One day when she was four years old, Rebekah Anne Robertson’s father came home from work to find the youngster stringing large, white-painted wooden beads into necklaces, bracelets and other “jewelry.” Noting the beads’ resemblance to pearls, the Air Canada pilot purchased a special gift for his daughter after flying to China the following year.
“He brought back some pearls to give to Rebekah when she was five,” said her mother, Catherine. “I said, ‘Where are mine?’”
Catherine Robertson now spends her days surrounded by pearls at Rebekah Anne Designs, a small boutique she manages in Qualicum Beach to display and sell the custom, vintage pearl jewelry created by her daughter. And while their combination studio and shop may be small, the mother-daughter business team have been thinking big since well before opening the business in November of 2013.
Rebekah, who just turned 21 this month, has been creating jewelry “for as long as I can remember” and has been selling it since entering her first juried craft fair in Whistler at age nine. By age 17, she was proprietor of Beads of Hope and entered her first bridal trade show, in Vancouver, with a collection of vintage jewelry combining pearls, crystal and vintage costume jewelry pieces.
Her first sale was featured in WedLuxe Magazine, and won her the 2013 trophy for Best Wedding Jewelry Design Accessories from Real Weddings Magazine.
“It all happened quickly,” Catherine said.
Through it all, Catherine has been right there, first as Rebekah’s home-school teacher and later as her chauffeur, business manager and partner through a decade attending craft fairs across B.C.
The mother brings to the partnership a degree in marketing management from BCIT, but also a background in weaving, fabric arts and fashion design. That combination stood her in good stead when she relocated from the west coast as a young woman and took a position representing artisans for the Prince Edward Island Craft Association.
“It’s a unique combination,” she admits. “I started in business, retail and accounting, then I went into the arts. I found the artisans are talented in creating, but the art schools don’t teach them how to run a business.”
Catherine returned to B.C. to marry, start her family, and home-school her children. Young Rebekah quickly learned to take advantage of the flexible schedule allowed by home schooling.
“If I finished with my required school courses in the morning, I could spend the afternoon making jewelry,” Rebekah said. “It was motivating.”
Catherine Robertson, left, and her daughter, Rebekah Anne, stand among some of the pearl jewelry in their small boutique in Qualicum Beach’s Chilham Village shopping plaza. — Image Credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
Her other motivation in the early days was sending money to sponsor a Nicaraguan girl about her age through the World Vision Children’s Fund. All of the money from her first craft fair, and from three more craft fairs she attended the following year, at age 10, went to help the girl and her family. Her donations allowed them to purchase not only school supplies and basic toiletries, but a mattress so the girl and her sister no longer had to sleep on the floor. She also purchased a cow and a couple of chickens for the family, and a cataract surgery and a walker for other family members.
“Her mom would write to Rebekah and tell her, ‘You are the angel.’”
Even as she worked the craft fair and bridal show circuit with her Rebekah continued working the craft fair circuit with her mother for a decade, while also becoming an accomplished violinist and competitive figure skater. She continued to contribute to her sponsored child, but also began banking a portion of her earnings.
During another Whistler craft fair nearly five years ago, she was approached by a young couple who were engaged to be married. They had a string of pearls left by the bride’s grandmother, and Rebekah re-strung them into a bracelet with a vintage crystal earring. She then created a necklace and earrings to match the bracelet, earning a nifty payday in the process.
“She said, ‘Mom, I think we should get into the wedding industry,’” Catherine said.
Instead of going to university, Rebekah hired a Victoria company to develop a brand for her new business and set up an e-commerce platform for both retail and wholesale sales. They have developed a clientele and identity through multiple bridal shows and bridal magazine spreads.
Last year, Bekah Anne Designs was featured in 10 print or online publications, including its first national print feature, in Perfect Wedding Magazine.
“I kept emailing (magazine) editors, then I emailed the photographers I knew the editors would hire,” said Rebekah.
Catherine, meanwhile, has raised the bar, calling both Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York to try to gain Bekah Anne Designs a toehold in the market.
“I’m not calling them,” Rebekah said with a laugh. “Mom does that. It’s hard to phone Saks.”
Whether or not they are picked up by the elite retailers, mother and daughter will travel to New York in April for the International Bridal Show, the pinnacle of the bridal industry. They have already been plotting the logistics of packing and shipping the jewelry, as well as the display design they’ll use, all of which harkens back to their days slogging the craft fair trail.
“Having this shop is wonderful,” said Catherine. “When we were doing the fairs, you’d have to transport and set up every time, and break it all down. And just packing the product was a major production.”
The Rebekah Anne Design boutique in Chilham Village may be tucked away, with its entrance off an alley that leads to Second Avenue, but it has proven ideal for the pair. It has a working studio upstairs where Rebekah can create, and a tidy, bright showroom designed by Catherine downstairs.
In addition to its international, online bridal customers, Bekah Ann Designs serves local customers who walk in to have their pearls re-strung into new pieces. But the business model is not built around high traffic in the door.
“When we had a chance to get a storefront, we specifically chose this spot off the main walkway,” said Catherine. “It suits us well; it’s like an oversized booth.
“When clients find us they’ve either come looking for us, or they’ve stumbled upon us. We think of it as the hidden jewel of Qualicum Beach.”