Steven Lagos and his eponymous jewelry brand go from strength to strength after 45 years

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In 1977, Steven Lagos opened a jewelry repair business in Philadelphia’s Jewelery District. Soon after, he created the Lagos brand, making him a pioneer as a designer of brand jewelry.

Forty-five years and 15,000 original creations later, he and his brand are bigger than ever. In fact, 2021 was one of the best years for the company, selling nearly 250,000 pieces. He says he expects to exceed that number in 2022.

Steven has been able to grow the brand in recent years by becoming more business savvy and adapting to changing consumer behavior. However, more importantly, it has remained true to caviar, the pearl design that is the basis of every product made by the company.

An example of how it continues to meet ever-changing consumer demand, in 2018 Lagos launched a jewelry strap for the Apple Watch called Smart Caviar. Four years later, this unique product is now available in 20 styles and has sold over 35,000 units. In addition, it has been a significant driver in customer acquisition as 78% of Smart Caviar sales represent new customers.

Below is an interview with Steven Lagos where he discusses the past, present and future of Lagos.

Anthony DeMarco: Do ​​you consider yourself a designer or a manufacturer?

steven lagos: Definitely a designer, although I don’t think you can be in that business unless you’re a maker. Some things are designed with manufacturing in mind and some things are designed in one piece with a special stone or in very limited quantities. We are not artists. Art doesn’t have to work. Jewelry must work. Jewelry is definitely a craft business.

AD: Five years ago you said you had the infrastructure to increase the growth and penetration of the US jewelry market. Did it happen?

SL: Absolutely, we have had such success over the past five years. We have a pick and pack operation that will be fully automated when fully implemented. We ship between 1,200 and 1,500 packages at the height of the (holiday) season. Right now we’re doing about 200 a day, which is more than we normally do at this time of year. We also continued to strengthen our team. We have a new Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Operations. Ultimately it’s a business and as it grows there’s more responsibility, more operational issues. We send 1,000 jewels per day. Each jewel could be composed of 50 different components. It’s 50,000 pieces that we have to process.

AD: What is Caviar and what would Lagos be without it?

SL: This is our signature collection based on the appearance of caviar which has been at the heart of the business since 1984. This is the hallmark of the brand. Everything we do involves Caviar.

AD: What are its design signifiers?

SL: It’s a small bead pattern, a distinct pattern due to the way we style it. Beadwork is nothing new. It’s the way they are arranged. The pattern we create is distinctive. And it’s a creative marketing name. If you put our collection next to other nameless ones and tell the person one is called caviar, I think that person might spot it.

Without Caviar, I think Lagos wouldn’t be so distinct. Our brand needs a code. I study brands. The adults all have a code. If it wasn’t Caviar, it would be something else. After almost 40 years, it still forms the basis of the brand. It’s fun to be prolific, but it takes a lot of discipline to go back to a design element and reinvent it.

AD: What has been your biggest and most popular product over the past five years?

SL: By far, while not our biggest seller, our most important product is the Smart Caviar Fine Jewelry Watch Band for the Apple Watch. Apple’s marketing and brand power have taken something well known and made it iconic. What I realized early on was that people couldn’t take it down because of all of its functions, which are important. Women wear the watch in the evening and do not want to take it off. I wanted to make it a jewel to wear day and night. They made a perfect sporty-casual watch, and I made it a piece of fine jewelry. It has become known to more people than any other product we have created.

AD: What are the biggest changes in the jewelry industry since you started?

SL: When I entered the jewelry business, it was an unbranded business. There were Tiffany, Bulgari and the historic French brands. There really was no designer label business. We happened to be in the right place when brands became more important, and we’ve been lucky enough to ride that wave for 45 years. The materials have changed. When I got into the business, silver wasn’t popular, nor were lab-grown diamonds, which I don’t go near.

However, the jewelry industry has not changed for 4,500 years. We create something that makes people feel good, or is a status symbol or an adornment. It’s part of the human condition. You go anywhere in the world, there may not be marketing but people wear jewelry. There is a human need that makes being in this industry super interesting.

AD: How have you managed the business during the COVID pandemic and have you learned from this experience?

SL: We were very aggressive in putting people off at first because it was so unknown. Ninety-five percent of the people we asked to come back came back. Thanks to our web activity, we have been able to stay open all the time. We were working on a web strategy for 2020 and it accelerated quickly. Covid was more of an accelerator than a catalyst. Our customers (retailers) were also discouraged. They dealt with their customers by providing jewelry online and even by visiting them. Jewelry has been a real boon during the pandemic. People were sending gifts instead of meeting during the holidays and we saw that as a huge, pleasant surprise.

AD: Your daughter, Kate, is now involved in the business. What are her responsibilities and is she prepared to take over the business one day?

SL: It’s funny. She went to school in fashion, merchandising and marketing, but it never occurred to me that she would do this and there was no pressure for her to do it. She came to the company six years ago and got off to a flying start. She has a strong point of view, and great instincts and ideas. She is learning all the time and I am learning from her.

She is prepared to be herself. There’s a lot going on here. It’s a complicated job but she made it her job. She says she is able to do this because she watched me all her life. I was so absorbed in the business that I didn’t realize it.

AD: What is your project for the next five years?

SL: I always have so much fun with what I do. Much of the pressure is released. I know I worked hard but it never felt like work. I turned 65 last week and that’s what I want to do. They’re going to have to drag me out of here. I have been very lucky. I have my daughter around me and my team is very passionate about what I do. It’s a fun business. Jewelry is for happy occasions. It is a meaningful and very satisfying undertaking.

AD: What is your project for Lagos in the next five years?

SL: The company is on a growth trajectory. Our distribution is concentrated between 350 and 400 doors. I think 400 doors is the limit for a brand like ours. We are introducing higher prices, more gold and gold and diamond jewellery. We have the basics of caviar at an accessible price. We build our portfolio. We have these discussions to improve ourselves in what we do. Focus is the key. We do not manufacture perfumes or sunglasses. We stick to what we know and what we are good at. People seem to like it. We’ve been in a different league in that we cater to a lot of people (retail customers) with a lot of business and we’re important to them. We take this seriously. We want to be a good supplier and a good partner.

AD: What is the secret of success?

SL: They say it’s 10% creativity and 90% consistency, even if you’re constantly erratic. Authenticity is super important today. It’s so easy to have a large following on social media, but I think being consistent is the secret to success.

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