Karin Mayr spent the early years of her fashion career helping some of the world's top brands look their best. She worked as a liaison between European textile mills and several of America's leading fashion houses, including Donna Karan, Armani A/X and Banana Republic.
In 2001, Ms. Mayr and her husband, Konrad, both natives of Austria, found themselves at a crossroads. Mr. Mayr's business had closed and the family was looking for an extra source of income. Ms. Mayr, then 50, decided to channel the expertise she had shared with other fashion labels into a collection of her own, a line of hand-crafted jewelry made by European artisans called Sabika.
"I had made a lot of big companies successful," she said. "This time I wanted to do it for myself instead of always pushing trains out of the station for other people."
In the past decade, the business headquartered on Steubenville Pike in Robinson has blossomed into a direct sales jewelry company with more than 600 women consultants in 31 states. Ms. and Mr. Mayr are its president and vice president of operations and finances, respectively. Their daughters also are involved; Kerstin Mayr is vice president of sales and field services, and Alexandra Mayr-Gracik is head designer and vice president of marketing.
It's grown organically with word-of-mouth as its primary means of promotion. Sabika has seen approximately 60 percent growth in sales from year to year, and its annual sales volume is expected to approach $20 million.
At first, there were critics who questioned if women would be willing to pay at home jewelry parties the $100 or $200-plus prices that some pieces run. The Mayrs didn't find this to be a concern.
"For people who are stuck between the choice of really expensive or really inexpensive jewelry, Sabika, they told us, filled that gap," Ms. Mayr-Gracik said.
The brand is known for its antique finishes, colorful crystals and rare, hand-soldered details. Ms. Mayr-Gracik, who grew up in Pittsburgh, took pre-college courses in painting and drawing at Carnegie Mellon University and completed a three-year program in design at the Fashion Institute of Vienna.
She collaborates with Swarovski to create colors and cuts exclusively for Sabika jewelry. Some pieces are all crystal, such as the Manhattan chokers in hues such as classic crystal and black diamond. Others combine them with resin stones or crystals that have been turned around to expose their matte surface. Collections include necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings that start in the $20 range.
"Everything has to go with khaki, white, black and jeans" is one of Sabika's philosophies, Ms. Mayr-Gracik said.
Her designs keep in mind the social businesswoman, who might wear Sabika accessories to complement her pearls, diamonds or other gemstone jewelry, as well as the mom who pairs the pieces with denim and a tee while running errands with the kids. Jewelry can be mixed and layered with other Sabika selections or accessories women already own.
"With this you can tell a story about who you are," Ms. Mayr said.
She researches industry trends to learn what colors, prints and silhouettes are predicted to be popular in the coming seasons. Ms. Mayr-Gracik adapts these fashion forecasts her mom compiles to the jewelry, which strive to be on trend, without being trendy.
"They become heirloom pieces for many," Ms. Mayr-Gracik said. "That's a legacy I want to continue."
Pittsburgh has served Sabika well as a market for testing the response to new looks.
"It's a conservative market," Ms. Mayr said, "but it's also very loyal."
What started out as a way for Ms. Mayr to help support her own family has turned into a platform for helping other women do the same. She gathers with consultants across the country at events, and they also work together to raise money for charities related to women and family issues, such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
"It's changing the lives of those women who come in as consultants," she said. "That is really my mission as long as I'm here."
To find a consultant or to learn how to become one, visit www.sabika-jewelry.com or "Sabika Jewelry" on Facebook.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published August 13, 2013 4:00 AM