Who is Annie Basulto? She’s the one woman powerhouse behind the trendy jewelry line Cubannie Links. Managing it all from design to PR, the NYC based Miami native has landed her pieces on most of Hollywood’s beloved fashionistas from Gabrielle Union to Rihanna to Tyra Banks. Clutch caught up with Annie to see what’s next for Cubannie Links and to score some valuable insight for you aspiring jewelry designers.
Q: When did you realize that there was a market for Cubannie Links?
Back in ’06 when I was pretty tired of my job to be honest! I was working at Rocawear but didn’t feel like I was doing anything important. I always had a great sense of accessories and just let my passion lead me to my niche.
Q: We hear you worked for a fashion company prior to starting Cubannie Links. What compelled you to get into jewelry design first as opposed to fashion design?
Before ever working in the fashion industry I was a full time cocktail waitress at clubs. I was in the acting game in the daytime. Acting was my number one for a long time but definitely wasn’t paying the bills with that. I used to love making “stuff”, anything. Hand-sewed bags, tops…just super creative. Then I got into the fashion game and realized that to be a “designer” in certain markets (let’s say, wink) means your creative input is not utilized and basically you’re just filling the blanks that exec’s are requesting for the line. I thought designing sucked. I was never interested from that point on. So owning my own collection was ideal. I think I talk about this way too much but this is the truth. I could not envision raising a family and keeping a marriage, working for someone else 50 hours a week and maintaining a fulfilling life. Now I’m not married or have children, I just could imagine what it would feel like, it was a nightmare. I was already pretty miserable coming home at 8pm, going to sleep, my whole concept of a personal life was hard to imagine. So all these little things kept adding up and I slowing realized what would be an ideal situation. NOT WORKING FOR AN EMPLOYER.
Q: Was this you’re first try at designing jewelry?
This was my first go. Since July ’07 it’s been Cubannie Links, Cubannie Links. But as long as I remember I was always making something, I picked that up from my mom. It’s just that I never actually made jewelry.
Q: What are some of the noticeable improvements you see in your craftsmanship since you’ve started until now?
Although I am a lower price point collection I am keen to the cons of basic metals, so I try to implement other finer metals to play with the longevity. I have definitely upgraded a lot of materials to give that fashion jewelry price range an extra spark.
Q: What types of influences play a role in developing your collections?
Fortunately and unfortunately I try not to follow obvious trends. I try not to scout competitor’s collections. I try to create what looks appealing to me, and somehow it works in my favor. I’m not a big trends seeker for upcoming seasons: color palettes all that high fashion jargon. If you like the damn thing you’re going to wear it! Some influences that do play a roll is the urban street culture and lifestyle. I’m a lifestyle, not a trend. On the other hand, I have used my jewelry collection as an outlet to stay in touch with my culture. Cuba has mad flavor. My mission is to find those classic pieces, colors, textures and translate it into my collection, somehow blending two cultures.
Q: We know you’re doing well because your pieces are always selling out! But, as a one woman show how difficult is it for you to keep the production line going and still handle the other important demands of a growing business?
Production definitely increased in the past six months and it’s very exciting. The main reason I wanted my own business was because if I was going to work overtime, or 12-hour workdays, the pay off would be greater and more satisfying to my soul. It doesn’t bother me to work weekends and until 3am. I love jewelry, I love the excitement and the rush people get from it or when stores receive their merchandise and just go bananas, ahhh what a feeling. I couldn’t get that feeling at any other company but my own.
In due time all of those more business issues will fall in place and become easier. I am a first time owner so there are a million things I still need to learn. But I dive in head first and will eventually “Get it.” All I want to do is make jewelry. But I make jewelry and I do sales, and I ship and I’m customer service and I’m PR, you get it!
Q: From hipster to Hollywood, Cubannie Links has a very diverse following. What design elements have you discovered works for both types of customers?
Yeah, that is something that amazes me too! As I am sure you gathered I didn’t graduate from a Parsons or FIT. I just am doing what I love. Jewelry is like candy to me, an obvious metaphor, but I think if it’s yummy to me, I know other people are going to love it! It is amazing how my collection transcends through so many different types of women. The amazing thing I have realized is women love big jewelry (that’s not the epiphany), but women can’t wear big jewelry every day, as I am sure they wish they could. Cubannie Links offers large, yet light – weight pieces that are kind to earlobes that managed to survive the “door-knocker” era, which I love by the way. CL provides a balanced marriage between high fashion street and sophisticated.
Q: When did your celebrity customers start pouring in? Were you surprised by the response your pieces were getting?
Rihanna was my very first celeb in May 2007. Read the blog post about the event leading to that pivotal moment. This whole celebrity thing really took off from there because I knew it would come to that one day, just not that early in my green years. So as my goals were being accomplished I set new goals, harder to reach goals, and realized anything is possible so reach for the stars…in both sense of the word. I can’t take all of the credit either, stylist play a major role in making Cubannie Links such a success, especially my boyfriend who styles for a huge Hip-Hop Magazine, he gave me my first break in the industry. If a stylist isn’t feeling your stuff, then chances are they aren’t going to use it. Luckily my collection holds its own in a world of fabulous jewelry. This means CL has something special and the price ticket doesn’t need to have five zeros to look appealing to celebs or people with paper. It’s an amazing surprise to know celebs who can afford finer pieces choose CL.
Q: 2007 was a major success year for Cubannie Links. What exciting accomplishments have you had so far in 2008?
2008 has been treating me well. The most exciting has been being apart of karmaloop.com online boutique. They are a lifestyle boutique and an amazing thing to be apart of. They have such a big name in the trendy street wear and have the fresh of the fresh. They welcomed my independent collection with open arms!
Q: Looking ahead what are some other creative areas do you see yourself delving into in the future?
I definitely want to start a finer jewelry collection using real gold and white golds. It will be a higher price point collection, designing one of a kind pieces. Similar flare that Cubannie Links already offers just on a higher scale. On another creative note, I want to continue to pursue my acting career once Cubannie Links is settled down and grows a bit more.
Q: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to an aspiring jewelry designer trying to break onto the scene?
The main thing that has helped me is positive people around you that want to see you succeed, a vision and focus. You don’t have to know everything to get started; it will come if you’re determined to make it happen. Don’t be afraid of failing. My future husband told me wise words this New years day (1/1/08), he said, “If the old way isn’t working, you have to find a new way.” I was pretty overwhelmed and lost a little bit of encouragement. Oddly enough, soon after, he got the infamous Rev Run email that somehow makes its way around and it was pretty enlightening:
“Good morning, The road to success is not straight. There is a curve called Failure, a loop called Confusion, speed bumps called Friends, red lights called Enemies, caution lights called Family. You will have flats called Jobs. But, if you have a spare called Determination, an engine called Perseverance, insurance called Faith, a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success. “
For more information about Cubannie Links please visit www.cubannielinks.com