Small business owner Viviana Langhoff has endured many challenges in her journey to opening up her BIPOC-focused jewelry store, Adornment and Theory. Here are some words of wisdom she’s collected along the way.
Business: Adornment + Theory
Owner: Viviana Langhoff
Vibe: “Adornment & Theory feels like an art gallery made love to Morocco and Miami.” —Viviana
Favorite quote: “‘The obstacle is the way,’ meaning seeing [challenges] as opportunities because there’s no landscape in the world—mentally, emotionally, or physically—that is without its obstacles.” —Viviana
Best piece of advice: “Something that took a long time was really building relationships in the industry. I never found a mentor. I got swindled a lot. I got bad deals because I’m a woman, because I was naive, because I didn’t know some of the pricing. And the thing is, I didn’t wallow in it. I’m just like, ‘All right. Know better, do better.’ So anytime something happened, I’m like, ‘All right. Now I’m sharper. Now I know better.’”
Key business takeaways:
- Seeing obstacles as opportunities, rather than deterrents, is key to moving forward after setbacks.
- A solid support system is crucial when starting a small business. Don’t be afraid to lean on your circle of friends and family, even when you feel like you don’t need to. You don’t have to go through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship alone.
- Be a genuine part of the community. Take the time to research the needs, wants, and price points of the neighborhood, and use that knowledge to cater to your local customers and neighbors.
Keep reading for our full Q&A with Viviana.
Viviana Langhoff knew she wanted a career in the creative field from the age of eleven, when her sister bought her a subscription to Vogue Magazine for Christmas. While she had initially planned to go into costume design, that all changed when she took a small metals course in college and fell in love with the art of jewelry making.
Fast forward 11 years to 2017 when Viviana opened Adornment & Theory, an independent Chicago-based jewelry store that specializes in pieces made by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) designers.
“Adornment & Theory feels like an art gallery made love to Morocco and Miami,” Viviana said. She paints a rich picture of her space as one that has a warm interior, smells like jasmine and rose, and features an eclectic mix of music—from the likes of Bad Bunny to David Bowie—playing in the background. “The heart of it is that I wanted to make it beautifully designed but also something comfortable, where you can come from the farmer’s market and bring your dog. A place where me and my friends would go multiple times.”
While Viviana has cemented her status as a well-known, fine jewelry designer and a successful small business owner, opening her own store wasn’t without its challenges. From getting swindled in bad financial deals to learning how to form connections in the industry, she endured many obstacles within the first few years of opening Adornment & Theory.
We spoke with Viviana to learn more about how she overcame hardships as a small business owner and what integral qualities it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
How did you get your start in the jewelry industry?
I went to college thinking I was going to go into costume design for film and quickly discovered I hate sewing, [so] I started taking a small metals class. And I just loved it. I did large-scale metals, welding, and then eventually did small scale. I found my niche in jewelry. There’s just something about the meticulousness of it. I would also mention that as a kid, if you were to ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, it was either an archeologist or a fashion designer.
It’s funny that I found a medium in that because jewelry history is absolutely incredible. The art form predates cave paintings and is one of the oldest art forms in the world. So for me, even the history of it and the preservation of it is something that I romanticize, and I think is really beautiful. But there’s something about the making that I really like. I like meticulous things. There’s other areas of my life where I have no patience, but there’s something about metal, specifically. I can [always] just go back in, polishing and sawing and casting something.
What do you think it takes to be a business owner?
Being a great business owner is a mentality. It takes a lot of grit and perseverance and passion. I know those are phrases people hear all the time. But there’s a quote that I really love: “Simplicity is complexity resolved.” I think there is something to grit and having faith, that every time you might hit an obstacle, you don’t look at it as a deterrent and completely melt down. There’s another phrase, “The obstacle is the way,” meaning seeing [challenges] as opportunities because there’s no landscape in the world, mentally, emotionally, or physically, that is without its obstacles.
How do you deal with those challenges as a small business owner?
When I see we’re about to hit an obstacle, I believe that God has put that in my path because I need to learn something. This is a growth opportunity for me. If I want to mentor people in the future, but all I’ve had are knock-it-out-of-the-park, really successful, profitable months, I can never speak really well to somebody and be like, “How do you make your business last through a pandemic? How do you keep something afloat when you have four months in the red?”
And if I can do that well, then now I can teach someone else. So I view all those obstacles as teaching opportunities. Whether that’s patience, how to be more loving, or how to stay curious, even when you’re exhausted.
What inspired you to be a small business owner?
What I love about jewelry is that it tells generational stories, and it’s just so deeply personal. When I look at someone’s hands that are filled with rings, I know there’s something meaningful about each of those pieces. It’s like, “I got this at a Renegade Craft Fair in New York when I was with my friends.” And you just have this whole memory imbued into this one object from this whole trip. I think that’s absolutely incredible.
I’ve had the idea to open a store since college. My family’s in business. Business is something that I love, that I’ve really been trained [in] since I was a teenager. Maybe I’ve romanticized it, but just waking up in the morning, getting coffee in a major city, and walking and opening up my own brick-and-mortar and being face to face with clients—I love that. And buying fresh flowers. For somebody else, it sounds like a complicated life. But for me, that’s a beautiful, simple life.
What was it like starting your business?
Very difficult, [but] I enjoyed having a business mindset from the jump. “Can I even replicate this? If so, what would my price be?” So on and so forth. The bulk of my career really was from my church community, and that was when I graduated. There were a lot of couples in the church who needed engagement rings. They didn’t have very large budgets, and I was still learning. So it’d be $500 or $600, and then whatever little bit I made, I would buy some extra tools. And it was a really, really slow build.
I, like many Americans, graduated with a ton of student loan debt. But that was never a deterrent. It took over 11 years before I could open my store, and I’m so grateful every single day. It was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Something that took a long time was really building relationships in the industry. I never found a mentor. I got swindled a lot. I got bad deals because I’m a woman, because I was naive, because I didn’t know some of the pricing. And the thing is, I didn’t wallow in it. I’m just like, “All right. Know better, do better.” So it’s just like anytime something happened, I’m like, “All right. Now I’m sharper. Now I know better.”
What does community mean to you?
I think community is bound relationships that grow you. They aren’t deadening or life-siphoning but people that you do life with. And even though our culture has given us great American qualities of entrepreneurship and independence, I think after the pandemic, a lot of people have recognized [the value of] a community that takes care of each other.
When we opened, the first year was very difficult, and I was very tired, [but] we had a great reception in the neighborhood. Part of that was the fact that I’d lived in the neighborhood for over 16 years and had invested in so many different friendships and community bases that it wasn’t even that I was a known designer, it was just that I was involved in a lot of aspects of our community.
It’s thoughtfulness. If you want to do multiple locations, it’s really listening to “What is the need of that city, that community? What is their price point? What is it that they really want?”
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