When I met up with Lisa Marie Todd at her West LA jewelry studio, I thought I’d be sitting down with a former In Living Color fly girl turned jewelry designer. How cool to sit down with someone I grew up watching on one of the most iconic shows of our time? What I didn’t know was that I’d be interviewing a true business mogul. In addition to her Marie Todd jewelry line, she has multiple real estate ventures in the works, a production company and Marie Todd candle lines. And she even has plans to expand the Marie Todd brand to include fragrance and body product lines. I’m still trying to figure out when this woman sleeps!
With her insane schedule, you would think I’d have to rush through a short list of pre-approved questions, or be squeezed into a short window of time. On the contrary. Our conversation felt more like a (#Made) big sister putting her little sis up on game. I learned a lot from our chat and I hope you do too:
Lindsey Day: Tell me a bit about your background.
Lisa Marie Todd: I was born in Palo Alto. I went to the University of Santa Clara. Then I moved down here and had a number of jobs [laughs]. My major was Communications. So I came down here and worked at a television production company for a while, worked at an ad agency. And then ran into a friend in San Francisco who used to be my dance partner and he says, “Why aren't you performing anymore?” I said, "oh, I'm working and doing this...." and he said, “no. you need to get back into it.” So I got back into it and started working, and started doing commercials, started doing some acting, and then In Living Color came along.
LD: How long were you with In Living Color?
LMT: From the pilot through two seasons, so a good two years and change. That was a great experience.
LD: You worked with J. Lo? I’m sure people ask all the time....
LMT: I worked with Jennifer, she was wonderful. It was an interesting time, because the sketch comedy was amazing. Keenan was amazing. And it still holds up. I don't think we knew what we were a part of when we were doing it, because I kind of went to work and went home, but it's kinda cool to look back at it. It was a great experience.
LD: How did you go from that to making jewelry?
LMT: I was looking for something to do that was creative, and I had always worked with my hands. I picked up a book one day on jewelry-making and I’m going through it and I’m like God, that's really cool, so I found a class. And it just became a passion, and a passion turned into a hobby, and a hobby turned into a business and so, that's where I am now.
LMT: Yeah, I just had a passion for it, and I felt that my daughter [who is now 15 ½] was at a certain age and I could push it. And there had been experiences in my life that...I’ll say “great losses,” that--you realize if you want to do something you'd better do it, because you may not be here anymore. And so, that really put a fire underneath me. And seriously, like 2009 I just said listen, if I'm going to do it let me do it.
LD: That’s something I think a lot of readers can relate to, including myself!
LMT: That period between 26 and 28 is reevaluation time. And you'll start weeding people out and you'll start...feeling what you really want and what you don't want. We usually know what we don't want, but we don't always know what we want. I completely remember that. It happens again, I hate to tell you [laughs], but it's better, because you have a bit more perspective.
LD: What inspires you and your design?
LMT: I find inspiration in everything. I'll literally walk around with my iPhone and see a shadow and go, I may do something with that!
LD: What type of woman is Marie Todd Jewelry made for?
LMT: She's a modern woman, independent, strong. She has a strong sense of herself. I try to start with a big picture--some women don't like big jewelry, maybe big things overwhelm them. Other women want to be seen when they walk in a room. I take one design and mold it. Sometimes we have moods. You may want to be quiet, and you just want that little earring, or necklace, that little touch. Sometimes you’re going out and you want to make a statement. So I keep all of those things in mind.
LD: I’d imagine that it’d be challenging to learn the ins and outs of the jewelry business.
LMT: I'm learning as I go and it's a great journey. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people along the way who have been in the business and want to give information. There are a lot of people who have directed me: "you need this, go see this person, do that, go call this person." Early on I worked with a woman from Thailand and I said to her, “gosh, it's so refreshing to meet somebody that wants to tell someone something and isn't scared you're going to go off and steal their ideas or something.” And she said, “what you make, someone else will like and they won't like my stuff--and vice versa. The way I look at it, there's food for all.” And that always stuck with me; that we're our own competition. We should look at what other people are doing just to know what the market is, but it's us against us. Yourself against yourself. Even now, if I can help somebody or guide them, I do.
