Thousands of miles away from home, Lauren Mashburn realized several years ago her eye for jewelry design could become more than just a hobby.
While living in an expatriate community near Beijing, China, Mashburn, 44, immersed herself in local markets, where she found numerous natural stones and materials to use in styling jewelry.
“I’m drawn toward natural stones and neutral colors,” said Mashburn, a self-proclaimed nature lover. “I think that’s one reason we liked Beijing so much.”
Mashburn, her husband, Mike, and sons Will, 11, and Grayson, 13, have lived in Hoover for nearly a decade. In 2012, Mike’s job moved the family to China for three years.
“It was scary,” Mashburn said, but admitted to a change of heart after they had spent some time in their new home. “I did not want to move to China. Then, I loved it so much and didn’t want to move back.”
Mashburn described the lifestyle as “different” in China, a place full of bustling markets replete with goods as diverse as the shoppers perusing them.
The “great resources” for jewelry Mashburn found in the Chinese markets drew such a positive response from people that she decided to explore a new business venture, and established LillyBella in fall 2015.
“I brought home 300 pieces of jewelry in little sacks, and I sold all but two pieces,” she said. “That’s the spark that said, ‘This is well-received.’ I just really kind of got into the wholesale retail side in the beginning of this year.”
The business’s name is a combination of Mashburn’s chosen name while living in China, Lilly, and another name she liked, Bella.
As a jewelry stylist, Mashburn mixes natural stones, distinctive pearls and precious metals to create original pieces of jewelry.
In addition to pearls, Mashburn’s favorite stones to work with include jasper and hematite. She said she loves sea glass, too, and often incorporates leather and suede in her pieces.
“I like to find the stone first and then figure out how best to showcase it in a piece,” she said. “I strive to have unique pieces that you’re not going to see. I don’t want to follow the trend to the T.”
Mashburn styles mostly bracelets and necklaces.
Mashburn recently returned to China for two weeks to pick out more materials and try new design ideas. After choosing the stones, she relays her ideas for each piece to the women who make the jewelry.
“It’s easier if I can see the stones and have them make my ideas while I’m there,” Mashburn said. “I will do a lot of designing for Christmas. I might have a holiday collection.”
To preview and shop the new fall collection, visit LillyBellaJewels.com.
LillyBella jewelry is available online and at Hoover Shipping and Trade Post, The Ditsy Daisy and other retailers in Birmingham, Huntsville, Madison, Tuscaloosa, Troy, Auburn, Trussville, Florence, Orange Beach and Rome, Ga. A full list of retailers can be found at LillyBellaJewels.com.
“I want to expand in Florida and Mississippi,” Mashburn said. “My first goal was 20 shops. I really like the retail side of it.”
Mashburn’s work with jewelry started well before her family’s stint in China. Her first job was at a jewelry store in Huntsville when she was 17 years old.
After years on a different career path, Mashburn made her way back to jewelry in an unexpected place. Now, LillyBella represents more than a business for her.
“A lot of it is just a way to express style and creativity,” Mashburn said. “I love the people aspect of it. I just enjoy being at an event and seeing someone with one of my pieces on. That’s just really neat.”