Pickering, ON–In just three years, young Canadian jewelry designer Nancy D’Onofrio created Cocoa Jewelry, a brand focused on recreating vintage pieces for today’s modern fashions. Her rise was fast because she was able to recognize and seize opportunities.
Despite her fashion merchandising education and retail experience, D’Onofrio still knew it would take more to build a brand, especially outside Canada. When the opportunity came to audition to be on Canadian television show “The Dragon’s Den” (the U.S. equivalent of “Shark Tank”), D’Onofio and her husband went for it.
They made it on the show, pitched their business idea to a panel of venture capitalists and made a deal…for $150,000. “I believe our investor chose us because he was pleased to see entrepreneurs behind the brand,” says D’Onofrio. “He seemed impressed with how we already had relationships with retailers. We were driven in our sales strategy and in explaining our product and company.”
From that moment on, the business has expanded rapidly and developed recognition with the Canadian consumer. The jewelry began to be featured in numerous Canadian consumer fashion magazines, including Elle, Flare and Fashion.
The exposure in the Canadian media and fashion magazines made a Montreal fashion designer, Reyhan Sofraci, reach out to Cocoa Jewelry to accessorize models in her Miami runway show. Cocoa Jewelry made its first appearance in the United States this year in Mercedes Benz Miami Fashion Week in the Aqua Di Lara show. Sofraci chose structural pieces, like wide gold cuffs that complemented the swimsuits.
“It was an honor to have a designer reach out to us and request our jewelry,” says D’Onofrio. “It shows that our brand presence is really getting our there and it was refreshing to hear her compliments.”
Inspiration is Everything
When designing jewelry, D’Onofrio likes to use the past as inspiration to make a contemporary design. She shops antique sales and flea markets in Canada, as well as in the U.S. and gets her design inspiration from vintage jewelry she collects. She goes into each piece with an open mind. “Once I find a piece I like, the design process snowballs from there,” says D’Onofrio. “It depends on my mood–sometimes it’s a color that I like and I will find a vintage piece in that color and design a piece around that.”
D’Onofrio is also inspired by styles from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, always thinking of how she can modernize her designs. Often she will find vintage jewelry from these eras, then make a statement with the juxtaposition of industrial metals with glitzy crystal. Depending on the style, the jewelry is made of brass and high-end crystals, or genuine gold-plated metals.
“Women in the ’50s were so glamorous it didn’t matter if they were stay-at-home moms. You never saw a woman disheveled. She always had on the perfect jewelry and outfit,” she said. D’Onofrio believes that women today should be like that, and she makes sure to wear glamorous jewelry herself during the day. “It doesn’t always just have to be for an evening occasion,” she adds.
Each season, she stays current with what’s on the runway and keeps an eye out for trends. “I like to bring a trend I see in apparel to life in my jewelry.” For example, noting the trendy peplum silhouette on the runways, she designed a necklace that resembled a ruffle peplum.
Due to retail demand, Cocoa developed a three-tiered pricing strategy. Mocha is the lowest priced brand, maxing out at $34.99 at retail; Cocoa is the middle, ranging from $20 to $90; Rocktina is the highest at $60 to $500.
Cocoa Jewelry retails in Canada at Target, better specialty stores, the Shopping Channel and in the Shopper’s Drug Mart Beauty Boutique chain, which has more than 1,500 stores throughout Canada. In addition, D’Onofrio works with larger retailers, designing private label for them.
This September, Cocoa Jewelry exhibited at its first trade show, AccessoriesTheShow. D’Onofrio used the opportunity to network, and to grow sales in the United States through partnerships with large retailers and specialty stores.
“I am excited to be breaking into the U.S. market. Although there is a lot of competition, I plan to stay focused on my design aesthetic and build my distribution through partnerships with retailers,” D’Onofrio said.
Cocoa Jewelry hopes to not only have its 15 minutes of TV fame, but many decades of business success.
Contact: Nancy D’Onofrio