Peace + Love + Bling, LLC and LeAnne Johnson Absalom first came to my attention a couple of years ago when I was in Franklinton for some art shows and happened upon Ethical Arts Collective and a sale that was going on. Ever since then, LeAnne and I have bumped into each other a number of times and enjoyed talking to each other, kept in touch via FB and email and I’ve also helped connect her to a few artists who have since exhibited in the gallery at Ethical Arts. Now that her ‘Girl Cave’ and business have moved to East Lincoln in the Short North, it seems like a good time to promote what she does for artists in our community and overseas.
Even though she is not technically an artist, she does much to support women and artists and I wanted to learn more about her and her organization. As she stated:
I’ve always loved art and music and appreciated the gifts of artists. Before I started Peace + Love + Bling, I never would have considered myself qualified for working in a creative field. I am, however, always up for a challenge. So when a friend asked me to help her start a jewelry company as a consultant, I thought it would be a nice change. The first line we created was a hit. We did it as a sideline for a couple of years. When I reached a point in my career … I wanted to travel less and do something more fulfilling, I realized that the jewelry sideline really made me happy. It was incredible to be able to make a career move into something I love. It’s true, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.
LeAnne is originally from Portland Oregon (on my bucket list!) but has lived all over the world. She has two business degrees: a BS from Boston University and an International MBA from Rutgers. Most recently, she was VP Director at JP Morgan in Treasury and Securities Services in Manhattan. She met her husband, Dave, while working there and traveling to Columbus… and she says that love brought her to our city although that would never have been where she thought she would ultimately land!
Prior to that, she lived in China for four years. She also started a VOIP ((voice over IP) is an IP telephony term for a set of facilities used to manage the delivery of voice information over the Internet.VoIP involves sending voice information in digital form in discrete packets rather than by using the traditional circuit-committed protocols of the public switched telephone network…whoa!) and Internet Infrastructure company with one of her MBA classmates but they sold that company to Terremark Worldwide in Miami and later to Verizon.
Although she has no art training, her background in sales, marketing and business management in the aforementioned telephony and Internet infrastructure businesses has given her a strategic advantage and helped lay the foundation to build Peace + Love + Bling into a global business.
Recently, she invited me to come hang out at her new digs at 14 East Lincoln and we had the opportunity to talk at length about her background, the business, upcoming events and even make some new friends, Danny, Coda and Jeff, who came into purchase some bling and stayed for champagne and chatting.
She explained to me that initially, she ran her business out of her home on Miami Avenue in Olde Town East where customers would come to purchase the items made by women in Asia and Ecuador. However, much the same as the day I stopped by, her customers hung out with her, became friends and eventually, repeat customers. A couple of years ago, she decided to move the business to the Ethical Arts Collective in Franklinton. However, revenue fell with the move even though she loved the vibe of the artistic community in that area. She had planned to stay another year before moving but near the end of last year, gallery owner, Marcia Evans contacted her to tell her that a space a couple of doors down from her gallery was available. LeAnne and 4 or so other businesses applied for the space and after much paperwork and negotiation, Peace+Love+Bling was offered the storefront. All of this happened in a few months and LeAnne’s head was swimming but she never looked back. Everything eventually fell into place and the business has had it’s grand opening in the new location this month.
Of course, that led to a discussion about synchronicity and how that shapes all of our lives. Both LeAnne and I are firm believers in the concept the ‘build it and they will come’. So much of the evolution of this business has been this way…a difficult concept for her initially because she viewed herself as a control freak, especially after having worked in the corporate world. She says that the business has helped her get her priorities in order and allowed her to make more of a difference for others rather than putting money in the pockets of already wealthy folks. She’s thankful for the work she did before the inception of the bling business but she is equally pleased to be doing what she loves, spending more time with people in need.helping and having more time for her family.
And, speaking of family, she has 2 daughters, 12 and 14 years old, who have been exposed to retail business for quite some time. Over the last couple of years, LeAnne has developed something she calls ‘The Junior Bling Team’ where girls around her daughters’ ages have taken part in working at the store and developing a project during the summer. The program sounds phenomenal and the girls thoroughly enjoyed what they did. She hopes to have this program continue and grow in the coming years so stay tuned for more about that!
