How Vancouver-based Leah Belford got her jewellery pieces published in Vogue
Leah Belford could be described as a ‘Canadian gem’ because she adds sparkle to people’s lives around the globe with her beautiful jewellery line.
The Vancouver-based designer founded her company, Leah Alexandra, in 2005 and has since seen her pieces published in international magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and InStyle, as well as being worn by celebrities, including Canadian Olympian Tessa Virtue.
Speaking with Daily Hive, Belford said she travels the world to find quality gemstones, and it’s those pieces that separate Leah Alexandra from other jewellery companies.
“I love that they’re not man-made, they’re Mother Nature at its finest, they’re as old as time.”
Exploring the world is a big part of the Leah Alexandra brand, and how she finds inspiration for the jewellery designed and made in her Gastown studio by her team of 12.
“I think there’s an energy to that,” she said. “You’re actually getting it from our space where all the magic happens.”
Belford was attending Ryerson University for fashion communications and worked at a jewellery retail store in Toronto, where she helped with buying, at the age of 17.
Attending trade shows was part of the job, and that’s where she came across some gem stone dealers.
“I was just floored by what I found and just couldn’t walk away without buying something — it was strings of these kind of turquoise beads and all different kind of gem-stone beads,” she said.
Belford said she began making jewellery as a hobby and sold pieces to fellow students at Ryerson, then soon after school, she packed her bags and moved to the West Coast with plans to start her own company.
After arriving in Vancouver, Belford got to work right away by getting hired at the store Blue Ruby, taking classes on the side, and had an internship with a goldsmith, “I was learning everything from the making of the jewellery to the end process of when you’re actually dealing with customers, and kind of studying what they look for and what their buying behaviour was,” she said.
At the age of 22, Belford decided to take her $7,000 savings to a gem show in Arizona, “I spent it all on gems, and I just said ‘look, I’m doing it — yeah!” she said.
While working on her own line, Belford still worked at Blue Ruby, where the store’s owner, Nancy Hill became a mentor to her.
Belford said Hill taught her a lot when they used to meet on their days off to look at designs, “it was really nice having someone that just was unfiltered and just told me… told it to me straight.”
Recalling one meeting, Belford said a customer came in and saw her display, “and was like ‘oh I really like that piece, can I buy it?’ so I ended up selling a piece during my sort of intro-meeting.”
At 23, working on her line out of her Vancouver apartment, Belford received her first wholesale order, “and it was pretty big for a first order, it was like ‘alright, I’m off to the races,'” and quit her job to focus on Leah Alexandra full time.
Crediting her education, Belford was a ‘Jack of all trades’ when it came to her company, “I literally did everything myself, and if I didn’t know how to do it, I learned.”
One hurdle included getting people to pay attention to the brand, “this is before digital was really a thing,” she said, “trying to get that momentum going in the very beginning is really really hard.”
After getting her pieces into local stores, she said that’s when it began to grow more through point of contact, and after hiring a PR company to help get the name out there, stylists from ‘Hollywood North’ began knocking on her door for productions being shot in the city.
“I think people need that, they need to see your name in a magazine or they need to see your name in a big department store just to take you seriously,” which she said is “definitely exciting to see” as well.
With a strong understanding of having to put that “hustle” into building a company, and paying her dues by working a lot of overtime, Belford said if she could speak with her younger self, “I would definitely say ‘delegate sooner.’ I think I’m guilty of trying to take on too much.”
“If I could go back and just be like ‘don’t forget you’re only in your 20’s once and you have to also live your life,” and focus on what’s important, “time with friends and family,” Belford said.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Belford recommends not only learning their craft, but to also learn as much about running a business as possible, “any experience you can have managing people is really helpful because at the end of the day if you can’t manage a team, you’re never going to go anywhere because you need to build your team and you need to be able to keep them happy and inspired and motivated.”
To have an entrepreneur mindset, “you have to learn how to be so resilient because there’s so many things that are out of your control and how you deal with resilience is going to make or break your whole situation,” and “seeing hurdles as an opportunity,” Belford said.
Most importantly, Belford urges to “create your own definition of success,” and to decide how that looks, adding “comparison is the thief of joy”
Today, Belford said she’s most proud of her team, “they’re so great and just hearing from them, ‘I really love my job, I really like coming to work’ it just makes me feel so proud,” adding “it just feels like five seconds ago where we only had two employees.”
“I don’t think I could’ve ever imagined what it could become,” Belford said about the business, “going at it naively, and I mean, that’s probably the best way.”
Now celebrating Leah Alexandra’s 15th ‘birthday,’ we can expect to see more exciting things drop — such as the new line launching around April 1, and the new ‘spark studio‘ will be going on tour across the country, “there’s still so much we’re going to do with it and so that I’m really proud of, and there’s nothing else like it in Canada.”
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Follow Leah Alexandra on Instagram at @leahalexandrajewelry.