It’s no secret that I love Jennifer Fisher. I made that very clear when we published her Style Story. However, I did not touch on the incredible story behind Jennifer and her brand. During our first meeting Jennifer opened up to Pia and I about personal matters that some would only touch upon with their nearest and dearest (or a therapist). When she told us the below story it was so action oriented, direct, and honest — basically Jennifer in a nutshell. She always tells it like it is, doesn’t dwell, and instead always moves forward. Inspired by Jennifer, I returned to the studio and marched straight to Veronica’s desk, declaring that Jennifer had a story to tell and a refreshing, direct approach to dealing with the hardest curveballs life throws at you (clearly Veronica agreed). There is a lot more to Jennifer Fisher than cult hoop earrings and a killer wardrobe. She can knock a curveball out of the park. I’ll let her take it from here…
Had you asked me fifteen years ago if I knew I was going to be a jewelry designer, the answer would’ve been no, but here I am, 12 years later running a globally recognized jewelry brand that I launched from a small desk in my bedroom.
Let’s start from the beginning. In college I interned for a magazine, on the publishing side, thinking I’d found exactly what I wanted to do. I soon learned I was wrong. As I watched rolling racks roll past my desk every day I realized I was on the wrong side of the business. I knew I needed to be on the creative side, and not crunching advertising numbers.
After college, I worked as a wardrobe stylist for national ad campaigns like American Express and Budweiser. It wasn’t glamorous but paid better than fashion jobs – I had teams of girls working for me and could easily juggle two, three, even four jobs at a time.
I was 30 years old and living bi-coastal between LA and New York when I was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor. Being diagnosed with anything that is unknown is much scarier than the reality of dealing with the illness once you’ve educated yourself on it. It wasn’t an easy life experience but it definitely taught me that life is unpredictable and fragile and you have to play the hand of cards you are dealt. I was very lucky; this type of tumor is a soft tissue sarcoma and doesn’t metastasize unless it’s given blood flow. After my first surgery was performed I learned the tumor did not metastasize.
I went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, to shrink my tumor, and worked throughout my entire treatment. A commercial director I was working with was very generous and gave me extra assistants – so I worked with double and sometimes triple teams of people so I could get the job done. He gave me a huge blessing by allowing me to continue working to take my mind off of the chemotherapy and tumor. I really believe that played a major role in how I dealt with it all. Work was therapy and the best gift of distraction I could get.
During this time my husband (then boyfriend) Kevin, proposed to me. He actually popped the question on Halloween night right before we were about to throw a big party. We got married six months after I finished my last round of chemo.
That was 2001. Now I have a MRI every year to year and a half to check the growth of my tumor. It’s something I continue to live with. They could take the tumor out, but a lot of the time removing it is riskier because these types of tumors can metastasize and are aggressive and grow quickly into your muscle and around your bone, so it’s best not to mess with them.
When Kevin and I wanted to have children my oncologist didn’t think it was a good idea for me to carry a baby because my tumor grows from estrogen. So we went through the process of hiring a surrogate to carry for us in California. After multiple rounds of IVF, where our surrogate miscarried twice, we came back to New York and decided to try IVF on our own, against my doctor’s orders. Unsuccessful yet again, my doctors recommended that we adopt or get an egg donor. I needed a break from it all and took the summer off.
I was so emotionally exhausted after having multiple failed attempts at surrogacy. The most emotional moment was when she lost the second baby after it was confirmed there was a heartbeat and we had already named the baby. Taking the summer off removed the stress of it all, which is maybe how I eventually got pregnant. It felt less stressful because we made our own decision. We just decided to do our own thing.
And that’s when I became pregnant with my son Shane, naturally. Against the wishes of my oncologist I carried my baby. After a perfectly healthy pregnancy and baby boy later, I learned that my tumor had actually shrunk from my pregnancy.
After Shane was born I began receiving jewelry gifts to represent him in the form of single letters that were very dainty and weren’t very me. Shane’s birth was a major deal for us, I wanted something to wear that represented him in a way that felt like me and expressed my personal style. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to go up to 47th street in Manhattan and design and produce something myself. I designed a dog tag charm with Shane’s named stamped on the front that I styled with a long, thick link chain. I didn’t take it off. I wore my dog tag on set while styling and started to get multiple requests for the same necklace. A friend of mine was working with Uma Thurman at the time and suggested I make something for Uma that represented her kids. She ended up wearing it on the cover of Glamour Magazine and Jennifer Fisher Jewelry was born.
The advice that I would give people trying to start or grow their own business is, don’t look for the hole in the market, create something you feel is missing in your life. I couldn’t find something that I really wanted, and once I created it I discovered other people were searching for the exact same thing.
Ultimately, my business was as a happy accident. Had I not had my son, who knows if I would have ever been encouraged or inspired to go up to the jewelry district and design something myself. And had my husband, Kevin, not told me to stop shipping orders from our apartment, I may never have opened my first office in Soho and then our flagship on 5th Avenue in New York. I am so lucky things worked out the way they have.
In life you don’t always know what your road map is going to look like and will be thrown into these challenges. But when you are, it’s up to you to decide if you want to crawl into a hole or do what I have always done, take it and fight it head on.
Last year Jennifer Fished expanded into the food category and launched her first product, JF Universal Salt. Ironically, JF Universal Salt all started because Jennifer was frustrated by the limited choices in specialty stores for an organic prep and finishing universal herb salt that did not contain onion or garlic to season her eggs, salads and meats. So, naturally she set out to make her own, just as she’d done so many years ago with her first dog tag. You can check out that salt here and follow along with this trailblazer on Instagram.