She laughingly states that she often has more drive than inspiration. I’m driven by the desire to see that smile on a woman’s face when she is get’s complimented on a piece of our jewelry she is wearing. It has actually inspired her when she has seen women burst into tears when they have found a piece they love. She even remembers a women who didn’t wear jewelry but she was going through a really hard time and bought a few pieces. Friends of hers later told LeAnne that they had seen this woman wearing the pieces at work and was always touching them and smiling. THAT is why she does what she does.
Most of all she really wants to make a difference. It’s absolutely true that every piece of jewelry helps more than one women here in Columbus and globally. She currently has 25 independent sales reps around the country (about 40 states) and 2 part time employees here in town. The women here in town do quality control, packing and some jewelry assemblage such as adding findings to earrings or pins made by women in developing countries who do have these resources readily available). They make one of a kind pieces and also do wholesale work because the more that is sold, the more good they can do. I would like to see us touch thousands of women and families through creative, dignified employment and using part of our revenues to support those programs like Amethyst and Dress for Success that do so much to help women find employment and independence. She works closely with Amethyst and employs women who are going through the process of trying to get their lives back on track.
Often times she is asked why she uses artisans in Asia and Ecuador and she told me that it is a win-win proposition. She is helping these women who would otherwise have to work in factories in abysmal conditions for less money. now they are supporting their families while working in small workshops or out of their homes. But she is also helping women here in the US who are trying to do the same thing and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. This not only helps these women financially but also helps them socialize and develop self-esteem. Sounds like a win-win to me!
In addition to all of that, now that they have a true storefront that can lead to business driven by foot traffic in Short North, she would like to feature local jewelry artists on a rotating 6 week basis, having opening receptions for them much like galleries do in the area. Coincidentally (there’s that synchronicity again!), when PLB was moving and wanted to sell a boat load of display items, my friend, favorite jewelry artist and formerly featured artist, Teresa Morbitzer of Vintage Vamp bought quite a bit. That led to a discussion about this concept and may also lead to Teresa being one of the first artists to be featured in this way! Woot!! Once again, LeAnne will be assisting women locally…LOVE this!
We also talked about creative process and she says it’s a mix of creativity and market research. She designs pieces, but considers herself more of a curator. The styles that the company markets are often not the most creative or flamboyant, however, they will appeal to a wide audience. She puts a lot of the creative decision making into the hands of the customers. They have several trunk shows and events a year to share new designs and see what sells. It’s a special opportunity for their customers in the area to get some amazing deals on gorgeous jewelry. What sells, makes it into the collection. What doesn’t sell doesn’t make the cut regardless of how much I love the design. Because we are about empowerment, our artists have a lot of input into the design process as well. And because she does this on a much smaller scale, she is still able to try new designs without the business and her artists suffering.
As I said, while I was visiting, I got to see first hand how LeAnne’s dream of building customer loyalty while making friends and having fun is coming to fruition. A trio of lovely friends stopped in after walking by and seeing some items they liked. That led to not only several items being sold but to celebrating with champagne, a lively conversation about dogs (my girl Aroon was there and quite a hit!), art, Merion Village and much more. After about an hour of chatting, I had taken several pics of Danny, Coda and Jeff, we exchanged business cards, and info and even talked about the possibility of commissioning some art for Jeff and Coda’s amazing house in Merion! Then another couple from Michigan stopped in and another sale with lively conversation! Needless to say, LeAnne was thrilled with the outcome, and her customers left happy with the promise to return. Another win-win, mainly due to this lady’s warm personality and love of what she’s doing.
Peace+ Love+ Bling items are currently available nationally in about 500 stores, all chic boutiques and Fair Trade stores. In Columbus, their pieces are at Global Gifts in the Short North, Hope’s Boutique at the James Cancer Center, Le Flair in Dublin, Global Gallery Coffee House, White of Dublin and Mukha.
She also has several events coming up and will be doing more traveling soon. The Girl Cave will be very busy in the next 2 months…check it out:
‘Local is Beautiful’ by Peace + Love + Bling features jewelry from local artisans. LeAnne is thrilled to offer pieces from Vintage Vamp by Teresa Morbitzer for her first ‘Local is Beautiful’ show. The opening reception is Friday, April 1st from 5-8pm. Teresa’s vintage creations will be available for sale in the Short North boutique from April 1 – mid May.
The Girl Cave will offer a sophisticated shopping experience for the April 2nd Short North Gallery Hop. From 5 – 8:30 pm visitors will indulge in jewelry specials and champagne cocktails.
Most of all, she stated that what she is doing is fun and once it isn’t fun, she will have to reexamine her goals.
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