Today we are sharing a case study from Maya Portorreal, an e-commerce entrepreneur who generated over $350 000 in revenue last year by selling jewelry pieces through her online store.
Before venturing into the online business, Maya Portorreal worked as a retail assistant for a luxury apparel brand called Pierre Hardy in New York City and only made $45 000 per year. Last year, she brought in more than $350 000 in sales from her online jewelry business, which she launched as a side hustle in 2019.
Maya says that it’s her sensitive skin which is reactive to brass jewelry pieces that pushed her to start a jewelry brand that would produce pieces that are suitable to her skin type. And it’s partially thanks to her sensitive skin.
Maya spent a lot of time complaining that most trendy jewelry was either top tier and very expensive or affordable but made from cheap materials that gave her itchy rashes. She could neither afford the expensive jewelry and also couldn't wear brass nor copper jewelry.
"I have very sensitive skin, I can’t wear brass and also I can’t really wear too much copper.", Maya says.
Maya decided to launch her own boutique brand called Kitten Co. Jewelry, which makes affordable jewelry from skin-friendly materials. All of this was out of her frustration and her own problem which she believed lots of other people were facing. So Maya picked up $2 000 from her savings and started the brand from scratch. She reached out to suppliers and manufacturers, for help turning her idea into an actual jewelry line.
She set up her online store for the jewelry brand and leveraged social media to promote the jewelry pieces by sharing her brand story and getting online influencers to feature her pieces in posts. Her store now makes more than $30 000 in monthly revenue, leaving her with $15 000 to $20 000 per month in profit.
One of the biggest moments in her brand's existence happened last year when the rapper Saweetie wore Kitten Co. Jewelry’s Maiko butterfly necklace in her official music video for the song "Best Friend", with fellow rapper Doja Cat, which turned out to be a global banger — and eventually exposing Maya's butterfly necklace line making it a trend.
Maya says that she never thought that she would be making as much money as she does now.
"I never thought it would happen this quickly.", Maya says.
Maya had been working at Pierre Hardy for less than two months when she shared the idea of starting her own brand with her friends. She says that her friends probably thought that she was insane, and they probably still think I’m insane because I finally pulled it off.
Maya says that her entrepreneurship spirit is largely inspired by the entrepreneurs in her family. Her uncle and grandfather both had their own real-estate businesses so she knew the challenges of starting her own business, and her biggest hope was Kitten Co. could at least become a profitable side hustle.
The Business Model
Maya started Kitten Co. under the private label model and she paid jewelry manufacturers to put her brand name on existing designs. Her brand sells more than 150 different products today, including rings, earrings, ear cuffs, necklaces, and anklets. Some are still private label items, but she also now creates her own jewelry designs using computer-aided design programs.
To solve the problem of her sensitive skin, Maya says she discovered a solution which was using at least 92.5% pure silver — plated with rhodium, a hypoallergenic metal that coats the silver for extra protection and shine. This coating is exactly what helps to prevent skin irritation from jewelry, a problem that millions of people face.
Getting the Products to the Market
Maya admits that in the first months, she barely sold any products. But all of that took another dimension when she chose to use the influencer marketing route. Maya’s business started getting traction when she That changed after she started direct-messaging online influencers with large followings — creators whose aesthetics matched with her brand and some agreed to work with her.
The first thing she noticed after launching and getting traction was that her products were so underpriced. She was selling her products for $18.99 at first but the demand was so high that she increased their price range from $30 for rings up to $250 for necklaces.
Maya says that the last piece of the puzzle was an online class taught by internet marketing entrepreneur Abu Fofanah. She learned about creating Facebook ad campaigns, writing captions, and re-targeting potential customers to build brand awareness over time.
"That class alone scaled my company to a point that’s unimaginable. That $3 000 class probably made me $700 000. Facebook ads have become an extensive part of my business and it can’t run without them.", says Maya.
From Side Hustle to a Full-Time Income
By her fourth month in business, Maya says that her sales had gone from $0 to $500 — and then $500 quickly became $1 000. Just a few months later, she was seeing $10 000 per month in sales and after her first year, she made approximately $250 000 in sales.
At this point, Maya was already earning way more than she was earning in her day job, but nevertheless, she did not quit her job. Her main reason for not quitting early was because she was reinvesting her jewelry money back into the business. She would talk with manufacturers and influencers during her lunch break, and spend evenings at her parents’ house in New Jersey fulfilling orders. That often meant sorting through thousands of bubble mailers and spending all night packaging jewelry.
Maya finally quit her job in 2020; that year, her company totaled $472 000 in gross sales, nearly doubling the revenue of her first year in business.
In 2021, her main manufacturer suspended operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making her sales fall down to $350 000. Maya says she eventually found a new manufacturer, but that situation still affected her sales.
Maya says that she plans to expand her product line by adding 150 new items. She plans to create new styles for the existing products and also introduce new categories, like men’s jewelry.
"I love to have a large variety of options for everyone to find what they like, to find their version of themselves within my style," she says.
Maya was able to turn her problem into a successful online venture that’s now generating well over $350 000 per year. All this started as a side hustle and turned into a full-time business once she learned and perfected her Facebook marketing skills.
Maya believes that jewelry doesn't have to be so expensive. To her jewelry is about expression and it’s supposed to be fun and lived in.
Her business model is one that many e-commerce entrepreneurs have followed, implemented, and achieved success with. We have covered more on e-commerce tactics with influencers and Facebook marketing with the articles on our site and you can surely learn how to replicate this business model.