Boma Jewelry was founded by Boon and Chieko in 1981 in Seattle, Washington. As the company grew and became a trusted source for large retailers such as Nordstrom, American Eagle and Target, they dedicated their resources to build their own factory in the founders' native country of Thailand. Today, their daughter Suzanne Vetillart is the CEO and has taken the family company's sustainability commitments designs to the next level. We ask Suzanne about her brand's origins and vision for the future.
What inspired your parents to start Boma Jewelry?
My parents founded Boma in Seattle in 1981. My Dad studied engineering at the University of Washington and worked in Alaska as an engineer but was always drawn to handicrafts and the arts. Our family name, Chayavichitsilp means radiant artist in Thai. After trying to import a few different products like ceramics and leather goods, my Dad realized that Thailand was highly skilled in jewelry handicraft especially with silver. Originally at the beginning my parents bought jewelry from workshops but found it challenging to control the quality of the products because they were not connected to the artisans and silversmiths. In 1985 they decided to build their own production team in Bangkok, Thailand and employ their own silversmiths. Nearly 35 years later we continue to support our silversmiths and artisans directly which allows us to control our jewelry quality.
What are your childhood memories of your parents as entrepreneurs?
I remember playing hide and seek in our stock rooms with my three brothers on weekends and being really embarrassed by any attention our family received from having our own business. As a first generation immigrant I remember wanting to be like everyone else. It didn’t really occur to me until after I graduated college about how amazing their achievements were and what they accomplished. Today leading Boma I am extremely proud to continue our company heritage and I also see in my own kids how embarrassed they are by any attention they receive.
When did you decide to take the business over?
My background is in architecture and design and I worked with my Dad, Boma’s founder for
eight years on architectural projects in Thailand before joining Boma. As an Asian American I
really value my experience living in Asia for ten years and it was at the tail end of my time in
Asia that I decided to shift careers in architecture and design to leading Boma. At the time, I had just had my fourth child and had 4 kids under the age of 5 and felt burned out by my previous work.
What attracted me to work with our jewelry company at the moment was the people. Walking into our factory and meeting with our workers, I felt like they were genuinely happy and content with their lives. It was a very humbling lesson for me at the time when I defined success by being the most busy, stressed person you encounter. From there, I spent 4 years working with our production team in Bangkok and learning everything about how we source and manufacture our products. I learned firsthand that what truly makes our company special and it is undoubtedly our people. In our factory we have workers who have worked with us for over 3 decades and remember me when I was a toddler. When I bring my kids to work it thrills them to see a continuity of leadership in the company. Even now, while I am based in the US, everyday I’m inspired by my workers and feel incredibly grateful to be an advocate for them.
How is the company and factory doing in the pandemic?
We are extremely grateful and fortunate to be doing okay. We did not have to layoff any of our workers or reduce benefits to our workforce. While we did have to postpone some of our social and environmental programs we have every intent to continue them in 2021. I credit this resistance to the strong partners that we have chosen to work with. As an experienced jewelry manufacturer with 40 years of experience we have worked with everyone big and small.
We have chosen to be a small to medium sized factory focused on quality instead of being one of the largest or cheapest factories because we prefer to work with brands and companies who share this commitment to quality with us. They understand that the higher labor cost to our products actually has value if the products are made with better quality. The competition to be the cheapest manufacturer is a race to the bottom. We are using our decades of experience to go in the opposite direction.
What values did your parents found the company with that would fall under
“sustainability” efforts today?
One value I learned from living in Thailand from the people and culture is the importance of
respect and balance. The majority of our employees in Thailand are Buddhist and practice
ethics of no harm to others. Today we talk about “sustainability” but my parents always sought to run a business that practiced respect for people and the environment. Sustainability is a buzzy word however for us it represents our long-term commitments to doing things better and with respect for people and planet always. As a second generation owner I’m fortunate to have 40 years as a head start to continue to build from.
What is your vision for the future of Boma?
I’m very privileged and fortunate to have inherited this company from my parents and the
generation before me. I would like to be able to do the same for my children’s generation. In 20 years I want Boma to be relevant and valuable for whatever that means in 2040. Not all
companies have the luxury to think long-term like us but I recognize that this long-term vision is what has allowed us to continue as a lasting company today.
Being a vertical company at a time where consumers are beginning to pay attention to what
goes behind the scenes, we want to talk about transparency in an authentic way. I would love
for our customers to be aware that their products were made by people who care deeply about creating handmade products and who have dedicated their careers to doing so. Usually we feel very disconnected from our consumption and products we buy, our vision is to reconnect our consumers with this care we put into each product.
Tell us about your new grant program, how it’s going and what you’ve learned from your
In June we launched a program for Black Jewelry Designers providing a $7,500 value of
mentorship and production support. We chose a Seattle-based designer named Sharece Philips who we have been working with since August. Through this program we also learned a lot about how closed our industry is to independent, BIPOC designers and entrepreneurs and have realized that we have to increase our efforts. We’re currently developing some programs for mentorship and scholarships for sampling and production that we look forward to launch in 2021.
What advice would you give designers or entrepreneurs starting out in the jewelry
This might be cliche, but it’s the advise I share with my kids everyday. My advise is to get just
get started and learn and grow from your mistakes. If you never put anything out to be judged or criticized, you can’t ever learn about how to make it better.
I think there is a common myth that all successful companies or entrepreneurs are born or begin successful and it’s very misleading. I was fortunate to work closely with my parents and to have heard the stories of their many, many failures and witnessed them. While I still struggle with a fear of failure, I have embraced it much more for the lessons it teaches me.