Santa Fe New Mexican
Joanne Douglas’ breaking point came when low points in her work and personal life collided. She’d just gotten divorced. She was a single mom, with her son starting college and her daughter still in high school. “I was just dogpaddling, keeping my head above water. And I was working in the worst job I ever had,” recalls Douglas, 50. “And when your globe shakes like that, it’s hard to be good at anything. And one of the owners [at the jewelry store where she worked], a woman, brought me in for a talk one day, and she told me, ‘I just think you’re an old dog that can’t learn a new trick.’ I thought, ‘No. I won’t let people talk to me like that anymore.’ I was like, I gotta get out of here. So I left” — without a backup job in place. She remembers looking down at her hand and saying to herself, “I’m gonna start with this ring. Everybody loves this ring.” She recalls, “And that’s what I did. I had it cast.” Then she added some Navajo pearls. In the process, she began a new career — and a hefty learning curve. “It was really a step-by-step learning process. But all of my jobs, every one, even that awful one, it’s like you have a backpack, and you just keep putting things into it that you’ve learned along the way.” And so was born (almost) Shoofly 505, Douglas’ southwestern-inspired jewelry company. Jewelry is a long-held passion for her. Douglas remembers one day coming home from kindergarten, in Chicago where she grew up, with an amber-colored rhinestone necklace, something she’d found playing dress-up. Her mom made her return the necklace to school, but ever since she’s been drawn to jewelry. In her teens, she began working retail. Then sales. Then in the corporate world — but always working for someone else. Always, people commented on what she wore, how she styled herself. And so, ever the sharer, she’d tell them where to get a similar look. Soon she got married. She had kids. And after her son was born, she started working for a jewelry manufacturer, beginning as a stone buyer. In time, her reputation as a buyer and designer earned her a nickname: The Jewelry Lady. She soon opened a store on Etsy. Where she sold . . . nothing. She turned to the small business coaches at WESST, which offered an Etsy class and one focused on women over 50 making career transitions. “There were probably 20 people in this class, and everybody goes down the line and introduces themselves — and there are all these tears,” Douglas remembers. “People starting over, wanting to switch careers, a lot of great stories. And by the end of the six weeks, we went around the room again, and it was so beautiful to see how much everybody had transformed. All these likeminded people who’d learned new things going out into the workforce again.” When Douglas’ turn to share came around, she said, “Well, I don’t want to work on my résumé. After all this, what I want to do is start my own business.” At the time, she was working as a buyer at Duran’s Pharmacy (and restaurant) in Albuquerque, for $15 an hour, and going home smelling like enchiladas. It was time to jump off that ledge but gradually. “I just babystepped it,” she says. No loans. No overhead. “I literally took the money I made off that first ring, invested it back into other beads and other supplies. Sold more jewelry. Reinvested it.” All the while she still worked at Duran’s, until one of her mentors told her, “Just sell jewelry. You’ll be fine.” She did, and she has been since 2014. “I wouldn’t have known that this is what I would have ended up doing,” she says in hindsight. “But when you look back, it’s like, yeah, this is the perfect thing. It all totally makes sense, how it all kind of got me here.” She says she didn’t feel afraid. “I’m not sure what took me so long to start. I guess that all comes with age, right? The older I get the more confident I become — along with some wrinkles,” she says. Douglas is not a silversmith. She sells a look instead of just pieces of jewelry. She has great sources, a really good eye, and a natural affinity for social media, which paid off during COVID-19. The last two years have been her best-selling ever. Even better in her book: “I’m working for myself. I’m not in retail. I’m not standing on my feet all day selling something for somebody else.” “Go for it,” advises Douglas. “The way I did it was the safest way for me. Test the waters a little bit, dip your toe in there, see the response and what echoes back to you. But really, it’s never too late. You can make a change at any age.” Devon Jackson is a freelance writer and editor of “Home” magazine for the “The New Mexican.” He’s written for “The New York Times,” “People,” “Sports Illustrated,” and “Discover,” among other publications.