Business Profile: Ian Kennedy of Ruby + George

by Julia Cardi

In anticipation of the pop-up store launch event this Thursday the 15th, we chat with Ian Kennedy of Ruby + George, purveyor of Native American jewelry and homewares. Since the inception of Ruby + George, Ian has kept both hands in the brand, researching and traveling extensively to handpick the collection, ensuring that each piece will speak to the new owner as much as it speaks to him. Take a look at Ian’s thoughts on Pinterest vs. Instagram and pairing Native American styles with the likes of Chanel, as well as a few of his favorite stories from the road.

Tell me about the event you have coming up at Goldyn.

It’s the launch of the pop-up [shop] I’m going to be doing at Goldyn for about a month. I’m installing the window on Monday and then we’re having the reception on Thursday.

How did you end up selling at Goldyn?

Basically, my friend Gretchen was trying to get her line into the store, so I knew [Vanessa and Courtney] through her. I ended up cultivating a business relationship with them separately. Not many people have had the experience of being a small business owner, so it’s great to relate to Vanessa on that level.

Zuni-carved owl totem

Zuni-carved owl totem

What about the Native American aesthetic speaks to you and made you want to do it for a business?

I was raised in my grandparents’ Native American and antique shop, so that’s where I really learned that side of the business. They had a mix of Navajo rugs and silver & turquoise jewelry and pottery. And then they also carried Americana. So I learned from early age to mix the two. 

I like how it mixes with modern lines and contemporary designs; it really gives an earthy and warm feel to sometimes colder designs, so it can help balance out a more contemporary look, is how I see it. I like to mix it with more contemporary looks to give it a new feel, instead of just doing, say, an “Aspen lodge” theme. I like to sprinkle the Native American pieces with higher-end pieces.

Ian's living room showing touches of Southwestern decorating, including cowhide rug & Native American powwow photographs

Ian’s living room showing touches of Southwestern decorating, including cowhide rug & personal Native American powwow photographs

So for my window [at Goldyn], I’m planning on doing a “Chanel-meets-the-Southwest”-type theme, kind of like what Karl Lagerfeld did in his collection recently. I have a Chanel table I’m going to be using, as well as some vintage pieces from Givenchy and Chanel and some others. I have a Louis Vuitton suitcase I want to use.

So do your grandparents have Native American heritage, or is it just something that spoke to them as well?

No, they don’t. My grandfather started in the ‘40s trading with Native Americans. I guess he had a neighborhood friend who took a trip down to New Mexico and [my grandfather] joined him, and just fell in love with northern New Mexico; he’s been buying and selling in that genre ever since. My grandmother never really knew much about it [before they met] but fell in love with it as she came into contact with it more.

From your love of mixing different aesthetics and high with low, describe the ideal woman who wears your jewelry.

Silver & turquoise bracelet

Silver & turquoise bracelet

Just someone who’s stylish and knows her own personality; I think as long as you’re confident and know your own aesthetic it’s pretty easy to mix these pieces in. Often someone with more of a boho vibe or an eclectic look. But things like turquoise and silver typically go with anything.

Where do you source the jewelry and home pieces from? That, and the vintage designer pieces for the window display?

A lot of the designer pieces I have to actually source out of state; Colorado never really had a lot of access to those pieces because we didn’t have the retail structures. The women traveled a lot and bought out-of-state, and a lot of it didn’t come back here. I do find some of those pieces occasionally at estate sales around Denver, but often I have to go to national auctions and online. An auction house in Chicago I work with called Leslie Hindman has had a lot of nice couture sales recently, so a lot of the pieces I just acquired came from there.

It can be challenging a lot of the time, because these pieces are so highly desired and it’s difficult to get them for resale prices. So I really have to hunt and put a lot of bids out there, and hope that one or two of them are high enough to win the piece.

Are the Native American finds much the same sort of thing – going to shows and auctions?

It’s a lot easier to get locally. There’s more of it here in Denver, so I can find Native American pieces much more easily at estate sales and auctions. However, I still often have to look elsewhere too, [like] national auctions. I’ve looked in other places where [the style] wasn’t as popular maybe, and people aren’t as aware of the value.

