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This article was published 5/10/2019 (474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Diamonds aren’t Rachel Mielke’s best friend. That title is reserved for her supportive girlfriends.
The founder of Regina-based Hillberg & Berk has found success in the global jewelry industry, thanks to constant encouragement from the women she surrounds herself with.
She made her first handmade-jewelry sales to girlfriends in high school and later launched a business after a friend convinced her to set up a booth outside a conference in Saskatchewan’s capital. She even came up with her company’s name — a tribute to her grandmother, Hilda Bergman, and dog Berkeley — over a glass of wine with a friend.
She has built an "everyday-maximalist" brand of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and pins that aims to empower customers and the women in the communities they live in through fundraisers and donations.
"We’ve supported women’s organizations and women have supported us in return, and I think that’s been part of the secret," Mielke said, days before today’s grand opening of Hillberg & Berk’s shop in Winnipeg.
Mielke’s designs are mostly made of sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones in pink, blue and purple hues. Among them are sparkly crystal-ball earrings, gem-studded geometric rings and necklaces strung with eclectic beads. The price tags range from earrings for $40 to necklaces upward of $250.
This week, the brand’s first bricks-and-mortar store in Winnipeg — its seventh location in the Prairies — opened at CF Polo Park. An eighth location is slated to open in Coquitlam, B.C., next week.
Opening a store in Winnipeg was a natural progression, since "it’s our next-door neighbour," Mielke said, adding that customers from Winnipeg have always shown interest in the company’s online store.
In 2005, Mielke first launched Urban Pearl Accessories. Two years later, she rebranded to Hillberg & Berk, in part to sound "larger" and "more serious."
"I had some challenges with international vendors taking a young woman seriously," she said.
"I didn’t realize when I started our company — our industry is dominated by men globally."
Years later, she struck a deal on Dragons’ Den and her company has since achieved multimillion-dollar status.
Mielke’s creations have appeared on the Oscars red carpet and she has been commissioned to design jewelry for the Queen. She now focuses on working with companies that actively hire and support women.
Canadian women including figure skater Tessa Virtue, cancer survivor Brianne Urzada and Ashley Callingbull, the first Indigenous woman to win the Mrs. Universe title, have become faces for the brand.
Mielke said she has always wanted her company to stand out by using female "role models" with inspiring backgrounds she could promote in lookbooks and on social media, rather than traditional models.
"I truly believe that if we support women to empower themselves, they will fall in love with our brand," she said.
Until early November, 10 per cent of the company’s sales in Winnipeg will go toward the Women’s Hospital at Health Sciences Centre (HSC).
Donations will support women’s health, but it’s unclear exactly how because the hospital is not expected to open until December, said Monique Levesque-Pharoah, director of sponsorship at the HSC Foundation. The company is also donating dozens of sparkly earrings to be auctioned off at Savour, HSC’s upcoming food and wine fundraising event.
Hillberg & Berk has also partnered with local organizations including Cancer Care Manitoba, Inclusion Winnipeg and the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, which received a $5,000 donation for feminine-hygiene products from the company’s International Women’s Day pin sales.
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Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.