LMT: I certainly think my jewelry is modern and timeless, and something you can put away and come back to--you want those kind of pieces. I think it's affordable. It's not super inexpensive but it's not outrageous, so most people can afford to have it. I like that. I get sometimes that people say it looks more expensive than what it costs, which is good; the value of it. So I would say those things are huge selling points. And there's a lot of love that goes into it, and energy.
LD: What’s your favorite piece and why?
LMT: I love the Paisley collection. I remember designing it, and it's kind of Indian, kind of Moroccan. I wear those a lot. It just feels good. It was fun when i was playing around and designing it, and people tend to gravitate to it. And it's different, you know, it has many influences and I love all that. At heart I'm kind of a hippie chick [laughs], being from the San Francisco Bay area.
LD: Tell me more about your candle line.
LMT: I started off with one candle, but since then I’ve created eight fragrances, and I have a men’s candle line that's coming which is really fun. There are three of the original scents that men just loved and I was like, "hmm, men need candles too.” I want a woman to buy it for a man to share it with him. And I want men to buy it because he wants that ambiance for his woman. They’re very masculine--there's nothing floral or anything about them. They've got some punch to them without being offensive. That's my thing: when people smell them I say okay, do ANY of these fragrances offend you. And I have yet to have anybody say yes [laughs].
LD: Busy woman. What else do you have in the works??
LMT: Ultimately, [Marie Todd] is going to be a lifestyle brand, so I’m trying to create products that I love personally, that I want to share. So, I love candles. I love lotions and potions so I'm working on a fragrance and body product line right now. So I’m taking baby steps. I'm not making a ton of it, but baby steps to build the awareness, and I'm blessed that I can do all this stuff.
LD: Is Marie Todd your first entrepreneurial venture?
LMT: No, I have real estate things I do, I have a production company now that we did a pilot with, so that's another area that's bubbling right now. There's a film I'm working on now that I had a meeting about, it's based on a short story. It might be controversial but, oh well. I just feel like why not. If there are things you want to do and try, try them. If it doesn't work you can try it a different way but at least you tried doing it.
LD: What is your business philosophy?
LMT: A. being flexible. you have to be flexible because stuff isn't always going to work out. I've learned how to think on my feet, and if something's not working I'm not the type of person to go well that's so and so's fault or to stay on that. It's about, “how do we fix it?” Nothing irritates me more than someone saying, “well, he did that!” I’’m just like, “I don't hear you, I don't care--fix it.” Then, after the fact if you want to go talk to them about it then go ahead. Let's fix it and move on. We can't stay there.
Also, making time for yourself and your family and the business, finding that balance. It's a struggle. I have a teenage daughter and this is probably the time she needs me more than anything else these next few years. Not that she didn't need me before, but it's different now. And I'm just very aware of that and I enjoy spending my time with her. And if I'm working here and it's getting overwhelming, I'll go walk and I’ll see a cute dog or something. You know, you just trick your mind out of what's going on and you do come back better. Taking that 10, 15 minutes to get out of your head is important.
LD: What advice do you have for young up-and-coming women on pursuing their dreams?
LMT: Research what you're doing before you do it. Don't just jump in. If you can work in the industry, fine. If not, who cares? I didn't work in jewelry before but I think certainly researching and talking to people. At the gut level if you think you should be doing it or you should try it ,just do it. Don't even think twice. Don't listen to people saying, “Oh, you can't do that, oh the economy's bad.” Go do it. Because you don't know where it's going to take you. And on the journey you may think you're going from a to b but it goes a, z, p...[laughs], back and forth. Maybe you start off thinking that's what you're going to do but you meet something or someone or see something.... Just know you'll end up where you're supposed to be. So just start. Don't sit back and wish and hope. Wishing and hoping doesn't make anything happen. Just start. Just go. See what happens. Because it's a fun journey, I gotta tell ya.