In all the searching you’ve done, have you found any pieces that had a really cool story behind them?

Alice Quam bracelet; turquoise & 14k gold over silver

Alice Quam bracelet; turquoise & 14k gold over silver

I bought a bracelet from a guy that had contacted me because of a blog I had done. I had blogged a while back about some of my grandfather’s personal collection by a famous maker, a husband-and-wife team called Robert & Bernice Leekya. Basically, Bernice’s sister is named Alice Quam, and she makes similar jewelry, and so I was contacted about that 14-karat gold-over-silver and turquoise cuff you might’ve seen me wear sometimes. I bought that through the Internet [when] I was approached about it.

The original owner bought it for his wife, and she never ended up wearing it because she passed away very soon after he bought it for her. The original price tag was still on it by the time I bought it, which was about thirty years after it was sold to them. So it’s interesting how sometimes things don’t even get to be worn the way they were intended; they just get stored away in a drawer, for decades in some cases. It could be a really beautiful piece that should be out there seeing the light of day.

On the business side of things, I know you’re very active on social media. I feel like there’s a challenge for business owners because people can re-pin and re-gram things you put up, and feel like they’re a part of the brand without actually buying anything. In your experiences of social media being such a big part of running the business, how to you go from getting people to pay attention to Ruby + George as a brand to actually buying your pieces?

With Pinterest, the research I’ve done is that it has the best conversion rate in terms of people seeing something and following through to actually buy it – better than what Facebook or Twitter generate. Of course a lot of people are just using [Pinterest] for aspirational and inspirational purposes, but a the same time, the more someone pins a product I put on Pinterest and the more it gets re-pinned – it can basically go viral – the better you chance you have of selling it. Eventually the right person will see it, who can both afford it and wants to purchase it.

I see Instagram less so as a place for conversion. It’s more just a place to showcase your brand and get the awareness out there. Perhaps the person who is drawn in by that will go to the link in your profile and purchase something, but a lot of times [Instagram] is just for the look. Whereas Pinterest is a lot more viable for getting goods sold and having them show up in web searches and that kind of thing – the more times they appear out there, the more Google seems to like them, and you’re likely to rise to the top instead of being buried.

On your travels to curate the collection, have you had any standout experiences that made for a great story?

Yeah, it’s amazing where you can find something, just because of context – what a seller will sell you. I was on a trip to Taos for my birthday, and I stopped at this junk shop on the way, in a small town just off the highway. I bought about $300 worth of items; they had a bunch of great little pieces that I liked. And then as I was leaving, I saw a piece of white marble on the ground. I looked up, and it was attached [as the base] to a 1960s arc lamp. The shop owners were using it to light their glass display, which was a bunch of dusty glass cases up on a high shelf.

They [obviously] just thought of this lamp as just a display piece that only had value to light their glass. So I asked them if it was for sale, and they said, “Oh no, we need it to light our glass display.” So I said, “Well, would $200 knock it loose?” They apparently thought that was an impressive price, and they were more than happy to sell it to me for $200 – a retail price is probably closer to $1,000 for a lamp like that.

Ian's dining room with arc lamp displayed

Ian’s dining room with arc lamp displayed

What gives a lamp like that its value?

Mostly that it’s actually old; lamps like that have been reproduced extensively since the 1960s, and this one had its original old ‘60s gold cord, and there were just some [other] details that made it obvious it was an older piece, rather than a newer reproduction. Because [the shop owners] were outside of a metropolitan area, they weren’t really aware of its value in the current market; that midcentury pieces, especially iconic lighting like that has really gained in value and interest. Currently I’m selling my condo in Denver, and I’m using that lamp to stage the dining room. It just looks amazing – white marble base, and the beautiful arc over a chrome dining table; it looks like a million bucks. So I was more than pleased to get it for $200.

Click here to shop Goldyn’s collection of Ruby + George, and we’ll see you at Thursday’s pop-up launch!

2 comments

  1. Hello , I currently have a lamp very similar to that 1 it extends out 12 feet. I know this to be mid-century I cannot find another like it anywhere. Where can I get this appraised?

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