Becoming a designing woman in one of the largest cities in world has been challenging but far more rewarding than anything I could have imagined. My passion for design led me to study fashion merchandising and design at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. I won a modeling competition and moved to New York City in 1995 with dreams of being the next Naomi Campbell! Ha! My Life didn’t work out quite the way I planned but my journey to get where I am today has been nothing short of amazing.

shauna-neely

After modeling for designers including Michael Kors, Richard Tyler and Carmen Marc Valvo, I started a small jewelry business. Modeling was extremely fulfilling for me, but when I started creating jewelry, I gained a true sense of what it’s like to fully live through my passion. I taught myself the ropes of jewelry-making with a plan to build a reputable name for myself like all of the amazing people around me. When I looked to my right, I saw my girlfriend who was an author and had just released her second best-selling novel. When I looked to my left, I saw another girlfriend graduating at top of her class in law school and heading into a legal career. I was determined to create a life for myself that didn’t just compare to the success of my friends, but I wanted to become the Shauna Neely my daughter could be proud of. When I decided to pursue jewelry-making, I also found out I was pregnant with my one and only child while in a marriage that was crumbling before my eyes. It was the worst of times and and the best of times but I was focused on my dream of being a designer with the biggest names in entertainment wearing Shauna Neely Jewelry.

Sundays #ShaunaNeelyBridal 👰🏾💍💍💍💍💍

A photo posted by Shauna Neely (@sneelyjewelry) on

In order to attract celebrity clients, I had to use my contacts and soon. I was able to get my jewelry directly to the stars. My friend Nana Eyeson worked at Essence magazine, and the next thing you know, Beyonce was wearing my earrings for a cover shoot. My pal Wouri Vice was the stylist for Alicia Keys and shortly after, the singer-songwriter was wearing my earrings on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (gasp). My modeling connections came in handy, and I was able to style Eve for TV Guide and Foxy Brown for a magazine cover shoot. Just like that, I had manifested some of my biggest dreams by speaking them into existence.

While my professional life was growing and evolving, my personal issues persisted. The decision to leave my then husband came with a lot of sacrifice. I was leaving my best friend, my financial backer and my daughter’s father. I was leaving behind a life of security, but I knew I had to. After the divorce, everything changed; my address, my last name, my bank account and my title as wife. In the middle of that, my beloved mother died suddenly. As an eternal student, I’m always trying to learn from all situations, and I knew that I couldn’t let the tough times define me. I faced what was happening and took everything in stride. I took on the title of single mother and I wear that crown proudly. I turned my tragedy into triumph and although it was an extremely stressful time, I was determined to come out on the other side stronger, softer and wiser. Instead of folding I kept the faith and I was led to a professional milestone I didn’t anticipate.

I had the idea to focus and create the Shauna Neely bridal collection. The natural progression at that time was to learn the highest level of diamond dealing. I met Adrienne Williams through a mutual friend, and we quickly connected. She commissioned me to design her engagement ring and wedding band, as well as the band for her now-husband, NBA player Chris Bosh. I also designed other jewelry for their weekend wedding. Through the Boshes, I was blessed enough to meet Rachel Johnson, a stylist for professional athletes. She led me to the opportunity to design the cufflinks for the weddings of Chris Paul, Lebron James and Amare Stoudemire. This was a pivotal success for my bridal collection and my brand recognition overall.

From the outside looking in, it appears that I have only hit home runs, but my reality as a designer has not been easy. Diving into the business the way I did caused me to encounter some serious roadblocks. I initially partnered with the wrong jewelers who wanted my clients and connections—not me or my work. And being a black woman in a male-dominated field has also proven to be a challenge.

Through all of my personal and professional triumphs and downfalls, I’ve realized two things that have become mantras in my life: Anything is possible with a plan, and nothing in life comes easy. Today, Shauna Neely Jewelry continues to shine. When your client list includes top athletes and celebrities, you know you’re winning and I honestly feel as if I am just getting started. Huge things coming and I owe it entirely to my passion! I often get asked how did I get to where I am today and the best advice I could give to anyone is to find your passion. Passion is a navigation system that will never ever fail you. I am grateful beyond expression to have found my mine. Be brave enough to follow it and let it fuel, feed and most importantly EMPOWER you!

Shauna’s tips for women (especially single moms) who want to start businesses:

1. Lean on your trusted friends and your network. It’s not about using them, but asking friends who have or are building businesses for counsel.

2. Develop genuine relationships.

3. Even if you don’t have a publicist, be your own publicist. Enlist your tribe to help spread your message. It’s not boastful, it’s celebratory!

4. Know what makes you and your work unique and different. As a former model, I knew fashion well and I was able to build trust in that industry.

5. Even during the hard times, embrace your God given talents. Don’t forget why you started!