Nikki Reed posing with her jewelry.
Nikki Reed vividly remembers being approached on a busy Los Angeles sidewalk by an admirer of a ring on her finger—the very one that the actress and founder of the jewelry brand BaYou With Love had designed to be her wedding ring. But it didn’t stop the ‘Twilight’ actress from capitalizing on the business opportunity.
“I said ‘you know what? It’s for sale,’” Reed tells Forbes. “Everything’s for sale when it’s your company.” (While Reed did not disclose how much her sidewalk sale fetched, the rings in her bridal collection start at about $300 and sell for as much as $15,000.)
When Reed started BaYou With Love back in May 2017, it was her first business venture and very much a passion project. “I always thought my first child would be named Bayou—my husband was born on the Bayou in Louisiana,” Reed explains, “but I birthed my company before I birthed my daughter, so my company got the name.” She went into it without seeking investors, instead opting to invest $200,000 of her own money. She recruited a six-person team and was adamant about two details: that she’d take the reins and “micromanage” all aspects of the brand—sourcing local manufacturers in the Los Angeles area helps with this and has the benefit of reducing the company’s carbon footprint—and that the company’s emphasis on sustainability would be engraved into its identity, starting with the use of all recycled metals.
Princess cut diamond engagement ring from Reed’s bridal collection.
Beyond jewelry, BaYou With Love sells plant-based perfumes, candles and apparel, and late last year it launched a new line of hair clips, hair forks and earrings made from recycled and discarded brass. But its main focus, Reed says, is on engagement and bridal jewelry, much of which is a result of a partnership with Dell. Back in 2018, Reed was approached by an all-women team at the tech company looking to repurpose its e-waste; they told her Americans throw away more than $60 million in gold and silver every year, and Dell uses 7,000 pounds of gold per year in its products. The idea eventually blossomed into the One Earth Collection: Reed’s line of 14-18 karat gold jewelry made from extracting gold from Dell’s old computer motherboards.
“What we can find in our world that might be considered waste, with a different lens or filter, could be considered luxury,” Reed says.
Reed’s mission happens to align with what customers, especially Millennials, are looking for in the products they’re buying these days: More than half of consumers say they would pay more for sustainable products designed to be reused or recycled, according to a recent Accenture survey, and 83% believe it’s important for companies to design products that are meant to be reused or recycled.
“Since I rely on other industries for my business, the way I put pressure on them [to be sustainable] is to educate the consumer to put pressure on me,” says Reed. “True change comes when there’s a financial demand, when you’re putting financial pressure by saying ‘I’m not going to support your business unless you x, y and z.’”
While she doesn’t yet pay herself a salary—all of the BaYou With Love’s profit goes into re-investing and paying her six-person staff—Reed has stayed true to her plan to micromanage its operations. She shoots most of the campaign and website imagery herself and plays a role in writing content for the website and blog. It helps that she comes from a family of artists (her great grandmother was a jewelry designer and her grandmother a famous ceramist) and has an art and drawing background herself, which allows her to hand sketch all the designs for her pieces.
Half moon opal necklace.
So far Reed’s finding success with her business strategies—the company has seen consistent month-to-month sales percentage increases. But growth isn’t her main priority. “I’d like to see the company do big amazing things, but the most important thing for me is remaining manageable,” Reed says. “This is a first for me, and I want to make sure that I handle everything in a way that’s precious and personal—and slow.” Still, the jewelry industry, projected to be valued at more than $250 billion by the end of this year, includes top guns like Tiffany & Co. as well as smaller brands like Kimai that are forging their own sustainability efforts.
“I’d hesitate to call this new—sustainability [in the jewelry industry] has been a trend for several years now, but more and more brands are getting wise to it,” says Kellan Terry, an analyst and senior communications manager at Brandwatch. “The Millennial generation is more likely to give their money to companies who have some sort of a social good attached to them.”
But Reed has a vision for BaYou With Love that goes beyond selling sustainable jewelry. Her next goal is to partner with other female-owned small businesses that also weave sustainability into their brands. “I have a dream of having a co-op space with other female founders, brands and companies where we can operate together in one location,” Reed says. “I’m not doing this myself: I’m a part of a collective consciousness and community around the world all working towards the same thing. And I want all of us to succeed.”