Until about five years ago Rebecca McMenemy ’07 had never made a single piece of jewelry. Now, she’s poised to have her creations sold in the mega department store Belk.
In May 2016, Belk selected the CofC alumna (who majored in art history) as one of four winners out of 18 finalists for its Southern Designer Showcase competition. As a winner, McMenemy’s jewelry will be sold on the clothing giant’s website, belk.com, as well as in select Belk stores starting in the spring of 2017.
The win has taken McMenemy, who submitted her application on the very last day of the competition, by surprise. She put forward her-last minute entry at the urging of her mother, who’d heard about the contest through a friend.
“I’ve applied for a lot of (competitions). There are so many things you can apply for in different markets and there are so many talented people, that it’s hard to get your foot in the door,” she says. “So I really didn’t expect to be chosen as a finalist, let alone win. I’m still just in shock. I can’t even believe it’s happened. It’s just really exciting.”
McMenemy joins a growing list of CofC alums who have successful jewelry businesses. Mariana Hay ’82 has carried on the more than 100-year legacy of her family’s company, Croghan’s Jewel Box, serving as president of the beloved downtown Charleston jewelry store. Heidi Weddendorf ’88 offers eclectic designs that mix classic aesthetics with a funky, whimsical flair at local boutiques in her home-base of Nantucket, Massachusetts, while Felice Viguerie Killian ’97 offers fun, colorful creations from her studio, Felice Designs, on James Island.
A marketing director for a Charleston-area marina development company by day, McMenemy had never made a single piece of jewelry when she started dabbling in the craft as a hobby. In 2014 she created her own company, Surcee, to better brand her creations.
But she hasn’t been in any rush to rocket her beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings to the top of the fashion world. Instead, she has spent the last few years perfecting her technique, while selling her merchandise at craft fairs and a few small local shops.
That slow, calculated approach has now gone by the wayside with her big win. And she’s excited about diving headfirst into the hectic world of fashion and merchandising.
Her jewelry, which has a funky-yet-vintage feel with a focus on African beads, uncultured pearls and natural stones, offers a contemporary, but delicate aesthetic – something McMenemy feels dovetails well with what Belk calls its “modern Southern style.” The budding entrepreneur is humbled that a large corporation such as Belk has taken a chance on her.
“It’s just such a huge opportunity and it opens up so many doors,” she says.