Have you ever made a heart?
Grab a paper clip (preferably red for the effect), make a simple bend upwards and you’ll get a heart shape. That easy.
Now give it to someone and brighten their day with that simple gesture!
This is what Ascensión Aparicio, founder and designer of ALMALEON, used to do as a kid and continues doing today.
Her brand has a powerful meaning, it is the combination of two Spanish words: ALMA (soul) and LEON (lion). Both words together represent the beauty and kindness of the soul and the strength and fierceness of the lion.
I had the pleasure of meeting with her in Murcia for this interview and I think that the meaning of the brand represents very well her own personality: a beautiful and kind woman that is also strong and determined. Her second last name is also León, so it is not only in her blood, but also in her identity.
With a degree in Business Management and many years of national and international experience in the corporate world, Ascen had a comfortable permanent position in a Spanish multinational company. But one day she decided to quit and take some time off for herself. She packed her backpack and went off to start the Camino de Santiago, where she had a ton of time to think about her life. About what she really wanted from life and what should her next step be.
The decision was not easy, but she wanted to follow her heart. Her paper clip heart.
Here is her story.
ON HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Ascen grew up in between seams. Her wardrobe is full of dresses made by her mum, her aunt and herself! Making pattern designs and sewing beautiful garments with the women of her family gave her that eye for details and the determination to create something of her own.
“All of the event dresses that I own are made by us. Whenever I had a big event like a wedding, I used to go to the shops to look for something to wear. The pieces I liked were totally out of my budget so I decided to make them myself. When I decided to launch ALMALEON I had full support of my family and that was so important for me.”
One day, after returning from Santiago, she found one of those paper clips in her pocket. She took it out and just like hundreds of other times before, she bent it and made a heart shape. But this time something was different.
” I started to play around with it and thinking just how much I LOVE it! I love that specific shape and I love what it means to me. I had to capture it somehow.”
She first thought of printing the heart on t-shirts. “Then I placed it on my hand and it was suddenly clear what I was going to do with it.”
Her idea was to create jewelry that is subtle but of fine quality. “A paper clip is a very common object, everyone can have one. I wanted to make something simple and easy to wear on a daily basis”
ON LAUNCHING A JEWELRY BUSINESS
She soon began to do her research on the process of designing jewelry and on the art of metalsmithing with gold and silver.
To turn her idea into reality, she started with pen and paper. After making hundreds of sketches, she met with a small metalsmith workshop to see how they could turn her sketches into reality. From paper to a computer design program, to a wax mould and then to the final piece. “It takes a lot of trial and error, tweaking and perfecting. And to get the final piece right maybe two or three months in total.”
But starting a business is not only about making the product. It’s about the management, legal documents, finances, product photography, marketing, PR and all the aspects involved in the sale of a product. It can be overwhelming and she decided to invest her free time doing different courses and learning a bit of everything.
“When you are an entrepreneur, you are the director of your own orchestra, you have to do it all on your own. I spent about 8 months doing courses to educate myself. Whenever I saw a course that could help me learn a new skill relevant for my business I would sign up. You can always learn something new. Always. “
The first piece was a ring, but she didn’t start selling it right away. The ring was followed by equally beautiful bracelets, necklaces and earrings with different designs and colours. Once the full collection was finished, she was ready to launch her dream: ALMALEON.es was live on 15th October 2016.
ON REACHING OUT TO CLIENTS
She launched her online shop, where customers can easily make a purchase with a couple of clicks. But sticking to online sales only usually doesn’t get the best results at first.
Specially when you are a new brand, people would prefer to actually see the product and touch it with their own hands before they feel confident to make the purchase. Once they know your product, it would be easier for them to buy it online.
For this reason Ascen didn’t stop at her online launch. She joined different entrepreneur programs to put her brand out there. Signed up to design markets and pop ups all around Spain to tell people about her heart and about what ALMALEON represents.
From researching and finding out what the best design markets to her products are, to stalking the organisers for the floor space, to setting up a beautiful stall that showcases her brand image and her pieces perfectly. She has done everything on her own and attention to detail is key.
“My biggest reward is to meet my clients and tell them about the brand and what’s behind the name. I absolutely love to see their reaction when I grab a paper clip and bend it to make the heart shape. It’s priceless. I’m so incredibly grateful for every purchase that each one of them has made.”
ON THE FUTURE OF ALMALEON
For Ascen it would be a dream to create more job opportunities. “I think we have a lot of talent in our country that is wasted and I’m always amazed by people that innovate, that create and that have great ideas. It would be incredible to be surrounded by great talent like that.”
What a great goal for your business. But I wanted to dig a little deeper on the future of the brand concept, so I asked again.
“My dream is making ALMALEON a lifestyle brand. In the future I might think of doing different lines of product besides jewelry. That would be amazing. In the handwritten cards that I put in all the orders I always start by saying ‘Welcome to the world of ALMALEON’ and that is exactly what I’m dreaming of for this brand, to create a whole world around the concept.”
TIPS FOR FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS
Ascen says that sometimes she wakes up questioning what she is she doing. Quite an understandable thought considering financial insecurities entrepreneurs have to face and all the ups and downs of the business.
“This was an actual dream for me. And it is now a dream come true. There are days where you don’t sell, or suppliers that fail you. But it is your dream, you want it and you push so hard for it, no matter how many downs there are. I fight for it every single day and the rewards fill my soul.”
“Being an entrepreneur is not about jumping into the pool with blind eyes. It is important to professionalize your business and really know what you are doing. I think it is very important to do a good research and then to educate yourself in whatever it is you want to do. For example I’m not a metalsmith, but thanks to the amazing people I work with, I’ve slowly learnt all the steps involved in the process. Quite often they let me use my own hands to perfect the pieces and I enjoy it so much. They are the real masters behind the brand.”
WHERE TO FIND ALMALEON