A few years ago, Ali Howell of Chamblee started designing and making her own jewelry because she wanted unique statement pieces without high price tags. Her keen eye for design and color had been honed over a 20-plus year career as a visual merchandiser for two china companies, arranging displays at merchandise marts and retail stores.
When the Memphis native started a summer job in Dallas during college at Southern Methodist University, one aspect caught her eye: “All the [china] displays were in solid colors. I saw things that could make the displays look better,” said Howell.
After graduation, her summer employer sent her to New York for training in visual display and then to Atlanta in 1986 to open and run the company’s office at the Merchandise Mart. After nine years, she changed companies.
By 2009, “Times got tighter, budgets were cut,” said Howell. She had already started making jewelry, and decided it was the right time to launch her own company.
“People were not buying new clothes. I wanted to make statement jewelry that could be used with old clothes,” Howell said. “Every woman wants to jazz things up.”
Howell accomplished that with a “pop of color,” she said. “I mix things you wouldn’t think would mix.”
She uses only natural materials, nothing acrylic, plastic or man-made. Necklaces, bracelets and earrings are made of semi-precious stones and other materials such as shells and wood that are strung on sterling silver, gold-plated or gold-filled chains. Retail prices range from $24 to $150. Howell said pieces ranging in price from $40 to $55 are the biggest sellers.
Howell named her jewelry line ali & bird, combining her name with her daughter’s nickname. Howell explains: when 12-year-old Lindsey was born, her feet were thin and curled up and looked like bird’s feet. Lindsey helps Howell with designs so she wanted to include her daughter in the company name.
“She has an innate sense of style. If I get stuck on a design, Lindsey is able to point out what goes, what doesn’t,” said Howell.
Lindsey also makes some of ali & bird’s inventory, an arrangement that arose out of her request for a cell phone. Howell donned both her employer’s and parent’s hats, hiring a reliable employee while helping her daughter learn about fiscal responsibility. Lindsey’s salary for making bracelets goes toward her cell phone fees; anything leftover may be used for spending money.
From both an artistic and business perspective, Lindsey seems to be learning what Howell is trying to teach.
“I like bright colors. You just have to see what colors go together,” said Lindsey, a seventh-grader at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School. One day, she said, “I’d like to take over the business.”
Each ali & bird necklace has a charm of two birds symbolizing the love of a mother and child.
Howell’s husband, Ward, is also an integral part of ali & bird. He handles the company’s public relations, marketing and social media while maintaining his career as director of channel business development for Q2ebanking in Norcross The couple also has a 9-year-old son, known to all as “Happy,” a Montgomery Elementary School student.
The ali & bird jewelry collection is sold in 65 retail outlets in the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest. Lola’s Boutique in the Dunwoody Village Courtyard has carried Howell’s line since opening in 2010.
“It’s really unique and we love to support local artists,” said Lola’s owner, Stephanie Falzone. “We do trunk shows throughout the year and it does very well. [Ali] definitely has a following. We keep a lot more on hand than when we first opened,” said Falzone, adding that Howell will customize pieces for a customer.
Howell designs and creates her jewelry in a home studio and, besides Lindsey, has three paid employees, called stringers. She hopes to expand to a warehouse location in the near future, and to add retail locations in Texas and on the West Coast. The collection can be viewed, but not purchased, on the company website. “I believe in small business. I want to protect retailers,” Howell said.
To view Howell’s jewelry collection and find metro Atlanta retail locations, visit aliandbird.com.