Melissa Joy Manning / Photo by Sabrina Sucato
Melissa Joy Manning is a woman on a mission. She’s working to make the world a better place, one bracelet, necklace, and ring at a time.
One might think that the founder of an eponymous jewelry brand with more than 20 years of industry experience under her belt would be content to set cruise control on her empire. Yet now, more than ever, Manning refuses to rest on her laurels.
On a recent visit to the Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership and Development in Esopus to lead the keynote speech for The Brunch, Marist Fashion’s sixth annual workshop for future fashion leaders, Manning shared her unconventional journey to entrepreneurial stardom.
Like most children, Manning got her first taste for jewelry-making as a child. At the tender age of four, she made her first necklace (which her mother still possesses). Although she enjoyed the hobby immensely, it was never something she thought she could pursue in the long run.
“My parents are classic overachievers,” Manning jokes. Although her “super lawyer” mother and sports director father told her she could do anything, she did not consider crafting as a serious profession. Instead, she chased a law degree and unhappily worked a string of restaurant and retail jobs as she sought to find a fit.
Then, two things happened. First came a fateful summer trip to Mexico, during which she returned to making jewelry. With a renewed passion, she flew back to New York City and, more specifically, to the office of a vocational counselor.
“[The counselor] said I should be self-employed,” Manning recalls. “I embraced those results and never looked back.”
Nowadays, Manning is a force to be reckoned with. The jewelry designer operates studios in California and New York, runs a thriving online enterprise, and maintains accounts in the United States (check out Paper Tail in Rhinebeck for examples of her work) and abroad. True to her ethos, the brand prioritizes eco-friendly practices at every level, from its green certification by the State of California to its commitment to domestic production and responsible sourcing. As a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), she champions environmental awareness within her industry at large, as well.
Although it’s far from an easy feat, the choice between action and inaction is simple one for Manning.
“If you’re making jewelry for the right reasons, you should want to do it in the responsible way,” she summarizes.
If her longstanding success in the jewelry industry is any indication, her methodology has worked for her thus far. Of course, that’s not to say that her journey to where she is now has been without its challenges. On the contrary, Manning faced “no’s” right and left, from rejections from potential retailers to the major loss of her new Soho storefront two years ago.
“I’m learning to understand that failure is a huge opportunity. That’s something our culture fails to embrace,” she observes. Contrary to popular opinion, she recommends welcoming the potential for mistakes, then learning from them when they occur.
“Failure leads to questions, questions lead to answers, answers lead to strategy, and strategy leads to improvement,” she notes. “Failure is the genesis of being better.”
On the subject of being better, Manning reveals her three tenets of success, both in business and in life.
The possibility of endless learning is precisely why Manning loves speaking at events like The Brunch by Marist Fashion and opening a dialogue in the community.
“The butterfly effect is real,” she enthuses. “For me, business is about doing more than walking by. We all have to be brave enough to do it.”
For now, Manning is content to continue providing, beautiful, handcrafted jewelry with an ethical approach during the day and spending time with her young son and partner at night. As she sees it, that work-life balance is critical to a healthy, successful life. After all, that’s part of why she loves escaping to the Hudson Valley so much.
“Coming up here is a return to being a kid and to that inspiration,” she says. “For me, it’s about getting away from all the noise.”