Katelyn Barringer and Emily Gonzalez are twin sisters of different mothers.
The two York County residents have been inseparable after meeting at Winthrop University, both as friends and business partners.
Their boutique jewelry business, Reece Blaire – a mashup of their middle names – would not have happened without each other, says Barringer’s mom, Beverly. “We have watched them grow together,” Beverly Barringer said.
Their Web-based jewelry business is moving to a regional stage. The jewelry cases at Belk department stores now have Reece Blaire designs alongside some of the biggest names in fashion.
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Barringer and Gonzalez earned their chance at fame – and hopefully fortune – by winning the Belk Southern Designer Showcase 2015. The showcase is an annual competition in which Belk invites designers of men’s, women’s and children’s fashions, as well as shoes and women’s accessories, to compete. About 300 or more apply but fewer than 20 are selected.
When Gonzalez got the word they had won, she tried to call, then text, then even Skype and Facebook Barringer to share the news. Barringer had 76 text messages, 15 Facebook notifications and an untold number of calls before she finally found out the pair had won.
Going from a two-person business to working with corporate Belk, which has numerous people at each step of the way waiting to offer expertise, was like “learning Chinese to cure cancer in six months,” Gonzalez said.
They learned to balance their business with their full-time jobs. Gonzalez is a third-grade teacher at Rosewood Elementary School in Rock Hill and Barringer is a graduate school admission counselor at Winthrop University. In Gonzalez’ case, it also meant balancing family with work, as she has a 14-month-old daughter, Ella Reece Gonzalez.
Belk and Reece Blaire share some key qualities. Both are roted in the South. Reece Blaire got its start when Gonzalez designed and made jewelry for her low country South Carolina wedding.
The Reece Blaire girl and the Belk girl are also both “modern,” though their outlooks can be slightly different.
The Reece Blaire girl likes the edgy look. The company brands itself as “sass, wit and sophistication.”
The Belk girl can be slightly more conservative, and Belk designers helped Barringer and Gonzalez tweak their designs to make them more marketable without changing their individuality.
“We had to learn a new language, understand a set of tools we thought we understood but didn’t,” Barringer said.
In the process, Barringer and Gonzalez learned more about themselves, making changes neither expected.
Gonzalez is the more meticulous and mild-mannered of the two. Barringer is the edgier, more chaotic, “I’m-always-right” personality.
In dealing with corporate Belk, Gonzalez found strength, as she wanted to make sure Reece Blaire was being true to its brand. Barringer realized she didn’t know everything and learned how to listen to those offering help.
“We switched roles,” Gonzalez said.
The Reece Blaire line of jewelry made its official debut Thursday at the Belk store at South Park mall in Charlotte.
It was the right place for Barringer and Gonzalez. Barringer said she shops there at least once a week. Gonzalez said her first pearl bracelet was purchased at a Belk store.
It was “Girls Night Out” at the South Park store. A DJ pumped out music, pausing to let Belk introduce Reece Blaire to its shoppers. It was a night of hugs, selfies and girl talk. Mothers Linda Crumpler and Beverly Barringer were there to share in their daughters’ success.
The Reece Blaire collection was between those of fashion icons Kenneth Cole and Betsey Johnson. Nearby was the jewelry of Kate Spade.
Reece Blaire could not have asked for better neighbors.
And, say Barringer and Gonzalez, if one piece of Reece Blair looks good, two might be even better together.
Remember, they say, “Keep your baubles stacked.”