Being your own boss might sound glam, but in the real world, as any entrepreneur will tell you, it’s not an easy road. Hurdles ranging from speed bumps to boulders make running your own business a venture (and adventure) not for the weak, but sometimes the dream does become a reality. And as three owners of San Diego-based small businesses prove, the benefits can have broader impact than just a successful bottom line.
Hardly a newcomer to the local retail world, boutique owner Irina Rachow has served her loyal clientele for three decades at stores in Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad, and Downtown San Diego. While some of her stores have shuttered (including the pandemic-era closure of her popular Fairen Del boutique in Flower Hill Promenade), Sheridan, located within Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, and Madison San Diego in Downtown’s The Headquarters shopping district remain as destinations for Rachow’s curated mix of clothing, jewelry, accessories, and gifts which, as anyone lucky enough to receive a gift from Rachow’s stores knows, approach art in their beautiful presentation. (When Rachow says, “I’ll make it special for you,” she is underselling it.)
Despite her success, idle time during the pandemic stirred Rachow’s creative juices. “I sat down and really gave it some thought and went, ‘You know, I love to create,’” she remembers. While she’d collaborated on designs for both apparel and jewelry for her stores over the years, knowing the challenges of launching into the garment industry, she set her sights on jewelry. But not just any jewelry.
“When I buy jewelry, I really love things that have meaning. Those are the things that really compel me, and a lot of people seem to like that,” she says. She wanted to make pieces that were evocative of everyone’s individual journey, or personality, or connection to others, a mission she realized she couldn’t accomplish with one jewelry line alone. In order to cover so much creative ground, she launched several collections, co-designed with input from her daughter Fairen, following her inspirations down different artistic lanes to give each one its own unique essence.
She named her company Everwild in homage to her lifelong love of nature and commitment to conservation, and established from the beginning that Everwild’s success would benefit the planet. “It was really important to me for there to be an environmental factor because my mom was an environmentalist before it was a ‘thing,’” she says. She forged a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and commits a portion of her profits to adopting and retiring farmed land. True to her company’s name, Rachow says, “Every time someone buys a piece of jewelry, it’s going toward locking down acreage across our country and keeping it forever wild. It can never, ever be ranched or farmed again.”
The first of her designs for flagship brand Everwild, a wolf ring, was a nod to the favorite animal of her eldest son. A lucky horseshoe features prominently in her romantic Dark Horse line. The Saints & Saviors collection leans into medieval elements like fleur-de-lis, crosses, and elegant script. Pieces in her Touchstone collection feature inspiring messages in Braille. And as the pandemic wore on and Rachow caught the sweeping pickleball fever, her most popular line, PickleBelle, was born, with bracelets, necklaces, and charms with pickleballs, paddles, and court shoes. A sister line, Lovematch, offers comparable pieces for tennis fans. Select items can be found at Sheridan and in Rancho Valencia’s tennis pro shop, but the entirety of her six collections can be found online at everwilddesigns.com.
Also blending business and family is Brianna Edwards, who with her brother Evan Edwards founded Lineage Watch Co. The lifelong timepiece-collecting siblings dreamed up their own watch brand at a Gaslamp pub one night. “We were just talking over beers, like ‘How cool would it be to design our own custom watch?’” recalls Brianna. They’d always wanted to go into business together, so they thought, “’Let’s see if we can make this happen!’” she says. “And then we just hit the ground running, starting from scratch.” They bootstrapped the company and dove into researching and eventually manufacturing their designs in the U.S. Incorporated in February 2021, Lineage’s ecommerce site went live this past June.
What’s in a name? For Brianna, when it came to choosing Lineage, a lot. “It really meshes the concept of time with our passion for history, and then ancestry,” she says. “But as a Black-owned business, we really wanted to hone in on what lineage meant to us. Whether we’re talking about America’s rich history in watchmaking — America used to dominate the watchmaking scene in the early 1900s — or our own family history, we always think it’s important to be mindful of where you come from, how you got to where you are, and how you’re living your day-to-day. Then, what are you doing to benefit the future generations, the groundwork that you’re laying for them?”
Those aren’t just empty words, as Brianna, Lineage’s president and CEO, explains. A “Lineage Pledge” was created to cement the company’s promise to support meaningful causes countrywide. A commitment to No Kid Hungry designates five percent of every watch purchase to the nonprofit food assistance organization. “We think it’s a huge deal to provide energy and nutrients and sustenance to our future generations, and that ties into the ‘lineage’ aspect,” says Brianna.
Currently available only on Lineage’s website, the brand offers two collections: the Destiny Collection, which is offered in four different metal tones, and the Legacy Collection, available in six combinations of silver, gold, and rose gold-toned metals with white or black faces. A design element in every timepiece is the North Star, which appears on the counterbalance of the watch’s second hand, engraved on the crown, and on the case back. “We chose it for a universal reason, but also for a very personal reason,” explains Brianna. “The North Star represents direction, stability, guidance — it’s a constant. But for us being descendants of African slaves, the North Star has a particular importance.” Memories of growing up hearing the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” about slaves using the Big Dipper (the “Drinking Gourd”) to find and follow the North Star to freedom reminded Brianna of the journeys her ancestors made and their hope for a better future for the next generations. “So, we always try to be mindful of the opportunities and the rights that we are blessed with,” she says. “I think it’s a very American symbol, but also something that is very personal to us.”
For Kimberly Schafer, the old adage about necessity being the mother of invention held true in the genesis of her Ring Thing, a patented, portable watertight ring holder. Lacking a safe container for her rings that she removed while at the nail salon (no, rings rattling around loose in purses and pockets is not safe), Schafer embarked on her entrepreneurial journey for a solution in 2013, while she was working full-time at UC San Diego. And it was quite a journey. Taking on a product from research and development to manufacturing and distribution in only the time she had outside her demanding day job proved to be not the fastest route, but Schafer kept at it with all the methodical persistence a career working in the scientific industry had taught her, securing not one but three patents along the way. Officially on the market since 2021, more than 12,000 Ring Things have sold. And, now retired from her 33-year career with UC San Diego, Schafer is committed full-time to what she calls her “second chapter” as an inventor, entrepreneur, and president of Ring Thing parent company BringThings, Inc.
She has leaned on friends, mentors, and colleagues throughout the development and growth of Ring Thing. “How much I had to learn was really sobering,” says Schafer. “I had been the Administrative Director of the Center for AIDS Research for 15 years at UC San Diego, so I knew how to run large projects. I thought, ‘How, how hard can it be?’” She says she had to put her ego aside to say, “I have no idea how to do this. Can you help me?” She connected with SCORE, a national organization that provides free mentoring for small businesses, and discovered even more reason to value her fellow Rotarians. “It’s been interesting because it opened up a whole new type of discussion with them when I got to know so many businesspeople in a new way,” she says. “I already had that network, but it really expanded its applicability.” It was an a-ha moment that made her realize, she says, “This is why we do this, to engage with people on this different level, because we can help each other in ways that you just don’t even know until it happens.”
The drive to help others ingrained in her through her Rotary work and personal ethos, of course, factors into her work with Ring Thing, and she commits a portion of profits to support GenerateHope, an organization that provides services for survivors of sex trafficking, as well as Rotary’s anti-trafficking task force. “Although I’m for-profit, it’s very important to me to give back in whatever way I can,” she says. “That has been one of the pillars for me of being in this venture. I really want to be able to use my efforts for good, and I think anybody can find something that they’re passionate about and help in whatever way they can. It. I’m not doing anything special. There are so many ways to help people.”