Mark Shami: A Q&A with NYC Entrepreneur and Designer
Mark Shami is an entrepreneur and designer based in New York City who, among many other businesses, runs a jewelry brand, The M Jewelers. Having spent much of his childhood working in his father's jewelry store and in the NYC Diamond District, Mark has a knack for creating jewelry inspired by the city lifestyle. Mark's creative drive stems from the digital age of his generation and is able to channel his personal interests and fascinations into his work. Since the launch of their website 4 years ago, Shami has continued to craft necklaces, rings and bracelets that are contemporary and unique. We got a chance to sit down with Mark and talk everything from the inception of his brands to his personal experiences in the entrepreneurial world.
When did the M Jewelers start?
I conceptualized the company in 2013. At that time i was making graphic tees as a streetwear brand in New York, but I conceptualized it in 2013 and it went live online in 2014. My entire family stems from the jewelry world. Growing up, my dad had a store in the West Village in the 80s and he was making name plates and handbags. Later on he ended up moving to 47TH street in the diamond district because the store got robbed. I worked in my dad’s shop for my entire childhood so I’ve been exposed to the jewelry world since I was a little kid. I grew up making name plates and monograms, that was my task when working at my dad’s shop.
Where do you pull inspiration from when designing new collections?
It comes from a lot of things. My main inspiration is New York City; it’s my favorite city in the world. Inspiration comes to me at any time of the day. I don’t sleep much because when an idea sparks I get working on it. My girlfriend, Danielle [Guizio], is a designer as well and she constantly has new ideas so we’re always brainstorming off of eachother. My twin sister [Kelly Shami] is a partner in some of my brands and she’s also a designer. The three of us are constantly brainstorming. I would say the main ethos of the brand is New York and we’ve kept the roots here.
Describe your creative process.
The creative process is kind of a bridge from what I previously said, but most of the time I go through my dad’s old archives of jewelry. He has closets full of jewelry from 30 to 40 years ago that he’s never sold so I always go through that and put my own modern take on it. I also love to go back and look at hand crafted things from Italy, and other places that I travel to. In New York, you can walk down the street and see a new person every single day even if you’re going to the same address or the same place of work, so I’m constantly seeing new things. Especially with the digital age we live in we’re seeing a lot of new things, but I really try to keep it connected to the ethos of the New York grit. That keeps me really inspired.
The variance in your products range from affordable to luxury for both men and women. How has your platform allowed you to enter both markets?
I think a lot of it was timing. When we started the brand, there wasn’t a lot of people doing what we were doing on an online basis. You could go to Chinatown or the diamond district to make these pieces, but there wasn’t anyone doing it for a mass market. Affordable brands and luxury brands are starting to bridge the gap with each other and we wanted to create a price point for our generation. We wanted to give the consumer, who is now a lot smarter, quality products. We import everything from Italy and then everything is assembled and made in New York, so we like to give our consumers a high luxury item for a good price point.
Which do you enjoy working on more, affordable or luxury jewelry?
It really depends on the project. I love working on both, but at the end of the day it’s all about the project. For example, we just finished working on a project with Nike, which i loved working on because I was obsessed with Nike growing up and still am today. I love a challenge, so we made gold Juul cases this year, which was really fun. I’m also working on a project right now for someone and we’re creating sunglasses out of all alternative metal. So it really does just depend on the project.
Describe a typical day for you at the office.
Every single day is a different day in this office, but a normal day is usually from 10am to 11pm and once I get home I’m still working. We have about 6 brands in here right now under one umbrella. There’s a lot of emotions, a lot of projects, and a lot of deadlines, so everyday is a different day. Especially as a business owner of a few brands, a lot of obstacles are thrown at me everyday so it’s important to keep a positive energy. We have a really cool and close knit team here.
You have collaborated with Nike and are now selling products online at Revolve. What other brands and companies do you hope to work with moving forward?
Moving forward, I’d like to work with Ssense, Adidas, and would love to continue working with Nike.
What project has been the most rewarding experience for you?
I think 2 projects. One was a complete buildout we did for Complexcon. We did a Chinese ordering booth, which we drew inspiration from some of our favorite late night spots in Chinatown. We created an ordering booth with jewelry set up like a menu and customers were able to order certain jewelry on the spot or for delivery. That was really fun to do because we were able to engage with a new consumer. Complex’s identity is “the internet in real life” and as a big internet company it was cool to see our customers from all over as opposed to the ones just visiting us in New York. Another rewarding project was a video box we created last year for holiday. We personalized each product and video for the customer and the feedback we received from that was amazing.
In the future, how do you envision the growth and expansion of the M Jewelers?
When I started this brand it was just me. Once I launched the website, I opened up a little 150 square-foot store in the diamond district, which was unlike any other store on that block. After that I hired another person, and then another person, and now we’re around 15 employees. I want to continue doing what we’re doing, and keep changing with the times. We’re going to be doing a lot of pop-ups and build-outs, especially internationally. We’re planning a lot of things in Japan, Australia, and London. We’re also going to be opening up a downtown location in 2019 with a few of the brands we have going on.
In addition to the M Jewelers, you are also working on other companies: Shami, Laval Brand, and Legs Market. What’s next for your entrepreneurial endeavors?
Shami has been a really rewarding experience working with my twin sister [Kelly] and it’s been making a lot of headway and going pretty fast, faster than when I started with the M Jewelers. Moving forward, Danielle, Kelly, and I are working on an Italian based brand called Moral Distaste which will launch in 2019.
Written by: Morgan Vickery
Photography by: Adair Smith