APEX — Tucked between two storefronts, the door with a striped awning is easy to miss. A large “M & L” is stenciled in the glass, but otherwise there’s nothing to tell passersby that a growing jewelry empire operates upstairs.
Moon and Lola – best known for its monogrammed necklaces, rings and earrings – sells more than 250,000 pieces of jewelry a year across 48 states and nine other countries. And its headquarters are in Apex.
Owner and designer Kelly Shatat’s pieces have been featured in magazines such as Lucky, InStyle, People and Oprah.
Most of the company’s products are sold online and at Nordstrom and boutiques across the country. But as the brand gained popularity, Shatat decided to open her own retail stores.
The first opened in Raleigh in 2012, followed by a store in Charleston, S.C. The Apex store opened in April.
The fourth location, in Nantucket, Mass., is set to open later this month.
The business took off in 2011, when Shatat started working on it full time. In a stroke of good luck, she found a 6,000-square-foot space for a production studio in Apex’s historic downtown.
Moon and Lola is a Cinderella story. Shatat, who was raised by a single mother and now lives in Morrisville, turned her part-time hobby into a multi-million-dollar business in 11 years.
She is still in awe that a project that began as way to help a friend has turned into such a profitable venture.
More than a decade ago, Shatat was working as a pharmaceutical sales representative and later as a pharmacist, channeling her creative energy into home craft projects.
A friend who worked as an interior decorator needed some help with a vendors’ fair. Shatat contributed some pearl and ribbon necklaces and other pieces. They were a hit.
“One store bought all the jewelry I had left,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going home and making more of this stuff.’ ”
She founded Moon and Lola in 2003, named in honor of the nicknames she and her best friend used in college.
“I wanted to remain lighthearted in business,” Shatat said. “There was nothing more lighthearted than how we felt at that time. The name is such a part of what this is. It’s a story of friendship.”
Without much marketing, word spread about the jewelry.
“I remember I got a call from one store in South Carolina where the owner said, ‘I don’t know what this pearl with ribbon thing is, but can you sell me 20?’ ” Shatat recalled.
When that box sold, she sent another.
Moon and Lola has had its share of growing pains. For starters, Shatat struggled with the decision to give up her job that provided a steady paycheck.
She was pulling double duty, dispensing medication by day and working late into the night stringing jewelry while sitting on her couch at home. She knew she couldn’t keep up that pace, so she recruited friends, moved her workshop to her dining room and slowly cut back her shifts to a few days a week.
Around Christmas 2010, Shatat thought she got a big break. An order came in for about $32,000 worth of merchandise.
Shatat and her family worked through the holiday to meet the deadline. But the company that placed the order had gone bankrupt, and Shatat was stuck.
Thanks to some savings and her part-time job, she was able to keep her fledgling business afloat.
That setback was a turning point for her. She decided she didn’t want to be that vulnerable again.
“As a small business, I wasn’t protected,” Shatat said. “I always felt that Moon and Lola was bigger than me. I felt it had its own heartbeat and legs. I made up my mind then and there that I was going to put both feet in.”
She went to an Atlanta jewelry trade show in 2011, made some contacts, and before she knew it her business had taken off again. Within months she was featured in Lucky Magazine.
“It was like the Oprah effect without the Oprah,” Shatat said.
Her true sense of arrival came in the past year when she got calls from national retailers Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Her pieces were featured in Nordstrom’s anniversary sale catalog that went out to about 2 million people.
Shatat donates some of her jewelry to local auctions that benefit charities. Moon and Lola’s Raleigh and Charleston stores sell beaded necklaces made by the Akola Project. The group trains women in Uganda, and 100 percent of the proceeds go back to their villages.
Empowering women is important for Shatat, who said she comes from a line of strong independent women. It was her family who inspired her work ethic. Failure isn’t in her vocabulary.
Shatat’s assistant, Tara Ciliento, has seen her boss in action.
“She has that drive and determination,” Ciliento said. “(Kelly’s) very competitive, she’s going to see it through and succeed.”
For Shatat, Moon and Lola is a calling.
“I found what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “Jewelry. It’s something so simple. There’s so much heartache in the world. If it can make people so happy even for one moment, then why not?”
Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews