the very beginning. I love this story and I love the image of you being in the room with your grandmother, who was working fashion in L.A. at the time, and you learning from looking over her shoulder. Tell me a little more about that.
Jasmine Penna: I basically grew up in my grandmother’s house. Both my parents worked. My dad was working on his thesis when I was young. He would work double shifts at the lab over at Kaiser. My memories are constantly with my grandma and my parents, working or taking a break with dinner and then getting back to work. It was pretty much me growing up with my grandmother the majority of my life and watching her, how she did her work, how much she enjoyed it and was all about the arts. I know she loved music as well. I’m not very savvy with music, but my brother is. Just watching her was very inspiring to me. It was like, “this is a good life, this is fulfilling on multiple levels.” I constantly remember her working and of course there were times she’d be frustrated with it or not. She was always working on gowns for different celebrities, actresses and award shows, so that was very inspiring.
Clarissa: Yeah, that’s really exciting for a young girl growing up. I understand you have French in your background. Was your grandmother French?
Jasmine Penna: Not the grandma I’m talking about, but my mom’s mom. They are half French, half Egyptian on her side. My dad’s 100% Armenian. I went to a private little Armenian school my whole life.
Clarissa: Watching grandma, the idea is clear to you from the outset that this is the direction in life that you’re going to take. What I love is the idea that your family enveloped you, if you will, and was your uncle actually the first person to commission a jewelry piece from you?
Jasmine Penna: What happened was, it was my 25th birthday and my parents said to me, “Look, I want you to come up with something yourself and your uncle is going to make it for you.” By the way, I loved my uncle’s work. Anything he made. I loved seeing it on my aunt, even though I was not a real jewelry person. I noticed that he would do one of a kind pieces that had so much depth and meaning to them, or at least I interpreted them that way in my head.
Clarissa: Your uncle was already making jewelry then?
Jasmine Penna: Yes, he was in the jewelry business. There was an unfortunate circumstance in the family where he had to give it up completely but prior to that, for sure. It’s still inside of him.
Clarissa: So you designed it, handed the design to him and he created it for you?
Jasmine Penna: He created it for me then we worked on the details together. Like how I wanted the diamonds encrusted on the side. My middle name is Starlet. I wanted a pyramid with a star cutout right through it and even though there was a lot of room in between. I still wanted to star in there.
Clarissa: That’s extraordinary. You still have the piece or was that sold?
Jasmine Penna: Of course, I 100% have it. I can never, ever sell that piece.
Clarissa: It’s got to have sentimental value. You’re going to hold onto that for life, for sure. Now the beginnings of entrepreneurship and your path is set for you, or at least in your mind it is, and then you get sick, right? Do you want to talk about that?
Jasmine Penna: That uncle we’re talking about, his wife, who’s my aunt, is a Type 1 diabetic. I learned a lot by watching her. I was more understanding and sensitive to the importance of that disease prior to me being diagnosed with it myself. I don’t know, for me, it was like, “this is how it has to be” and that’s was that. The meningitis was a huge setback. That was on my 21st birthday. It’s kind of a birthday thing. Meningitis was definitely a huge change in my life because I really wanted to study nutrition and occupational therapy. That is actually the direction that I was studying. I have a major passion for nutrition and medicine which was triggered by the diabetes. I started off completely obsessed with fashion and the arts, watching my grandma and transitioned into that. I took it as a sign once I became type 1 diabetic. I did get into nutrition a lot and then that happened to me with the meningitis. It set me back because I ended up having a relapse and I couldn’t walk. I had to teach myself how to walk. It was a awkward time, to say the least. My dad did a transition on me and he was all about, “You have to go to college. You have to get your education.” He’s an organic chemist, to the highest of the education that you can get. When he came to me and he said, “You have to take a step back. Just ease your mind. If you really care about fashion that much, why don’t you switch schools? I don’t want you going far away.” So then I went to FIDM. I continued staying with my grandma, which was great because she was my best friend.
Clarissa: Oh, gosh. We’ll have a whole other show on Grand-mom’s one day. My grandmother Clarissa was absolutely my best friend.
Jasmine Penna: You’re named after her?
Clarissa: I’m the fifth generation. The first-born girl of every generation got the name and I never had children. Though I had a lot of little girls named after me in Italy because I worked in television there, my grandmother was thrilled. So you got to stay close to grandma, stay close to home, go to school and then you graduate from there?
Jasmine Penna: I did. I graduated from there.
Clarissa: At what point did you get married?
Jasmine Penna: I got married very late in life. I think I was 33.
Clarissa: Let’s talk about late in life, that’ll be another show. But, you get married and now you’re on honeymoon, right? I don’t know when you really get into the jewelry thing, was it on the Bora Bora honeymoon you went, “Okay, that’s it.”
Jasmine Penna: No. I had transitioned into the jewelry world but from a sales perspective because I love sales. My entire life I’ve loved sales. I always like finding a point of difference or a need, then finding the solution to it, which was also done by jewelry believe it or not. I didn’t see a brand that was all about that to me. When I did go on my honeymoon with my husband, we were in Bora Bora, the only thing that I saw I could get was Tahitian pearls, they have the most beautiful Tahitian pearls there. But two things: one, it was over my budget and pearls don’t work with me. I’m talking about the energy of it doesn’t work with me.
Clarissa: Me neither. I’m an April baby, April is diamond, I’m totally a diamond girl.
Jasmine Penna: That is definitely your stone by birth. That is your birth right.
Clarissa: I wish I could find a man that thought the same way. I’m joking, I don’t need a man. Go ahead.
Jasmine Penna: We all need somebody.
Clarissa: Yeah, I just don’t need a man to buy diamonds is what I mean. That’s not the sole reason. That’s another time we’ll get together to have another conversation. We’ll do a whole interview on men. We have a lot of talking to do, don’t we?
Jasmine Penna: Yeah. So we were on our honeymoon. I love crystals and stones. I’ve been into them since I was about three or four years old. I left there and my husband is obsessed with buying mugs everywhere he goes, even though they all turn white because the writing on it disappears. I couldn’t find anything. That was my need and the solution was: “I am going to create a jewelry piece. It will become my signature collection, where I’m going to get a design patent on it, be in the form of utility as well – because it’s got to be multi-functional – and it’s going to be a collectible. People are going to want to start collecting it, layering it, wearing it in different ways.” And that’s how I came up with the signature collection and creating my own line.
Clarissa: I want to start talking about Congés Fine Jewelry. So is this the birth in Bora Bora? Is this the birth of moving forward with no holds barred on your jewelry line?.
Jasmine Penna: Yes, it was the birth. I’m gonna be very honest with you, Obamacare is what helped me say, “I am going to be my own entrepreneur. I am going to have my own business. I am ready to do this now.” Because with the pre-existing condition, it wasn’t an ability at the time until that point. It worked out simultaneously when I happened to get pregnant at the same time. So I was birthing two children.
Clarissa: Wow! You know we’re good like that, aren’t we? Us women. We know how to get stuff done.
Jasmine Penna: I 100% agree.
Clarissa: So you’re having a baby and birthing a jewelry brand. I want you to give me an idea as to the philosophy behind your brand, the way you choose the gems and the idea of it.
Jasmine Penna: Sure. My first collection was the Signature Collection, which is what I have on; it’s personalized with an original signature barrel. This is what I have my first design patents on with the jewelry collection and it’s encapsulated. It’s a little barrel. You can wear it horizontally or vertically as a bracelet, on a necklace, on a leather choker, however you want. The way I chose the crystals was through an analysis I did of adults, which to some it sounds crazy. “What is it we as human beings feel we need or want to amplify in our lives? What’s missing? What’s there but needs to be a little more advanced or stronger, moved in a positive direction?” I wrote a bunch of that list down. I counter found the crystals give you energy from their properties to help you and that’s how I created the first 11 or 12. Of course, I wanted to grow the collection with more crystals but that was my first jump. Then with the personalized. Originally the personalized was supposed to be for kids. What I had done was research for kids: “What is it? Are they timid?” Here’s a Hematite. “Are they feeling a little bit of separation anxiety from their mothers?” Here’s a milky quartz. I did the same form of analysis with the personalized collection, except it became popular for adults too, for layering, which of course we as children might have had the same needs and wants that we do as adults. It works out, correlates perfectly.
Clarissa: So you’ve got everything in hand now. It’s been idealized, it’s been created, you’ve got product in hand. What’s the next move? Are you knocking on doors or are you straight online?
Jasmine Penna: Right now, I’m straight online but I’m also knocking on doors. My biggest goal was something that I took from my grandmother’s time. It was about stylists. I had some experience with it myself when I went to the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising. That was where I was originally knocking on doors with stylists. I started there and progressed more into sales. It was primarily by word of mouth, which was amazing. From there it grew and now we’re on Nordstrom.com and we’re venturing out into other brick and mortar stores as well; here and over seas.
Clarissa: That’s awesome. I’m really interested to know the story behind the Third Eye Collection?
Jasmine Penna: The Third Eye Collection was inspired by my son and my relationship with my son because he was born with ptosis in both eyes. It’s the fiber that turns into muscle while they’re in your belly for them to be able to open and close their eyelids. His eyelids open, it’s not a severe case, it just doesn’t open all the way. It took him a while when he was born to open his eyes. I don’t think he opened them until he was six weeks old. For me, it was about how a baby can trust. They’re all about instinct and it’s about us using our own instincts and trusting ourselves. He literally has no control over his muscles, but he knows how to trust himself. That was inspiring to me. That was my second design patent that I made with my jewelry line and that is The Eye is Closed. There are white diamonds on top of the third eye. On the bottom, black eyelashes. And in the center what I’ve done is given options of crystals, whether it’s an amethyst, a malachite, a black tourmaline, an aquamarine, a rose quartz and more. That is your vitality, your personality, how you want to be seen and how you would like to see the world. Also trusting your instinct and reminding yourself to trust your instinct, because it’s the third eye. Every culture believes in the third eye, regardless of where it is, whether it’s in your home or in the middle of your forehead, the back of your neck. The fact is, it exists.
Clarissa: I love the idea and I think maybe you pulled a little bit from family or family tradition when you went toward the scarab in the Ancient Egypt Collection.
Jasmine Penna: Yes, I did. My mom’s side of the family, they’re all pretty much entrepreneurs and were very artistic in their upbringing as well as how they choose to live their life. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, really inspired me. He was always about, “If you don’t like something, you could change it.” Then he would give a story about history. With that, I got into all about the scarab. I redesigned the scarab wings myself, I sketched it out and then I had to give it to someone. I had it turned into a metal mold. That’s one of my favorite pieces. I felt the need to start with ancient Egypt. I do have intentions of expanding that.
Clarissa: And didn’t you come out with a kid’s collection as well?
Jasmine Penna: Yes, a charmed collection for kids. I have the baby third-eye charm, the little scarab charm, the little personalized barrel, the golden collection. I have a lot of new stuff coming out.
Clarissa: Everything sounds extraordinary. I can only imagine the amount of work. I’m not married. I don’t have children and I know I have 18-hour days, every day. There’s no getting around it with the amount of work that I have to do. I can’t imagine the hurdles you had to go over health-wise, to be as successful as you are. It’s really quite a testimony to you and how extraordinary you are as a woman and entrepreneur. Why don’t we let everybody know how they can find you and how can they find your gorgeous jewelry?
Jasmine Penna: At Congé—
Clarissa: Which means?
Jasmine Penna: To be on holiday. To be on leave. To separate yourself from everything and take some time for yourself. That’s what it means in French. You can find us at Nordstrom.com and CongesLife.com. We’re available in those two locations right now online. If anyone has any questions, of course they can email. A lot of people have questions regarding crystals and their properties. I’m always good to answer those questions anytime.
Clarissa: Would you like to be followed on social anywhere?
Jasmine Penna: I would love to be followed on social. Please follow @CongesLife !
Clarissa: I’m really thrilled that you took the time to tell your story. I think it’s given a lot of people the idea that you can go the extra mile, you certainly have when it comes to entrepreneurship. Making it successful and making it happen. I really hope that we get to meet in person.
Jasmine Penna: Yes, I hope so too. I feel honored. Thank you so much for the opportunity. ✧