It started with a crushed left hand.
Then a broken heart.
By the end of this tale you might even call John Easley’s relationship with rings one rife with both love and hate.
“I’ve been through a lot of rings,” Easley says nonchalantly.
First, there was the silver one that had to be sawed off his finger after Easley’s hand was smashed by the machine he was working in a factory:
“That was my first real experience with jewelry and it was painful.”
The next ring to torture Easley would cause something much worse than physical pain- the emotional toll that comes with losing your wedding ring while on a date with your wife.
It happened right after the drive-in movie Easley and his wife Claire had been watching. Easley picked up the blanket the two had been sitting on, shook it out to get rid of any debris, and felt the wedding ring slip off his finger never to be found again.
“There was a real sense of loss,” Easley says, “This is the ring my wife had bought me so not only did I lose something valuable but it was also a sentimental loss.”
In a replacement wedding ring, Easley wanted two things:
- Meaning - an incorruptible material that could withstand the abuse of an occasionally harsh world, but was simultaneously precious and scarce
- Function - something nonconductive to prevent the potential of electrical shock that could take place when working with industrial machinery
When Easley failed to find something that was both symbolic and rugged enough for his lifestyle, he decided to make his own replacement wedding ring.
He might not have known it at the time…
But it was the start of an entrepreneurial journey laced with Lamborghini sports cars, backstabbing embezzlers, and a baby nearly born on a factory floor.
Chop, Polish, & Profit (Or Possibly Lose It All)
With a background in mechanical engineering …
Easley set up shop in his Idaho garage, created the tooling necessary to build the appropriate molds, and set out to find the perfect material from which to make his replacement wedding ring. Easley had recently been studying carbon fiber but found its standard woven pattern unappealing for a piece of jewelry:
“It’s just not something I wanted to wear. I love how strong and light carbon fiber is, but its knit pattern is meaningless and not symbolic of my marriage.”
But carbon fiber, when combined with resin and forged under heat and pressure, forms a composite that can be molded into three dimensional shapes lighter and stronger than titanium. It’s what Lamborghini has experimented with in an effort to build lighter sports cars that go faster.
In forged carbon fiber, Easley had found the perfect match.
“That really symbolized the life Claire and I have,” Easley says. “Just like families will face hard challenges, Forged Carbon Fiber is formed under heat and pressure; but out of that, something beautiful and unique is created. That’s really a better symbol for our relationship and parallel to our lives.”
Easley had created the perfect replacement wedding ring:
There was no ceremony, but no need for one either. Claire had been right there beside her husband through hundreds of failed prototypes offering suggestions and rooting for her husband as he tried again and again:
“It was expensive and time consuming and she supported me the entire way. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
The manufacturing process yielded something else as well.
A question: What to do with the rest of the rings?
Yeah, Easley made more than one.
You see, the tooling Easley created to forge the rings did so in sets; the result is a bar of forged carbon fiber that is chopped up and polished into fifteen rings.
The Easleys wondered whether the world might fall in love with their rings as they had. So Claire wrote some copy, photographed the rings, and set a modest Kickstarter goal of $11,500.
Thousands of backers pledged more than $408,000.
Carbon 6 Rings was born, but not without some serious labor pains.
“I always thought it’d be a success,” Easley recalls. “But the amount we were overfunded created some significant problems.”
It would get so bad, the demand would wind up costing the Easleys their home, car, and peace of mind.
She’s Probably Not Supposed To, But ...
The legal bills were piling up quickly and nearly crushed the Easleys.
Carbon 6 Rings brought on help to meet the enormous demands created by the Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately, it turns out some of the people brought on were shipping rings that did not meet Easley’s standards.
Easley says he became aware of the problem after a customer complained, began investigating further, and says he found that someone had also been embezzling thousands of dollars.
It was September 2015 and backers were eagerly awaiting their rings, some of which include strontium aluminate and glow in the dark when charged.
But Easley missed the deadline to ship the Kickstarter orders. He says the rings simply weren’t up to snuff.
Christmas came and went, and still the rings hadn’t shipped.
Meanwhile, the Easleys’ legal battle to protect themselves from more embezzlement dragged into 2016.
“We ran out of money.”
But, there were still rings to make and ship.
So the Easleys sold their home and car. They took out personal loans and maxed out their credit cards. With little more than borrowed money and hope, Easley trained several craftsman to help him make the rings he had promised Kickstarter backers.
Slowly but surely Carbon 6 Rings found its footing. There are still Kickstarter backers waiting on a particularly complex design, which Easley is making himself to be sure it meets his standards. But Carbon 6 Rings is now one of the fastest growing online jewelry brands in the world.
Since the Easleys are relative newcomers to ecommerce, they chose Shopify Plus, an enterprise-level ecommerce solution for high volume merchants, in part, because of the value the platform’s merchant success managers provide. As Easley confesses:
“I’m not an experienced coder and we didn’t know what to do. We needed professional help but didn’t have the money to build our own site or hire expensive developers.”
Easley credits his merchant success manager, Praneethi Komat Reddy, with generously helping him troubleshoot, select the appropriate applications, and optimize the Carbon 6 Rings site in ways that might be outside the traditional merchant success manager role.
“She’s great and helps make it all happen,” Easley says. “She’s probably not supposed to do this but sometimes when we can’t figure something out she goes in there and fixes it for us. We love her.”
It’s part of the reason Carbon 6 Rings has produced the following sales results:
- $600,000 in 2015
- $1.4 million in 2016
- On track to ship its 20,000th ring
“I’m just a regular person. But Shopify Plus gives me access to the same tools much bigger companies have and we’re extremely grateful.”
The Easleys may have figured out how to complement one another in marriage and business…
But what about John’s on-again off-again relationship with jewelry?
Where’s the Replacement Ring?
The majority of rings, according to Easley, now ship within a week.
It means Easley, who now employs six people and manufactures the rings in the United States, is focused on designing new products like:
- Rings made of meteorites with unique patterns etched in space
- Forged carbon fiber watches ready to ship by Christmas
- Carbon fiber dog tags ready for launch in the coming months
Speaking of new additions …
Easley says his superstar wife, who does the company’s marketing, had to practically be forced to leave work so she could have the couple’s first baby at a hospital rather than the company’s headquarters. Claire was back in the office working three days after giving birth.
“It has been tumultuous and we’ve had to fight hard,” Easley says of building the business. “It’s only alive because of significant personal sacrifice.”
So what about that replacement wedding ring that set everything in motion?
Knowing Easley’s history with rings, has it been lost too?
“No, it’s not lost,” Easley says as he sifts through a bunch of rings. “It’s somewhere in this pile of prototypes.”