Two Gen Zers turned a $2,000 investment into an art gallery that sells $600,000 pieces. They want to usher in a new generation of art collectors.

Alexis de Bernede (L) and Marius Jacob (R)
Alexis de Bernede (L) and Marius Jacob (R)

  • Darmo Art is a gallery based in Paris that booked more than six figures in its latest show.

  • Its young founders are looking to highlight up-and-coming creatives and build a welcoming environment for aspiring collectors.
  • This is part of Insider’s series Star, Rising which highlights early-stage companies and entrepreneurs that are gaining popularity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Name(s): Alexis de Bernede and Marius Jacob

Age(s): 22, 23

Location: Paris, France

Business: The art world has a bad reputation among many young people. Some find it old and too exclusive for their generations, which value inclusivity.

Alexis de Bernede and Marius Jacob didn’t wait for the market to transform – instead, they innovated it themselves. In 2017, with $2,000 saved, the duo launched Darmo Art, a gallery specializing in contemporary and modern artworks that also highlights up-and-coming artists.

Young artists have trouble finding support in the art world since many can’t estimate their overall value, de Bernede told Insider. The duo’s gallery aims to spotlight emerging artists and help them grab a piece of the $50 billion market. Simultaneously, they hope to create a more welcoming environment for aspiring art patrons.

“We want to be the first dealers for our artists,” Jacob said.

Art work at Darmo gallery
Pablo Picasso, 1958 “Portrait de jeune fille, d’après Cranach le Jeune II” on sale at Darmo Art for $600,000.

Growth: Darmo Art started by hosting public exhibitions and sending cold invites to collectors, dealers, and journalists. Its first show, in 2017, booked nearly $30,000 in sales. Today, Darmo Art’s shows occur in places like the high-end Salvatore Ferragamo store in Paris and typically net six figures per exhibition. What’s more, pieces sell for between $1,200 and $600,000, according to documents seen by Insider.

Darmo Art represents five artists – including Raf Reyes, 23,creative director of clothing brand Very Rare, and Pauline d’Andigné, 24, who is working on an exhibition at a hotel in Athens. Darmo Art also works with nearly 50 collectors, ranging from young patrons in their early 20s to established connoisseurs.

The cofounders are prepping for upcoming exhibitions in Paris and are broadening operations to the French Riveria and at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, an exclusive report in Germany. Additionally, Darmo Art is expanding into modern art by selling blue-chip names such as Henri Mattise, Paul Gauguin, César, and Marc Chagall.

Before Darmo Art: De Bernede received a Master’s in art history from the University of Oxford and worked as a special events intern at Christie’s auction house. Meanwhile, Jacob is still studying art at L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

Challenges: Making transactions in the art world is about building trust with potential buyers, but people were wary to trust de Bernede and Jacob because of their inexperience and young ages. To prove themselves, they started working on smaller projects before expanding into bigger collaborations.

“Studying art is also what made us trustworthy,” Jacob said. “People saw even if we were trying to elbow our way into the art world, we were still following the path of becoming art historians, not just business people who want to start a gallery.”

Business advice: “Always sell a work at a price you’d been willing to buy it back for,” de Bernede said. The art market can be uncertain and by ensuring customers that they can return their investments with zero losses helps establish trust between the gallery and its buyers, he said.

Alexis de Bernede (L) and Marius Jacob (R)
Alexis de Bernede (L) and Marius Jacob (R)

Business mentor: The duo leans on Jacob’s family, which owns a Parisian antique gallery that specializes in 17th- and 18th-century artwork, for mentorship. They taught the pair how to develop and maintain relationships with customers and collectors.

Art work at Darmo gallery
Joan Miró 1984 “Personnage et Oiseau” which sold at Darmo Art for an undisclosed price.

Why is now the best time to start a business? The pandemic revealed big companies are often slow to innovate themselves, de Bernede said. This leaves a white space in many industries that can be filled with entrepreneurship. “You can be an entrepreneur without necessarily changing the world,” he continued.

On hiring: Right now, de Bernede and Jacob run Darmo Art. However, they’re ready to build a team that they can trust and will tap talent from the networks they’ve established.

Managing burnout: The cofounders depend on each other to manage stress by making sure each is doing their equal parts in running the business. “Having a business partner you can trust and who can be there to motivate you is important,” de Bernede said. “Because having a business is an emotional rollercoaster.”

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A 29-year-old turned her quarantine hobby into a jewelry business beloved by models and a ‘Bachelor’ star. Here’s how she spends her day.

Charlotte Alden
Charlotte Alden

  • Charlotte Alden is the founder of jewelry company lottie, which she started after losing her job last year.
  • Models and celebrities are already sporting her handmade designs.
  • To Insider, Alden gives a behind-the-scenes look at running a jewelry brand as the category heats up.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Charlotte Alden was working as an art specialist at an auction house when COVID-19 reached the US and shuttered roughly 200,000 businesses. She lost her job and struggled to find another, so she bought a bead kit on Amazon and launched her own jewelry company in October.

“It’s never been more feasible to start an e-commerce company,” said Alden, founder of fine jewelry startup lottie, which already counts model Nina Agdal and “The Bachelor’s” Hannah Goodwin as fans. Alden crafts all the jewelry, including $150 body chains and $70 bracelets.

Alden is one of 4 million people who started businesses in 2020, a 24% increase from the year prior. What’s more, she entered a thriving market: The global jewelry market is growing and expected to reach a value of $292 billion by 2025. Despite just getting started, lottie is on track to book nearly six figures in revenue within the next year and Alden said average monthly revenue has risen 50% year-to-date, according to documents viewed by Insider.

Alden said practicing discipline was vital when turning her hobby into a thriving business. This includes running every morning and going to bed at the same time every night. For Insider, Alden breaks down how she structures her day so she can execute on her ideas and find balance in her life.

She wakes up at 7:30 p.m.

Lottie jewelry

After waking up, Alden immediately checks her phone. She responds to unanswered text messages, skims through her email, and checks lottie’s Instagram, which already has 16,000 followers.

“It’s a bad habit, I know,” said Alden, who shuffles between her parents’ house on Martha’s Vineyard, where she keeps her inventory, and her boyfriend’s apartment in Manhattan to save money.

Phone still in hand, she makes herself a double espresso and checks Shopify to see if the company made any new sales since the day before. That wouldn’t be unrealistic for lottie: In the past 90 days, lottie’s web traffic increased by 129%.

Alden is lottie’s sole employee but she’s still able to plan a new collection and collaborations, including ones with significant properties like Palm Beach Historic Inn and Hudson Chatham Winery. 

“lottie’s success and failure is my responsibility,” she said. “But another aspect of maintaining balance is never getting too high, and never getting too low.”

At 9 a.m., she prepares for the workday

Lottie jewelry swimwear collection
Swimsuit collaboration lottie just finished with sustainable swimwear brand Ricki Rum.

Alden puts her phone down to exercise, which helps her maintain a healthy mindset and balanced routine. Then she’ll shower, have breakfast, and ship prepackaged lottie orders from USPS. 

“If I don’t get out the orders first thing, I never end up making it to the post office that day,” she said, noting that she’ll get consumed by her inbox. 

Once she’s home, she begins working on lottie’s social media strategy, using Instagram management app UNUM to plan posts weeks in advance. Around 10 a.m., she’ll start taking phone calls and chatting with suppliers, customers, and potential brand collaborators.

Sourcing materials and planning collaborations take up her afternoon

Lottie collaboration with Break the Love
Lottie collaboration with Break the Love

Alden officially starts her workday around 11 a.m. when she speaks with her manufacturers about sourcing elements for her jewelry. Finding the necessary raw materials is one of Alden’s biggest challenges and she often has to purchase goods from multiple suppliers in order to make one necklace. 

Before breaking for lunch, she meets with a consultant to plan other brand collaborations. In addition to the partnerships with physical properties, Alden is making a tennis bracelet for the Adidas-backed sports company Break the Love. 

Alden is also planning to open lottie pop-up locations this summer. Previous versions were in Brooklyn, Miami, and East Hampton; future ones will be in Manhattan, Palm Beach, and on Martha’s Vineyard.

The remainder of the day is reserved for making jewelry

Jewelry by lottie
Jewelry handmade by Charlotte Alden for lottie

After scarfing down lunch, Alden spends the rest of her day making jewelry. It can take her between five minutes and one hour to make a piece, but the key is keeping her materials neat, she said. 

“Every little bead or crimp can get so expensive,” she said. “It’s important to stay organized and not lose anything.” 

Alden taught herself how to make jewelry through trial and error, learning about semi-precious gemstones and the difference between gold-plated and gold-filled, she said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it besides stringing beads,” she added. 

When she completes a piece, she photographs it for Instagram. She’ll also send press boxes to celebrities, like Charli D’Amelio and Emma Chamberlain, in the hopes that they will share them with their followers.

Getting enough sleep sets the tone for tomorrow

Charlotte Alden
Charlotte Alden

Around 7 p.m., Alden showers, dons her pajamas, and takes her work to the couch. 

Despite the change in scenery, she’ll continue crafting jewelry, making social content, and packaging the orders she’ll send the following morning. 

Even if she’s not tired, she’ll stop working at 10 p.m. and tuck herself into bed. “Getting a good night’s sleep can determine my entire day,” she said.

Then she wakes up and does it all again tomorrow.

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Brittni Popp’s 6-figure side hustle is making custom cakes for celebrities like Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian

Brittni Popp
  • Brittni Popp‘s custom cake business Betchin Cakes helps people celebrate important moments in life.
  • Betchin Cakes saw a 120% increase in sales from last year and is on track to book six figures in sales this year.
  • This is part of Insider’s series Star, Rising which highlights early-stage entrepreneurs who are gaining popularity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Name: Brittni Popp

Age: 31

Location: Redondo Beach, CA

Business: Brittni Popp likes to help people commemorate their important life moments, whether that’s a bridal party, divorce, or even an expunged DUI. Her business, Betchin Cakes, sells highly customized baked goods that come adorned with decorations like Barbie dolls or empty nips. In the two years since she launched her side hustle, she’s landed high-profile customers like Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian.

Brittni Popp
Brittni Popp

“It’s always been about making people happy and having a moment for them,” she told Insider. “The coolest part about it is that I’ve been the most authentic this entire time – that’s what’s getting me business.”

She doesn’t bake the cakes, just decorates them. The base cost for a cake is $150 but prices can increase depending on the amount of customization. Popp’s most expensive cake was around $900.

Before Betechin: Popp briefly studied communications at a local junior college before dropping out in 2009. Now, she works full time in business development for grants management software company eCivis.

Growth: Betchin Cakes saw a 120% increase in sales from last year and is on track to book six figures in sales this year, Popp says. The Instagram account has 12,000 followers and Popp recently expanded into making cupcakes and cakes for puppies and children.

Despite the increase in business, Popp says each week is different – in one she can decorate 18 cakes, and in another, she’ll only tackle five. “It’s never normal and I’m the queen of last-minute orders,” she said.

Challenges: Since Betchin Cakes started as a passion project, Popp has been learning how to run a business on the fly. However, she’s found it difficult to create a balanced working schedule, especially as she continues to work full time.

Brittni Popp
Paris Hilton with a Betchin cake

Business advice: Take risks, Popp said. “Don’t be afraid to try and make your ideas come to life and into something that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.”

Brittni Popp

Business mentor: Popp calls Lauryn Bosstick, founder of skincare brand Skinny Confidential, a mentor. Popp followed Bosstick’s career on Instagram before cold messaging her last year, asking for her thoughts on Betchin Cakes as a business. “It’s great to have these women in the industry who are starting out just like me and gone through the same obstacles,” Popp said, referring to Bosstick’s journey of turning her passion into a full-time job.

