StrongVoices Interview #5: Helena Milchrahm
In our 5th “StrongVoices” edition we talked to Helena Milchrahm, co-founder and creative director of the jewelry start-up BRUNA The Label. The brand designs and creates jewelry out of natural pearls that are considered to be “unperfect” and thus “unusable” by the pearl industry. BRUNA The Label now uses these by-products to create conscious, long-lasting jewelry. In our interview, Helena tells us some more details about her journey of building up her own business.
Helena graduated in International/Global Studies, did an internship in the automotive industry, and then travelled around the world for six months, where the idea of BRUNA was born after she discovered rare Keshi pearls during her travels through the French Polynesian islands. A small bag of pearls and a whole lot of inspiration later, she finally founded BRUNA in May 2019.
"I believe one of the most important things for starting your own business is the commitment to get out of your comfort zone – every single day" – Helena Milchrahm
OUR QUESTIONS FOR HELENA:
How did you come up with the idea of your brand “Bruna The Label”?
It all started during a world trip at our last destination Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, where we visited a market and came into contact with very rare, small and unshapely pearls. Black pearls are known as the most valuable pearls on earth, as they can be found only in Tahiti. As I was really fascinated, we visited some pearl farms and learnt that the largest buyer of these pearls come from China. However, the Chinese are only interested in the perfect pearls, not in those unshapely so-called Keshi pearls, which are in fact just thrown away due to a lack of demand. I was shocked that such a beautiful, natural product is considered to be waste and not used at all. So, we bought some of these unperfect Keshi pearls and the idea was born to make something out of this “by-product”. But of course, I must admit, that already before this trip I was really into fashion and jewelry. I observed the market and the offerings of different brands, but I always was missing that certain something, the “wow”-effect. I ordered jewelry from brands all over the world, but was never really happy about what I got. Either it was some sort of cheap fashion jewelry or overpriced luxury products, but I didn’t find something affordable, which at the same time was of good, sustainable quality and came with a cool and fashionable image. So, when we discovered the Keshi pearls in Tahiti, I somehow found my answer to this problem. After a very thorough research on the jewelry market, we felt confident that a brand for high-quality, affordable jewelry could be a successful business model and BRUNA The Label was born.
Which difficulties did you face with the foundation of “Bruna The Label”? How did you master them?
We basically had difficulties in every phase of our start-up journey – just like probably all founders do. It all started with the search for our producer, which was extremely complex, as every single producer keeps telling you they can do everything perfectly. Of course, this isn’t true, but if you are not an expert in producing jewelry, it can be really difficult in the beginning to estimate who is trustworthy and who’s not. For us, it was literally learning by doing. After we finally found a producer, we had to think about our marketing and logistics strategy and again we first had to build up some knowledge in these fields. As we started without any outside support, it was especially important to quickly get up to speed in order to minimize the risk of any imitation firms or bad customer perceptions. At the moment, we are in a growth phase and we realize that we need more team members as soon as possible. Again, finding motivated and ambitious team members isn’t as simple as it seems, especially if you are not an HR expert… So, to make a long story short, you are continuously learning something new, you must quickly adapt to new situations and you should never lose sight of your priorities. In fact, I believe not losing sight of priorities is one of the hardest things as there are so many to-do’s every day and you really need to think about which step to take first and which one to better postpone.
Which tips do you have for future entrepreneurs, who also want to build up their own business?
I believe one of the most important things for starting your own business is the commitment to get out of your comfort zone – every single day. You need the willingness to work long hours (weekends included) and have great powers of endurance, as the start-up life can be really tough and will bring you to your limits. Especially in the first years you have to put a lot of effort in your business if you want it to grow and prosper. Many people have a far too romantic idea of being a “founder”, forgetting the stress and responsibilities that come with this position, which will sooner or later lead to the failure of the start-up. The right attitude is indispensable if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. On top of that, it can be very helpful if you set up some guidelines that help you to manage your work-life balance (as it can happen quite quickly to lose this balance) and the overall atmosphere within your business.
Do you have some sort of guiding principle, that motivates you and to which you live up to?
One very important saying for me is “love and kindness are never wasted”, and I use this as a guidance to build the culture of BRUNA upon it, internally with our employees as well as externally with our customers and cooperation partners. Positivity and kindness are core values when it comes to our culture. I believe that life is definitely more beautiful if you are kind, friendly and give love to others, and I want to reflect this attitude in our start-up as well. Also, I love the idea of “empowered women who empower women”. Women still face difficulties in the corporate as well as the entrepreneurial world and I think it is really important that they can support each other and share their thoughts. As a lifestyle brand with our key customer group being women, we want to share those values, that are of importance for many women and thus make them feel empowered.