Colombian emeralds brand Fenomena Interview

Exclusive interview with Fenomena’s CEO and designer Alejandra Llano for Mucura Shop!

Laura Arciniegas: How was the brand born?

Alejandra Llano: Fenomena was born in 2012 when I was in college in Bogota, I am actually not a designer but I went to business school. The whole idea started when I went to study abroad in an exchange program in France with my university. There in a luxury marketing class I realized there was a huge opportunity to innovate and create  the jewelry industry in Colombia. There were so many contemporary brands being offered in the world, yet in Colombia one could only buy  fine jewelry.  

As other  entrepreneurs, I was full of  doubt and  somehow  intimidated therefore I left the project behind and started working in the banking industry for a while. Some time passed and I realized that wasn’t really my thing, nor my passion and this is when I really took over Fenomena again with more ideas, passion and vision than ever!

LA: That takes me to my next question some people say “Fénomena” with accent on the e and others pronounce it “Fenómena” with accent in the o, which one is it?

AL: In Spanish it doesn’t have an accent, so there is no actual correct pronunciation but I call it “Fenómena” with accent in the o.  

LA: Perfect! Got it! What is the meaning of the name? How did you come up with it?

AL: It’s actually a play of words! It started with the Greek word “faino” which is something that attracts, that sparkles. We wanted to have that word within the name as something attractive, luminous and sparkly! And also unique.

LA: Amazing! So unique and different. What has been most gratifying about staring your own brand/company and what has been the most difficult?

AL: The most gratifying has been definitely been for people to see a piece from our brand and automatically saying “This is Fenomena” and receiving all that positive and amazing feedback from customers, whenever they tell me: “I love your jewelry, I have been  a customer for a while” it’s just the best feeling ever.

The hardest has really been this rollercoaster than being an entrepreneur means. Also, shifting from a business professional to a jewelry designer has been super challenging, learning about the jewelry and fashion industries, consumer’s needs, trends etc.

LA: I totally agree with everything you just  said, but I do want to mention how successful you’ve been creating such a strong identify for Fenomena with your designs and the use of emeralds. Which actually takes me to my next question, tell us about the more distinctive characteristic of your brand?

AL: What really made me understand what my brand’s identity is, was knowing what the brand IS  and what IT IS NOT. The brand is a bunch of intertwined golden threads, the brand is raw  emeralds, the brand is movement and the brand is textures. So every time I am designing a  new collection I keep all of these in mind and I make sure this one meets each one of the above.

LA: Obviously your brand is known for everything you are saying and we can see the movement, the  golden threads and all you just mentioned, but we always see the use of raw emeralds! Why did you choose this stone? Obviously Colombian emeralds are world-renowned and absolutely gorgeous, but what made you go in this direction?

AL: Well, in 2015 when I re-started with Fenomena I started exploring with different stones and techniques, and I started falling in love with this emerald world. As other people I had this stigma in my head about the emerald mining and techniques and I realized how it has really changed and it’s so different to what people think it is, in a positive way. I also started thinking in my head “It’s amazing I can sell these emeralds at more accessible prices than fine emerald jewelry, and can also be worn more casually”. This is where I really started to educate myself about raw emeralds, what they were and how I could incorporate them in my jewelry.

I  actually really  enjoy talking about emeralds not only because it is my brand’s staple but because I think it’s a stone and industry that all Colombians and people around the world should be aware of. Colombia produces more than 55% of emeralds in the world and are also the highest quality and price. A Colombian emerald can be much more expensive than a  diamond, but only 5% of emeralds are labeled as “finished product”. This made me think; we already have the resources and the artisan’s talents and techniques, how can we give the value and importance to this “unfinished stone”? And that is where I started incorporating the stone in all my designs and exploring new jewelry techniques.

LA: This is so interesting, I really didn’t have any knowledge about the finished and unfinished emeralds and all of this. What I have realized, is that clients here in the US really value and love your brand not only for the designs but because it’s their opportunity of buying a piece of jewelry with raw emeralds at an accessible price, a piece that can be perfect for a wedding or a formal occasion as well as for day-to-day.

AL: So here, I always get asked the following questions: what is a raw emerald and is it really a real emerald? And my  answer is: YES, it is a real emerald, actually here I will show you what a raw emerald is (watch the IGTV interview on Instagram to see visual). Emeralds crystalize in hexagons and these little stones usually then go through carving and polishing processes and treatments, this is what fine jewelry emeralds look like. So what do I do? To me, this raw emerald in its natural state is already beautiful and a piece of art, so I use it as it is.

So yes, they are real emeralds they are just emeralds in their natural state.

LA: Which is a must have piece from your latest collection, or collections in general?

AL: I would say  these earrings from the Waves Collection (watch the IGTV interview on Instagram to see visual), because they are so time-less and versatile, I just really love how the emerald plays with the waves in gold.  Also, these hoop earrings because it was the first time we were able to manipulate raw emeralds into curved lines instead of straight ones.

LA: Someone in the audience is asking us, do emeralds have different shades  of green?

Yes, always. Emeralds  have vanadium and other minerals so it really depends on what the proportion of the minerals in the stone is. The exact same thing happens with fine emeralds, or for instance emeralds from Zambia are lighter and the ones from Brazil have other green shades.

LA: What advice would you give to anyone starting a new brand or their own line?

AL: Actually, a few things. First of all, being really persistent,  second being consistent and third planning. Creating a brand is not something that happens overnight. Yesterday I was listening to a creative conference where Pepa Pombo’s daughter was talking about how her mother founded the brand 55 years ago, so it really takes time to get that recognition.

Consistency, you really have to be consistent and work on it every single day. And also create something new, your own identity and DNA, so really explore, plan out everything and think big, have a business plan, have a brand path, know where you want to be and how you are going to get there.  

Thank you Alejandra for taking the time to tell us all these amazing stories and history behind Fenomena! And thank you! You who are reading for being part of our Mucura family and community, stay tuned for more interviews with our other designers and make  sure to watch these on our Instagram @mucura_shop