The Baltimore-based jewelry designer Rachel Mulherin talks about her eye-catching pieces and her journey to building her own business. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Her jewelry has been requested by the likes of Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Her designs are featured in fashion glossies and are stocked in boutiques throughout the region. And her online store and Instagram page are drawing new customers each day.
Rachel Mulherin's use of rough slivers and chunks of semiprecious stones in her collections has earned her a following that has her poised to be Maryland's next big designer.
What's more impressive is that Mulherin, 29, produces all the jewelry herself from the second bedroom of her Federal Hill apartment, which she has turned into a design studio.
She also has been building her empire while maintaining a full-time job in marketing for an accounting firm. It can be a grueling schedule.
"There's not a lot of sleep," said Mulherin, a Perry Hall native. "I've got some fine lines and bags under my eyes."
"The holiday collection was crazy. I couldn't even breathe. It was wonderful and insane," she said. "After January 1, the demand usually drops off. But it hasn't dropped off."
Mulherin knows that the long days and sacrifices are worth it. She has followed the work of some of Maryland's most successful designers and retailers — Christian Siriano, Danielle DiFerdinando and South Moon Under — and she wants to follow their paths.
"I read a lot about what other designers have done," she said. "You make 8,500 mistakes, and you don't stop. You get stronger every time."
Mulherin and her designs stand out, according to fashion observers.
"It has to be her personality and her willingness to succeed in life," said Pervis Ross, Mulherin's New York City-based publicist. "She's a go-getter and she pushes the envelope."
Ross, who has represented Mulherin for about a year and runs her Manhattan showroom, wanted to work with her after seeing her designs on social media.
The two had worked together seven years ago when Mulherin interned at Seventh House PR, a fashion marketing firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York. It was there, Mulherin said, that she was inspired to pursue jewelry design as a career — she found that fashion publicity wasn't for her, but she loved working with jewelry companies.
Mulherin's mother, Nancy, an oncology nurse, taught her 10 years ago how to make jewelry after learning from a friend.
"My mom showed me basic necklace making," Mulherin said. "I've taken a metal course or two at the Baltimore Jewelry Center. Other than that, I taught myself."
At first, Mulherin made jewelry for friends and family. She sold her creations at a couple of gatherings at friends' houses, and she operated her own Etsy shop for a year before launching a website three years ago.
"I did well with Etsy," she said. "Then I went to trade shows. I made a lot of mistakes."
Mulherin said she spent $18,000 on her first trade show, which didn't produce much of a return. But she's learned from her missteps and gives herself room to continue taking risks.
"The reason I continue to have a day job is because it allows me to pay for stuff like that," she said.
Zoey Washington, a Baltimore-based stylist and fashion editor at Essence and People Style Watch, is one of Mulherin's nearly 14,000 Instagram followers.
"I love Rachel's effortless mix of all things earthy and glamorous," said Washington. "The combo of natural stones with gold touches really elevates your look from fashionable to the ranks of serious personal style because her work complements all trends and translates to almost any occasion.'
Washington thinks that Mulherin will make it big.
"I think it is just a matter of time before we see Rachel blow up," she said. "Designers have to be wearable yet present a unique point of view. They have to have an element of exclusivity but [be] viable commercially. In short, they have to know their customer, and I think Rachel has really mastered that mix with her work."
Newheart Ohanian, a stylist who worked on Beyonce's recent "Lemonade" special on HBO, requested a number of pieces from Mulherin for the show.
"I like that she captures the magic of our Mother Earth by incorporating the sparkle in her jewelry," Ohanian said of Mulherin's appeal.
"In five years, I see her in major department stores and having a boutique," Ross said, adding that a major department store has already shown interest in carrying Mulherin's jewelry.
The jewelry's edginess and sophistication drew the attention of Francesca's Bridal. Victoria Ripple, marketing director for the bridal and evening wear retailer, has been carrying Mulherin since the fall. Mulherin's jewelry was initially sold at the now-closed Cupcake boutique. It was then picked up at Francesca's Bridal and Francesca's Atelier. It's also sold at Ruth Shaw in Cross Keys and Hitched Salon in Georgetown.
"They [customers] love her designs because they are not like any other earrings they've seen for formal events and special occasions," Ripple said. "A lot of the gowns are formal, so they like her designs because they add a funky element."
Ripple's stores carry about 25 styles from Mulherin.
"Her presence here is growing," she said. "People are really starting to get to know about her. She's definitely starting to get popular within the area."
The bridal market is a fairly new endeavor for Mulherin, who created her first bridal collection in the fall.
"The bridal collection has really taken off," she said. "The earrings are selling like crazy. Bridal sells three times more than the new collection."
Last month, Mulherin was busy completing orders from her online store in her Federal Hill studio, which is filled with stylish inspiration. It helps to motivate her, she said. There are several coffee table books about Coco Chanel and the Olsen twins, longtime favorites of hers.
"I grew up with them. They really have good taste," Mulherin said of the former child actresses now responsible for the fashion lines The Row and Elizabeth & James.
Mulherin's "mood board" is filled with more than a dozen cutout magazine images that inspired her recent bridal collection. A dress form is peppered with finished designs. A huge window lets in warm light that reflects off nearly 50 semiprecious stones such as amethyst, druzy quartz and geodes lined up neatly on her desk.
"This is where I make everything," said Mulherin, who in 10 minutes had picked out and set the stones for her "Rumi" necklace — a blue kyanite center surrounded by teardrop labradorite stones hung from a delicate gold chain.
"I consider this an everyday necklace," she said as she examined in a nearby mirror how it looked on her neck. "It's easy to put on and to layer. You can wear it with a blouse and jeans or a T-shirt."
Mulherin typically starts with about 70 pieces in a collection. She then cuts that down to around 60 pieces. Style duplicates — none of her jewelry is exactly the same — of those 60 pieces are then put on her website and sent to stores. Mulherin estimates that she makes five pieces of jewelry a week to fill orders from her website alone. Reorders, editorial pulls from publications and celebrity requests are additional work.
Over the past few years, Mulherin's jewelry has been featured in Redbook, People Style Watch and Seventeen. More recently, a labradorite pendant by Mulherin appeared in the February issue of Elle Canada, and actress Keke Palmer wore Mulherin's black druzy necklace in the February issue of Nylon.
And Mulherin said she has been informed by Elle UK, Glamour Latin America, Glamour Iceland and L'Officiel that her jewelry will appear in spreads this summer.
"It's kind of surreal," she said. "To think that my pieces I made at my kitchen table made it into Elle was a high for sure. That's the kind of stuff that keeps me going."