Noura Sakkijha is a private person. As the CEO and co-founder of Mejuri, the dazzling and buzzy direct-to-consumer brand, Sakkijha prefers to keep a low profile. This is intentional as it’s Mejuri’s customers, influencers, and lovers of fine jewelry who are the brand’s public face, not her.
“The key belief for me is wanting—when people hear Mejuri—to think the face of the brand is our community. And so that's true then if you look at our social media, the diversity there—it's driven our partnerships with content creators. It's driven how we contextualize our products,” she tells me, safely, via Zoom from the brand’s warehouse in Toronto.
In 2013, Sakkijha, along with her husband, founded Mejuri. Sakkijha, a third-generation fine jeweler from Jordan, is aware of the traditional norms of the jewelry industry: Women depend on men to buy jewelry as gifts. Mejuri flips and complicates that narrative. Empowerment is the brand’s message but also a consumer value. Mejuri buyers, which will soon more broadly include men, exist at an intersection of freedom of choice, creativity, and diversity through which a community can grow. One that is firmly about a new kind of luxury bought by oneself.
As the COVID-19 pandemic winds its way through the world, luxury retail is at risk. But a new necklace people notice on a Zoom call isn't the same as splurging on a pair of shoes few will see. By fostering a message of empowerment and togetherness, Mejuri’s buyers continue to purchase themselves beautiful things. The brand has seen a 40% increase in buying with 75% of consumers buying for themselves.
Here, Sakkijha reflects on Mejuri five years in, future plans, and how it continues to foster and support a diverse kind of community.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
I want to start with how your head and heart have been during these past six, seven months of the year?
Sakkijha: I think it's been challenging. It's been challenging for everyone. But I have to say it's also been a growth opportunity for all of us—being close to the team in the past few months, closer than ever. I feel a lot better at this point in time now that we've weathered part of this storm.
I want to ask you how Mejuri has captured a social media audience in a way that other brands are still scrambling to do. Five years in now, how does the brand remain fresh in the digital space? I’m thinking specifically here of social media, ads, keywords, and audience to help grow the business. With everybody jumping to ecommerce during this period, how are you keeping the brand fresh in this space?
I think one of the key things that, to be honest, is that it becomes second nature for us. The fact is that our team is our community. They're so interconnected and so it feels very genuine. [We don’t overthink] the content that we put out and it naturally connects with our community because we are speaking to the same audience. That's been very, very important for us. What that means is we are able to talk about the topics that our community wants to talk about.
When you look at our content on social media, it's not necessarily just product-specific, but we talk about things that are relevant—we put up lifestyle inspiration. Most recently, we launched style edits to teach people how to wear jewelry, and we started to work on partnerships internally. It was very important for us to stay connected with our community during these tough times.
Other things that we typically do is to keep an eye on creative talent and work with them and highlight them, highlight our community, and our social media. And structurally, I think something that serves us really well is the fact that our creative team and marketing team since inception have been in-house, so nothing was outsourced. All of our relationships with our partners have been in-house. We nurture them over time and they become long term. We learn about ourselves to learn about our community and we're able to apply our learnings very quickly. I think these are very key things that help us stay relevant.
We also pioneered the product drop model. Every Monday, we introduce new products, which hasn't been done in fine jewelry, and that helps us stay fresh as well.
I love seeing those emails every Monday.
(laughs) I'm glad.
You mentioned your team as a community. Mejuri featured team members to do these really cool styling videos on Instagram. Would you continue this? Continue to more fully integrate your team as community as part of a branding strategy? What you haven't done on Instagram yet that you might want to experiment with?
It's been a lot of fun to see the team on Instagram and see them engage with the community. It's been very successful. That's an area that we definitely want to continue in. Other platforms or mediums that we haven't necessarily worked on heavily [are] TikTok and Instagram Reels. So I think, you know, with this content and merging both together would be a lot of fun and very exciting and engaging for our community. These are things that we still are scratching the surface of and we haven't implemented haven't yet. But I think there's a lot of opportunity to create some fun content.
Can you talk a little bit about your influencer strategy? Anecdotally, some of the people in my social circle are microinfluencers for the brand, and they do it in such a way that is so effortless. I'm wondering how the decision is made to include these groups of people into the brand and then also into other communities who might be potential buyers?
