by Cynthia Gale
My husband Glenn and I never considered a “business partnership”—it simply grew organically. Our partnership sprouted a few years after we married. Glenn provided the seed money to get me started in the sterling silver jewelry import business. With the right amount of water and light, the company slowly grew right alongside our family. Partnerships must survive many professional and personal storms, and ours definitely has. Over the years, with constant care, our partnership has bloomed into the most exquisite garden imaginable—a close-knit family, both at work and at home.
Glenn and I met in 1982 as I was completing my junior year of college at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Glenn had graduated FIT four years prior in Advertising and Design but returned to utilize the weight room each week. With a 96 percent female student demographic, he figured he had a decent shot at meeting a girl! A native, creative New Yorker, Glenn introduced me to the underground art, performance, and music scene. We had a common passion for the city and its artistic energy and spirit—a shared interest which has provided a welcome means for relaxation outside of the workplace throughout the years.
During our first few years of marriage, we worked hard and played hard. Following three years in the advertising, promotion, and display fields, Glenn chose to go out on his own and took over his father’s clothing factory in New York’s garment center. He spent the next 12 years as president of Design Apparel by Gale, producing clothing for Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Searle, and Anne Klein, among others. I worked in sales and marketing for a designer clothing firm on 7th Avenue for three years. Eventually I decided that working in an office and working for someone else was not for me. Glenn and I married in 1987, I quit New York’s garment center, and moved to Milan to pursue a career in modeling. The next few years were spent traveling and working the European markets. Glenn and I loved the travel that this career offered us and spent much of our time enjoying the various cultures of Europe.
Our seedling partnership initially sprouted in 1991. Through a family connection, I was offered the opportunity to visit Bali, Indonesia, to learn the basics of the sterling silver jewelry import/export business. One of my modeling jobs had taken me from Paris to Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1989, and I was anxious to see more of the Far East. I left the states with $10,000 in seed money, which Glenn provided, and founded GeoArt. The next few years saw tremendous growth in the jewelry business and a decrease in both the modeling and garment production businesses. Initially the jewelry was shipped out of our home office but eventually it outgrew the space and we began shipping out of Design Apparel by Gale. In 1994, with the rapid growth of imports and the decline of domestic production, Glenn made the decision to close the garment factory. Shortly after, we partnered full time and opened a small office near our home on New York’s Upper West Side.
GeoArt Accessories grew thanks to our love of all things design-related and artistic, through careful financial planning, the establishment of a steady distribution network, and a fair share of elbow grease. In the late ’90s, I began overseeing the design of all of our products and the company was renamed GeoArt by Cynthia Gale. In 1998, we diversified and opened an upscale division called Cynthia Gale Signature, which featured a specialized metalwork technique called “repousse.” The Signature Collection licenses with over 15 museums and cultural institutions to create art-inspired jewelry collections. 2000 saw the grand opening of our Midtown Manhattan showroom/gallery, where we still reside today.
Our partnership has definitely grown and flourished, both professionally and personally. I can look back and attribute our partnership success to several key factors. First and foremost, humor. Glenn and I always work to remind each other that at the end of the day, it’s just jewelry. When tempers flare at the office, Glenn is notorious for cracking some type of off-color joke that will send our entire staff into hysterics. Another key factor is our division of responsibility. Glenn primarily covers the production, financials, and shipping for the company while I’m focused on design, sales, and marketing. Our physical work spaces are divided as well, with Glenn in the back shipping area and me in the design studio and showroom. Additionally, we take advantage of the flexibility that our partnership affords us; Glenn arrives at the office at 7 a.m. and leaves earlier, while I get the kids out the door to school and arrive later at 8:30 a.m. Glenn takes on dinner preparation in the evening. This division of labor also helps to ensure that we are not together 24/7. I also work out of my home office one day each week, which allows me to handle some of the key household chores without breaking into family time on the weekends.
In addition to the more traditional reasons why any partnership succeeds or fails, Glenn and I both agree on the importance of thinking outside of the box. For instance, our hiring process is not based primarily on work experience, but rather on our gut-level reaction to a prospective employee’s personality. We also agree on including unique questions in the interview process, such as, “What did your parents do for a living?” We have learned from our experience as parents of two children that a lot can be told about a person’s work ethic by their life background rather than school accomplishments or work history. In a small business such as ours with only four full-time and two part-time employees, a cohesive staff with similar life views is critical to ensure a pleasant, productive work environment. We both agree that treating each other and our staff with respect and kindness is just as important as earning profits.
Glenn and I also agree that our children should be involved in our business lives. When our showroom/gallery was renovated, we created a room where the kids could come on days off from school. Our daughter has traveled to and worked a trade show with me and both children travel to the Far East with us for our annual production trips. Glenn and I firmly believe that an open worldview can only be truly achieved through exposure and travel. Finally, while our company has afforded us a comfortable, flexible lifestyle, Glenn and I both recognize the importance of giving back. We have held several fund-raisers to help Indonesians affected by natural disasters, donate regularly to support our nation’s museums and cultural institutions, and recently held a Go Green benefit, which raised money and awareness in support of the Council for the Environment of New York City. We are both committed to making a difference, and this common life perspective plays an important role in the continued success of the GeoArt family as well as in our lives together as husband and wife.
Cynthia Gale is a member of the New York City Incubator and principal/designer of GeoArt by Cynthia Gale.