Meet our Founder: Jill Johnson

A three-time cancer survivor, a mother and a business woman. This International Women's Day we're talking to one of the strongest women we know, our founder Jill Johnson.

You started Awe in 2017, but have been in the jewelry industry for over 30 years, how did you get started?

I was the diamond and gemstone buyer at a major jewelry manufacturer in New York and when they were bought out by an even larger company, I took that as a sign to move back to Minneapolis and start my own jewelry business.

I began very slowly -  importing diamonds from Antwerp and Israel - selling them to retail stores in the midwest and using some in my original designs. It was very challenging, exciting and empowering.

 

Did you have any inspirational women in your life that helped encourage or inspire your career?

My grandmothers were huge influences in my life; they both immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe,  one was 17 and the other 19 - the stories they shared were both frightening and inspiring.

Both grandmothers taught me to always help people less fortunate, always remember where your family came from and the persecution they escaped. And only by very hard work and lots of luck did they all go on to build successful businesses and wonderful lives.

 

You co-founded Awe with your son, Max, and your other son, Adam, has joined the team. What's harder: working while you have young children or working with your adult children?

Definitely working while having young children - BUT honestly my sons were perfect - other than the fact that they did not require much sleep, they were well behaved and often spent time at the office. They had "fun" putting pendants and earrings in pouches, making boxes and listening to their voices echo in the warehouse when we were receiving deliveries.

It's such an honor to work with my adult sons - I learn something from them every single day and my number one goal is to make them proud of me and the work we're doing.

 

What advice do you have for the new generation of women in business?

Love what you do. Be kind. Don't ask people to do anything you wouldn't do yourself. At the end of the day when you close up the office or turn off your computer be proud of the work you and your co-workers did and be grateful for the opportunity to do it again tomorrow.

 

How do you help foster growth among young, female employees?

I try to lead by example. It's nothing formal, but I tell everyone to listen more and share less, BUT use your voice - find that balance. 

Never make anyone feel shame or embarrassment. Always remember your manners. Be curious and always be willing to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

 

What is the best advice you've ever received (business or personal)?

Be authentic. 

Don't bleed before you're cut.

 

If you could plan a dinner party of 5 inspiring women who would you choose?

This is SO hard because there's about 30 people I'd like to invite - including 5 personal friends that would also love to meet these women.

Serena Williams, Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Audrey Hepburn, CoCo Channel and entertainment by Carole King.

 

What's your favorite mantra?

Be authentic.

 

What Awe pieces do you wear most?

I always wear a "vintage" Awe medallion pinky ring, a 14k yellow gold Joan of Arc on an XL box chain and on the weekends Cleopatra Goddess earrings.

 

Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

If you don't take time for yourself, it becomes too easy to forget who you are, or what you might become.

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