Interview With Holly Daniels Christensen Founder & CEO of Dune Jewelry & Co.
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Daniels Christensen, Founder & CEO of Dune Jewelry & Co.
Holly left home at 15 years old, and never looked back taking a variety of jobs with stints as a zookeeper, pharmacy technician, promotional model, bartender, cellphone, car and cruise salesperson. She also successfully spent 14 years as a top agent in Boston’s highly competitive real estate market.
This unique “bootstrap” entrepreneur who proved she was unafraid of hard work, was voted the 2016 Woman-Owned Business of the Year for Massachusetts and New England, by the Small Business Association (SBA). In 2018, Inc. magazine honored Dune Jewelry as No. 2590 on its 37th annual Inc. 5000 List, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent small businesses. Currently, Dune Jewelry is the one-and-only experiential jewelry brand in the world.
It all started in 2007, when this self-taught jewelry designer began making beach sand jewelry for friends and family at her kitchen table, then officially launched Dune Jewelry full time in 2010. Now, Dune Jewelry employs a team of 20 people working in a 3,100 square foot loft space in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Dune continuously fills orders for over 600 retail partners worldwide.
Dune’s thriving e-commerce website focuses on selling personalized Experiential Jewelry that captures a customer’s most cherished memories. Additionally, Holly has created an exclusive Sandbank which holds over 4,500 sands and elements gathered from iconic and memorable locations around the globe which customers can select from for their custom jewelry.
Holly lives in Walpole, Massachusetts with her husband Eric, and their two daughters Alexa and Lyla. She is dedicated to creating a future that motivates people to understand that continued hard work and perseverance is a direct path to success.
Can you share with us your background and your career?
My background is quite unconventional. Gritty and colorful is the best way to describe my life thus far!
I dropped out of high school due to turmoil in my household and left home at the age of fifteen. I worked a variety of jobs that included zookeeper (my fave!), bartender, deli manager, promotional model, pharmacist’s assistant, car sales, and more. By the time I was 27, I had already held more jobs than most people experience in a lifetime, sometimes working two or three gigs at a time. Through my teens and early 20’s, I really was working to survive instead of working with any purpose or passion.
Eventually, a close friend saw my potential and hired me to work with her at a real estate firm in Boston. With real estate, I found success because I genuinely enjoyed helping people find their perfect home, but there was still a constant longing for a more creative outlet.
In 2007 I began helping my childhood best friend with her small business. She made these beautiful ornaments using sand from our favorite beaches on Cape Cod. I fell in love with the different colors and textures of sand from around the world, and what made them even more special was the reaction that people had when they realized that they could have a little piece of their favorite place with them always. Then the question was, “what’s the evolution of this ornament?
How can we allow people to keep their favorite memories with them all year round, every day?” The answer became clear – jewelry! Jewelry has been around for thousands of years made from a plethora of materials. Why not sand and earth elements from special places? I began taking classes at a local studio and making beach sand jewelry at my kitchen table for friends and family. It was so fulfilling to work with my hands and hone my craft.
At first, I would use pinches of sand brought back from vacations; Bermuda, Aruba, Fiji, and Iceland to name a few – but soon I began digging deeper and using earth elements from specific locations that were sentimental to the recipient. Soil from the Appalachian Trail, crushed granite from the Rocky Mountains, pressed flowers from their wedding bouquet. I’m passionate about people and their life stories. To see their faces when they realize that they now have a tangible reminder of some of their life’s best moments is what keeps me motivated every single day.
Can you share with our readers how you started your company and the mission behind it?
I’m a bootstrap, kitchen table entrepreneur with a talent for “figuring it out.” What that means is, when I started the business at my kitchen table, I felt as if I didn’t have enough business knowledge to accept investment money so I decided to fund Dune’s growth on my own. I launched on September 28, 2010 (which also happens to be my birthday!) and I worked in real estate for the first three years to fund our growth. I made every decision as if my life depended on it.
I spent slowly and wisely and made sure I had dollars coming in before I had dollars going out. I’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout my career, but I’m lucky that I have a wonderful customer base who has stuck by me since the beginning. My mission has evolved over the past 10 years. In the beginning, I wanted to create wearable art that used sand & earth elements as an artistic medium. It was as simple as that. But now I realize that our brand is so much more.
We’re a community of sentimental and adventurous travel lovers and memory makers who enjoy exploring the world both domestically and across the globe. There is this innate curiosity that spans throughout our core community that I find inspirational. We call the closest people to the brand, Wave Makers.
Wave Makers are the people who purchase for multiple occasions throughout the year and like, share, comment on social media every chance they get! They make no qualms about giving me a call or sending me an email to tell me what they like or what they don’t like; as well as tell me the things I’m doing right and how I could be doing better! The Wave Makers keep me on my toes and they are my true north when navigating next steps for my business. Social media is an incredible force when you use it to listen and learn from your customers instead of using it just to get your message across.
If you could go back and talk to your younger self what you tell her and why?
I would tell a younger Holly that she’s worthy and that she doesn’t have to be ashamed that she doesn’t have a formal education because if you have the drive and the mindset, you can accomplish anything! Stay true to who you are. Be bold, be loving, be curious. Education comes in so many forms and you can learn just as much (if not more) by jumping in with both feet and figuring it out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
We have so many new and exciting projects on the horizon. We just introduced our Experiential Candle collection with 3 scents – The Amalfi Coast, Hawaii, and Bermuda – and we have 7 more dropping this year. These candles are absolutely delicious. On top of that, we have multiple new designs coming out over the next few months as well as a new collection with TV host and supermodel, Camille Kostek. Last but not least, there is a book in my future. I can’t say more than that right now, but it makes my heart skip a beat just to think about it!
As a business we’re always launching new collections to keep our assortment fresh. I like to have a little something for everyone because inclusivity is important. Plus, every Thursday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Facebook and Instagram you can catch me and my brand manager, Lauren bringing you some Behind the Scenes with our ‘Kitchen Table Talks’ livestream. We talk about running a small business, life hacks, recent entertainment news, behind the scenes on Dune designs and more. Anything goes!
Where do you see yourself and your career going in this new year and in the future?
We’re in uncharted territory right now. 2020 was a struggle and we experienced significant losses due to COVID, but I have to say – we’re still here, and I celebrate that every day! Throughout the pandemic there were days when I wasn’t sure if we could survive as I watched all of our retail partners shutting down, but like any good kitchen table entrepreneur I stopped spending, conserved cash, got back to grass roots, and supported everyone who had been supporting us over the past 10 years.
I got tenacious and made difficult decisions and that’s why we’ve been able to start 2021 off with solid footing. This new year has been incredible so far. I’m grateful to be in business, continuing to thrive. My goal for the future is to map out the evolution of Dune Jewelry & Co. from jewelry & accessories to a passionately inclusive lifestyle brand for those who see life as one big adventure.
How can our readers connect with you on Social Media?
You can follow me personally for some behind the scenes fun on Instagram: @sandy__hands
Visit us online at www.dunejewelry.com