Homemade Millionaire [Interview with Kendra Scott]

How the jewelry designer melded family, fashion and philanthropy into an empire of bling

Kendra Scott turned out the lights.

For the last time, she flipped over the sign in the window of her failed retail hat store that read, “Sorry, We’re Closed.” Then she shut the door and locked it.

It was 1998. She had lost her life’s savings—and those of her stepfather, whose battle with cancer had inspired her to start the Austin, Texas, business.

As if on cue, it started raining. “I just sat there and cried like a baby on the steps,” Scott says, “feeling like I was the biggest failure on the planet. I had let everybody down.”

Then something amazing happened. “I heard steps behind me,” and when she looked up, the sign was flipped over and read, “Yes, We’re Open.”

“It was a literal sign.” She laughs. “It was a sign! I looked and I just started laughing because I’m like, Is this some kind of joke? But all of a sudden, it was almost like God talking to me: ‘You have to be open.’ ”

Looking back, Scott—42 in late March—believes that amazing moment happened for a reason.

“If you look at the struggles in your life, they have all happened because there’s something amazing waiting for you. There is an open window. This moment is going to make you stronger in the future.”

Soon, Scott picked herself up and moved forward.

“OK, I had to wallow for a minute,” she admits. But then Scott regained her determination. Over the next few years, she held onto the idea that her failure was a moment of impact that would alter her life for the better.

“And it did. That store was the greatest gift that ever happened to me. I’ve been able to run a business so much differently and so much smarter because I had that tough experience. It was an MBA in the school of hard knocks. It’s an incredible university.”

Fail First

In 2002 Scott founded Kendra Scott Designs in her spare bedroom. Today it’s a multimillion-dollar company with 39 retail locations, nearly 1,000 employees and $150 million in annual revenue—that’s up from $1.7 million in 2010. Scott has plans for international expansion, new accessory lines and additional retail locations set to open soon. Her leadership has been recognized by some of the biggest names in business, earning her the 2014 regional Entrepreneur of the Year for Central Texas by Ernst & Young and membership on the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Keep reading at SUCCESS.com.

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