Founder Stories: Lizzy Klein On Building mazi + zo

In today’s Founder Story, we feature Lizzy Klein, founder and creative director of mazi + zo!

Read on for lessons she has learned from launching and marketing her jewelry business.

1. Please introduce your business and share your role.

I’m the founder and creative director of mazi + zo, a New York City based company focused on designing effortless fine jewelry for real life. Our collection works for both minimalists and “pile it on” types like me thanks to our deceptively simple designs and our commitment to providing the highest quality handmade jewelry. We handcraft every original design using sustainable solid 14k gold and .925 pure sterling silver and the entire collection is designed to coordinate so our customers can layer and “ear stack” in any combination. 

Our modern Zodiac necklaces, delicate threader earrings, and cocktail charm necklaces are bestsellers right now and our dainty stud earrings are perennial winners. In addition to our broader collection, we carry a line of licensed sorority jewelry that is widely considered to be the best in the category. I actually started the business with the licensed jewelry and expanded when my customers asked for more designs with the same cool-girl vibe. More on that below.

2. What’s your backstory, what kind of challenges did you face, and how did you come up with your business idea?

Prior to starting mazi + zo, I worked for 25 years in the NYC startup community, and before that, I worked for 2 years in the fashion world. 

In 2018, as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Brand New Matter considering “what’s next?,” I knew I wanted to get back to fashion in some way or another. Scrolling IG for inspo, I discovered a ton of style influencers rocking $200 sorority hoodies, sorority water bottles, and sorority sunnies but not sorority jewelry. 

I quickly realized why: the traditional sorority jewelry vendors are selling the same stodgy jewelry today that they did when I was in college and new players have popped up selling trendy fast-fashion jewelry made overseas with cheap materials. There are a lot of options, but nothing high-quality and modern enough to match today’s sorority women’s style. 

This got me thinking: many business people trivialize sorority women (think Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and I’ve often received genuinely surprised “You were in a sorority??” in response to my remarking on it,) but we’re actually some of the most successful women in many categories. Just look at  RBG, Toni Morrison, Sara Blakely, and Kamala Harris! (And for the record, Elle was accepted to Harvard Law.) 

Could I build a high-quality brand that respects today’s smart, stylish sorority women while indulging my love of fashion and design? The idea checked the boxes: large market, clearly defined customer, an opportunity to spread a positive message, *and* I’d get to work with shiny things. 

3. How did you prepare for, and go about your launch?

I launched as a sorority jewelry business in June 2019 and hired a Kappa Alpha Theta intern to set up our IG account so she could talk directly to her sisters. Our initial customers came through those conversations and DMs to each chapter. We also mailed postcards to every physical Theta house in the country. Once we had 2-3 sales a week for Kappa Alpha Theta pieces, we extended our design aesthetic to 17 more sororities and applied for those licenses as well. 

By Fall 2019, the word was spreading fast in group chats across the country and our customers weren’t just sorority women. Our sorority symbol designs (like anchors, kites, crowns) aren’t literal, so they work for everyone. One of our best-selling necklaces today is still our Double Star Choker Necklace, inspired by Kappa Alpha Theta’s twin stars.  

We relaunched our website in early 2020 to reflect our shift into the broader market where sorority jewelry is just one category we offer.

4. How did you come up with your logo and the visual identity 

I wanted a clean, minimalist vibe to match our jewelry aesthetic, and I also wanted a pop of personality. A text-based logo made the most sense to me and once I’d sketched that, I hired a branding designer. 

Our initial brand was actually an upscale charcoal grey and white and we used the simple plus sign from my text logo as a logo. Somewhere along the way I felt the grey was too “generic luxury” and decided to pull in my favorite magenta, which brightens up everything and stands out from the crowd. 

Our signature packaging is unusual for a jewelry brand (see below,) and that’s because it was important to me that our packaging be useful and sustainable. I love when customers share pix of how they re-use the tins to store jewelry, vitamins, and more. That said, I recently launched some diamond and ruby pieces in the sorority collection and am starting to re-think our packaging to better match the price tag for those designs. 

5. Since launching, what types of marketing campaigns and designs have worked best to attract and retain customers?

We’ve experimented with Google, Facebook, IG, and TikTok ads as well as influencer programs, but our best channels are our customers’ organic social media content, real-world “where’d you get that??”, and our own organic content on socials. We also offer discount group sales to sororities which usually leads to repeat business. And then there are one-offs: In 2020, Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote campaign selected our VOTE necklace for fundraising and exposed our brand to a huge new audience and we did a similar campaign with Stix and our Venus collection.  

6. Who or what inspires and motivates you?

I am inspired by many women entrepreneurs, particularly those who preceded us in much less woman-friendly times. Of course, we still have work to do clearing the paths for women to have the same opportunities as men in funding, board seats, and more, but it’s important to recognize these women, who started impressive businesses when it was illegal for a woman to open a credit card account without her husband’s signature, never mind get a meeting with a top venture capitalist. I am inspired by the stories of Madam C. J. Walker, Brownie Wise, Estee Lauder, and others. I plan to develop a collection of charms that celebrate women’s accomplishments; I’m thinking of achievements like earning an MBA, buying a house, receiving a first paycheck, raising money for a favorite cause, running a marathon, and more.

7. What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you would share with entrepreneurs hoping to launch or who have just launched? 

Lesson learned: Seemingly small decisions can have an outsized impact. When I chose to round packaging for my products, I didn’t consider how other elements would be affected. Round tins require round jewelry mounting cards, which aren’t standard. That led to custom ordering, extra costs, and additional lead time. If we’re ever caught short, I can’t substitute with something off the shelf. Basically, I complicated my operations without realizing it. 

The lesson: take a minute to think through the consequences of a decision– while we can’t foresee everything (hello, COVID!), packaging is entirely within my control. Happily, our customers are “obsessed with” our packaging and I love seeing them post pix of the tins on social media. In hindsight, would I do things differently? Not necessarily, but I should have understood all of the implications from the start. By the way, I also designed round polishing cloths (again, not standard) to ship with each order. We hope they make customers feel “treated” and remind them that mazi + zo is quality jewelry worth taking care of.

8. What do you believe are the qualities of a good entrepreneur? And what makes a team successful? 

Drive, ability to prioritize, open-mindedness, creativity, and all of the pieces that go into maintaining a strong network serve entrepreneurs well. 

9. Let us know where we can go to learn more!