We call our community of influencers the Fine Crew. We look for women who are passionate about the brand, who share the same values. It's not necessarily about the number of followers. It's really women who really are passionate about Mejuri. They share very genuine relationships or influence on their following as well and that's really key for us to make sure that we know the authenticity of the brand flows through ourselves and our partners. Because we've been doing this for quite some time, we have years of relationships, and we continue to nurture these relationships and grow our community. It's been very important to have a mix of different sized creators. But the key thing across the board is how do we contextualize the jewelry and different lifestyles, different backgrounds. How do we show diversity? These are the key drivers for us.
When thinking about the future, as a millennial-focused company, how are you going to bring some of these insights into marketing to Gen Z? How are you planning for or thinking about this new generation of buyers?
That's a really good question. I think for us in fashion in general, we're seeing that age is not necessarily defining. You see brands that have a wide range of ages of customers, and we're seeing the same thing, especially with our products. We focus a lot on having a very solid basic product. You know, your diamond necklace that you can wear every day. It works for Gen Z or millennials or women in their 60s. Then you see products that are more differentiated designs like our croissant or snake rings that can skew a bit older.
We do realize that each segment of our customers would like to be communicated to in a different channel. So that's where we talk about Instagram, Instagram Reels, email, and TikTok. How do we reach our audience? The brand caters towards your everyday. The brand is about women empowerment and changing the narrative in fine jewelry. And I think that's a universal value that women across different ages can relate to.
It certainly is for my mom. I remember when she found Mejuri on Instagram and she asked, “Have you heard of this brand?” She's in her 60s and she's obsessed.
I love that community is a running theme in this conversation from your team and then the community at large of your buyers and people who could potentially be buyers or people who are just invested in Mejuri as a brand. I believe this stat is still relevant but 80% of Mejuri employees are female-identifying. I want to know how you built that inclusively as a mandate, and not a quota, and how you've been able to maintain that so authentically.
I went through fundraising multiple times, so I was reminded of the challenges that women face in business. That made it a lot more genuine and a lot more meaningful for me to create that connection between women empowerment and Mejuri. It made me very motivated and conscious about creating equal opportunities, which is, as you said, should be basic. I wanted to build an environment that is safe and inclusive; where everyone can feel that they can progress in the company.
I'm going to shift to talk about retail. Mejuri was originally conceived as a digitally native direct-to-consumer brand but then you started to open stores. I'm wondering what the process was like, what the conversations were when you decided that you wanted to have an in-store experience for consumers?
It's funny because our customers decided for us. We used to get questions from our customers all the time, “Do you have a store?” No. “Can I come to your office?” We used to get a lot of inbound questions from our customers wanting to see the products in real life. So we decided, let's experiment with a pop up in Toronto. We launched with a little bit of an experiment and a lot of our community showed up. They were really engaged with the brand, with each other, it felt like people were getting together. We launched our first store in Toronto.
Over time, we found that 70% of the customers who are buying from the stores are actually new customers. They knew about Mejuri, but they wanted to see the products, touch and feel them. That is when we started to realize there is a segment of our community who really want to interact with the brand in real life. We took this approach of creating a space where there are no barriers to the jewelry. You can touch and view the product, style it, you can wear it. You can engage with others. The space is larger than you typically need for a jewelry store because we do realize that it's a place where people want to hang out. Now we have six stores.
I think that's interesting because the brand does a great job of scaling the size of products online. I think this speaks more to a time when we have to limit going into stores but you really get a sense of the product’s size online and the way that it will sit on your body. It’s amazing how you can kind of do both at the same time: This is what it looks like online and I can picture it on my body, but you can see it in the store too.
Exactly. And during the lockdown, we also doubled down on allowing customers to talk to our customer service and retail teams via Zoom. So if they have additional questions, they actually want to see the product, we had digital styling sessions as well.
Talking a bit more explicitly about what has happened to retail because of COVID-19, what are your plans for the store and reopening? And are you thinking about how you want the retail experience to shift in 2021?
Retail is top of mind, I think, for all companies and for us right now. We've reopened all of our stores but the focus is obviously health and safety of our team, health and safety of our customers, and really trying to figure out the best experience that still allows for people to touch and feel the product and interact with the brand. We're trying out different approaches, really following the guidelines of each city that we operate in. We still have an eye on expansion, obviously, in 2021, but we're going to keep our eyes open on opportunities. We really want to focus on our current stores. But I believe in the future of retail. I believe it will be a necessary part of our brand when things go back to a more normal situation.