Why is now the best time to start a business? “I would say anytime is a good time,” Popp said, noting that many people make excuses when it comes to launching their passion projects. “I genuinely started my company wanting to make people feel special and have a moment they remembered.”

Hiring in today’s labor shortage: Popp’s friends help her bake, decorate, deliver and ship the cakes, but that’s on a part-time basis. The rest is up to her. “I do my own marketing, buying, sourcing, and client calls right now,” she said. “Everything is pretty personal.”

Popp hopes to expand her business, which could include hiring, but is still imaging what a mature version of Betchin Cakes would look like. “This year has been a big year for me,” she said. “There’s so much opportunity and the demand is really high.”

Managing burnout: Popp prioritizes scheduling personal time, including a two-week vacation each summer. She and her boyfriend visit their houseboat on the Colorado River and she disconnects from social media. “It’s a great break from reality to disconnect,” she said. “I always make time for a break.”

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Twin sisters started cigar company with only a $500 investment – and now they’re shipping nationwide

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  • Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez started their own cigar brand, Tres Lindas Cubanas, with just a $500 investment. 
  • The company now ships its cigars nationwide. 
  • The twin sisters have since fought against stereotypes, showing how Afro-Cuban women can be knowledgeable about cigars.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video. 

Narrator: Yvette and Yvonne are used to standing out.

In 2014, the twin sisters started their own brand of cigars, called Tres Lindas Cubanas. Since then, they’re often the only Afro-Cuban women in a room full of men.

Yvonne Rodriguez: Imagine walking into a door where you wanna sell your cigars, and they don’t even think that you smoke cigars, you know? We don’t start at zero. We start at negative five.

Yvette Rodriguez: We still get 20 questions, like an interrogation, to find out if we know anything about cigars, if this is really our brand. Questions I don’t hear anybody asking anyone else.

Narrator: The doubtful stares didn’t stop them from putting their identity at the forefront of their business.

Their three cigar blends pay homage to Cuban women: La Clarita, la Mulata, andla Negrita. All Spanish words used to describe skin tones of women.

Yvonne: A lot of people ask us, ‘How do you guys do it? You’re a woman, you’re black, and you’re Latina, and I think that those are positives. 

Yvette: No, we don’t try to blend in in the least. 

Narrator: They sell their blends on their website, shipping across the country to all 50 states, and in local shops. But it all started with an investment of $500.

Yvonne: We were immediately turning a profit because we invested very little.

Yvette: It’s also a testimony to the black consumer because I would say more than 80 percent of our consumers are African-American. Buying black, that has helped us out tremendously.

Narrator: Even their packaging stands out. Instead of the usual glossy, short and fancy look, their box stands tall in plain wood.

Yvonne: That had a lot to do with the money that we had to invest, but we noticed that it really helped that we are not too flashy, so we prefer to be a surprise, and we sell more to the man and the woman that smokes every day.

Narrator: The seeds come from Cuba, but the tobacco grows in Nicaragua, where the cigars are also rolled, and then later, shipped to Miami. The sisters can’t import leaves or seeds directly from Cuba because of the embargo.

Yvonne: Currently we can’t get anything out of Cuba. We definitely are ready for when the doors open for us to create blends with the Cuban leaf. That would be great, combining them also with the Nicaraguan leaf.

Narrator: As first-generation Americans, it’s important for them to stay connected to their roots. So they lead trips to Havana, taking people through plantations and factories of Cuban cigars.

And tourists are often surprised when they see many of the workers rolling cigars are Afro-Cuban women.

Yvette: The most famous cigars in the world are being rolled by black women. It’s really a testimony to the history of tobacco and cigars.

We’re part of history. It’s like, I am Cuba, and I am cigars, you know what I mean?

We could have put models as the face of the brand, super sexy girls or super hot guy, but no. We’re gonna be the face of it. Every brand has their look. And this is our look.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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