By Nicole Girten
Nina Manavello, 35, is a Miami based jewelry designer and runner-up on the 2011 “Project Runway” spin-off “Project Accessory,” who recently rediscovered her craft and became a new mom in the last year.
When I first started making jewelry — like, let’s be honest — I drove a hand-me-down car that was literally falling apart that had a hand-crocheted steering wheel cover from my grandmother’s best friend because it was her car. I was sleeping on a couch in my studio and shopping at Goodwill.
I stumbled into being a jewelry designer when I was quite young, and I didn’t know too much about it and I just knew the creative and I didn’t know anything about the business. I started making jewelry for fun and it grew quickly and I had amazing experiences that launched me to levels I previously didn’t think I could get to without design school. So I hit a really high creative point when I was able to be on “Project Accessory” and get validation in that sense. When I was back in the real world I realized I didn’t know much about the business. Things kind of went in a different course.
When I stopped my jewelry line due to some rookie business mistakes, I didn’t want to do jewelry ever again. I didn’t want to touch jewelry, I didn’t want to make jewelry. I had all of these beautiful stones just kind of stowed away. I started working in retail. Sometimes people talk about working in retail as being a four letter word. Like, Oh, you work in retail. But I worked with extremely amazing and prestigious brands, went to Fashion Week, traveled the world and became a pretty impressive businesswoman.
Then I became pregnant and my priorities super shifted. I didn’t want to be the massive manager of a $10 million business. I wanted to go back to owning my own business.
I went to New York for work when my son Luca was just a little over two months old and I was in the middle of my maternity leave. When I returned from maternity leave I was traveling a lot. There was probably a month there where I would leave before Luca would wake up and come back after he had fallen asleep. So there was a month or so where I didn’t really see him. It’s amazing how they grow.
I had worked so hard to get to the position that I was at, but my entire life had changed. This wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I made the decision to leave and I left my job this February.
I always felt like I was putting my career first like if it was working through the weekends or working on a holiday. Then it just came to a point where I wanted to see my family. I wanted to see my parents become grandparents, I wanted to see my husband turn into a father, I wanted to see all of those moments.
It was a hard shift from life before having Luca and who I was after. Once I had Luca it was a hard shift to a different sense of purpose. It was a massive compassion for the people around me, especially the women.
It’s funny, you become part of a secret society that you didn’t really know was there. It’s like, Oh, you’re a mom? I’m a mom too. And having that is great.
I’m still kind of putting together the pieces of who I’m going to be. The biggest thing for me is to always be flexible and patient. Some parts of being creative is being passionate or some people will call it emotional. I think creativity is something that just comes from within and listening to what’s in there. I think it’s important to listen to it and then just roll with it.
With my previous jewelry line, I was super creative, but had no business acumen. Once the business acumen came up it was just like, alright, let’s do this again. My husband, Ricky, and I were talking about starting a line again and that week I randomly had people who I hadn’t talked to since I had my store send me a photo of them wearing their pieces from back then. That was just a perfect little nudge. I was definitely making the right choice for myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed.