Introducing Sophia Forero…
The Greek-American custom jewelry designer is moved by history and energized by travel. Sophia is unapologetically proud of her Greek heritage, loves her family, and is serious about her Christian faith. She finds beauty in all things, whether it’s in Greece, church art, travel, or from her favorite African adornment book. Store customers are greeted by her warm, beautiful smile before she calls them darling.
Sophia Forero Jewelry Designs has had much success in the industry. In addition to being featured on television and local newspapers, her jewelry has been sold in high-end retail stores including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and high-end cruise ships.
There isn’t a box to put this mother of four into. She earned a master’s in international relations, speaks Russian fluently, taught at The Peace Corps, and witnessed apartheid in South Africa. During the pandemic, she opened a storefront.
Sophia only started making jewelry at twenty years old…
In the beginning, Sophia wasn’t so eager to start a jewelry business. She received her undergraduate degree from The University of Illinois, a double major in political science and languages. During her master’s program, she did her thesis on apartheid in South Africa. While her plans were to work for the Department of State, she instead taught second and third graders at The Peace Corps in Hungary, literally after the wall came down. There, she frequently bought beads from the marketplace and made jewelry for fellow workers.
The turning point came when she won the Marshall Field’s Design Distinction Award, which was a contest for emerging designers to showcase their work to now defunct Marshall Fields. Sophia recalls, “it was about 400 people in line that day. I didn’t think I was going to win. Not only did my designs end of being in the store, I also won $1,000.” Now, she wanted to start a jewelry business in which she could make an income. She was determined to create a business that would allow flexibility and balance to spend time with family.
A walk through Sophia’s gallery
The moment you step inside Feel Beautiful Gallery on 580 Village Center Drive, you’ll want to unleash the little girl who enjoyed playing dress-up. Warm blue and gold plush chairs and sofas are decorated with cream and gold accent pillows. Positive affirmations are scattered throughout on the walls, and the layout is free-flowing, with angled floor-length mirrors to model jewelry accessories. For privacy, fitting rooms are located in the back with floor-length doors.
The store display figures come from her mom’s house. A beautiful black chandelier hangs in the middle of the store. Sophia also included handmade pieces from various parts of the world. Glass art from Venice, Italy; colorful paintings by her Columbian husband; crafts from Haiti, art from Mexico; African shells representing currency.
As Sophia takes you on a tour of her boutique, she often goes in-depth about the ‘feel beautiful’ movement. She clearly states, “The purpose of ‘feel beautiful’ is to add to what’s already there.” She wants the “Sophanistas” tribe, a term she calls her supporters, to have a memorable experience when visiting the store. They should feel comfortable while eating delicious chocolates and drinking water.
She stops to give a snippet of history when she opens her African adornment book to show colorful, intricate beaded Maasai earrings. “The longer pair is worn by married women.” After turning a few pages, she says, “And these are worn by single women.” These earrings were much shorter.
Minutes later, a few customers enter. As they browse the store, touch a few items, Sophia politely leads them to jewelry collections: Pearl (inspired by colors of the ocean on the southwest coast of Greece. The beach is next to her mother’s house where she was born); Aegean (inspired by the Aegean Ocean); Diamond; Rainbow; Wanderlust (inspired by the travel destination); and a wall of birthstone jewelry. Each piece is not only unique but also historical.
Because she values building customer relationships while providing quality, most of her customers have been consumers for over a decade. A ten-year client, whom she fondly speaks of, always encourages her to further her creativity. This customer enjoys listening to her stories and buys every piece for sale, and Sophia enjoys making for her. Currently, Sophia is working on a collaborative historical novel project, which mentions a magical necklace, and plans to dedicate the book to her first client.
Kosmimata is the Greek word for jewelry
Family and Greek influence shows up strongly in jewelry and store decoration. She shared a story of a driftwood display in the store. “During the summertime, the family would gather back in Greece. My mother’s house was a ten-minute walk to the ocean. The ocean had a rocky surface and twenty feet of terrain.” Behind the register is a collage of family photos. She shows an image of the bamboo homes that were built by her uncle. A few inches away is a Greek girl dancer with a vest of coins, symbolizing wealth in northern Greece.
Faith and obedience in business
Christianity has played a major factor in her designs and business practices. When she first went into business, her purpose was to make a profit, but it wasn’t about doing it for the money. She shares her love of making jewelry, but there are times where it feels more of a chore instead of doing it from a place of love. Then she explains, “Whenever those feelings come, it’s not because I rely on my faith. My faith reminds me why I’m doing this in the first place.”
One day at church, Sophia prayed for jewelry inspiration that would set herself apart from competitors. Then she looked to the side and saw an icon of Saint Sophia. Later on, she learned it was the same piece her dad put in the church after her grandmother died.
Her first memory piece that was ever made for a customer was a mosaic pendant. It was a huge deal because it took a while for her to learn how to make it. Even though she sold it, at times she wished she kept it for herself. Each piece is made with love. Her notable pieces, the Mosaics, which are hand sewn on fabric, are based on byzantine religious icons.
When it comes to creating jewelry, Sophia is careful about where she sources materials. She believes in providing Sophanistas absolutely the best. Even though she buys materials wherever she travels, she takes annual trips to India for bead shopping. She enjoys gifting handmade items to family and friends. “Handmade gifts are memorable. They tell stories and have personality.”
Here are Sophia’s answers to some burning questions.
What were the lowest and scariest moments in business?
“The scariest moment was when I fell in 2002. I was just months into going full-on into my business, and I fell while walking with a glass vase in my hand. The glass shattered and severed a tendon in my left hand … I couldn’t use it for six weeks. Then what followed was a year of surgeries trying to repair it. I got sepsis at one point … Eleven surgeries later, the doctors put a pin in my hand. I was super scared because I had no way of making my designs, and I had just started having my jewels in Marshall Field’s … But an amazing lady who worked with me at the time, Debbie, said, ‘I will be your hands.’ And she created while I told her what to do … The whole ordeal strengthened my faith tremendously. I wouldn’t change it for the world now … though I do not play piano or guitar anymore.”
What is your greatest business accomplishment to date?
“My three greatest accomplishments are: I created a way to be very present for my children and husband, I was blessed with magnificent clients, and I found a way to excite my love for my faith through creativity.”
What would you like to see happen within the handmade jewelry industry as it continues to grow?
“I cannot speak for the whole industry, but I would like to see business leaders continue to acknowledge the folks that raise them up and offer fair living wages, and if they can, good benefits. A company is only as good as the folks that work together in that company.”
Sophia is living proof that it’s never too late to answer your true calling. Walk in your purpose and be smart about it. She did the work, which prepared her for opportunities that came across her path. Her integrity in the short-run has set her up for the big payoffs in the long-run. It’s great to have business success, but never lose sight of the vision. The vision is what will keep you going in tough times.