How do you think the luxury jewelry space has fared this year? For Mejuri specifically, have you seen your community continue to prioritize self-care and other ways of empowerment and devotion to themselves? Our brand was conceived to empower self-purchase and we have seen that now, more than ever, people are being incredibly considerate with their spending habits; investing in the security of high-quality pieces that they can wear and own forever.
We have always promoted the concept of women investing in themselves, not only through their purchasing habits but also in their everyday lives. As of today, 75% of our customers are self-purchasing. While we are apart, celebrating everyday milestones has become more profound, and although we have historically encouraged people to celebrate themselves, we believe that gifting is a wonderful sentiment and have seen a 40% increase in this spending category during the pandemic. Since we cannot be with our loved ones, more and more customers are turning to jewelry as a meaningful and personalized gift.
I know that you can't give me everything about what you're thinking of for 2021 but were there some things that you were thinking about before the pandemic that are still applicable for international expansion?
This year we've streamlined the customer experience online for our U.K. and Australian customers. And, you know, we're looking forward to our international expansion. We already see people across the world buying from Mejuri, and we want to make sure that we streamline their experiences in 2021.
When you’re thinking of this expansion, do you feel like the brand name itself is enough leverage for potential new buyers or do you feel like you as a CEO you must be the face of the brand and a brand yourself to bring in new buyers? I would classify myself as a little bit of a private person. I've dedicated a lot of my energy internally and I've never been very active on social media or being the face of the brand. The key belief for me is wanting when people hear Mejuri is to think the face of the brand is our community. And so that's true then if you look at our social media—the diversity, it's driven our partnerships with content creators. It's driven how we contextualize our products. I think that's always a goal for us and that's going to help us with international expansion.
I want to ask your experience as a woman who is a CEO. I researched quite a bit about you and often the pieces would mention that you were pregnant when you were asking for more financing, linking motherhood with your professional position. Rarely are men in the same roles asked about fatherhood but that is still an important personal choice for them too. I'm wondering how we can support both of those roles for women: how you can be a mother and a CEO without it feeling like one is being reduced for the other?
You're absolutely right. I mean, these things are different between women and men, and we face more challenges for sure. But I think it was very important for me—knowing that there are more challenges for women—to put that narrative out there because you can have it all. You can be a mother, you can be a business owner, and you can do both very well. I think sharing that narrative with people was important to show them that if I can do it, then you can do it. For those who are thinking about it, it's doable.
There is an added layer to narratives around women in business when it comes to Black women, women of color, trans women, and so many more because C-suite roles are hardly available to these communities as richly as they are for white executives. How important is embracing and amplifying that intersectionality for you as an executive?
It's really, really key for us. It's very important this year, especially this year as painful as it is. We've been very serious about this from the get-go. This year we launched our scholarship program. We've dedicated $120,000 USD towards scholarships in Canada and the U.S. for Black women and non-binary people, and we look to expand that. I'm very passionate about investing in education because it gives women optionality and it gives people optionality in the future to take charge of their lives and progress. This has been a near and dear initiative for us to launch, and we're looking forward to doubling down on that and next year as well.
And I guess a part two of this is accessibility to mentors. I would love to know about your experiences as a mentor and also as a mentee.
For me, I love learning from others: peers, people who have operated companies. I've always sought feedback. I think number one is, taking a proactive approach to finding people who are subject matter experts who have operated companies before and just reach out and seek advice. I still do that to this day and I get super excited every time I talk to someone who's been there, done that. I love talking to operators because the devil's in the details. The advice is super applicable.
In terms of mentoring, I get excited by anyone who is passionate, who has a can-do attitude, and who wants to make things happen, who realizes [that] challenges are a part of the process.
My last question for you: When I first pitched this conversation, the world was very different. There was no COVID-19. Anti-Black and structural racism and police brutality protests had not reached their boiling point yet. I suppose that is a sobering, necessary lesson of change and accepting, in this case, some difficult realities and adjusting accordingly. I’m wondering how this year, as an example, tested or expanded your leadership skills, and what you’ve learned about your own capacity as a leader through it.
That’s a very good question. I think the past few months have been really crucial for all leaders but very difficult to navigate. And I would say, you know, the first thing as a person is not to take anything for granted. It's lesson number one.
The other thing that I found to be very helpful for me: whenever there's a crisis I love to be with the team, but this time it was a very different level. It was not just business, it was also emotional—getting closer to the team and having a dialogue. We've always been transparent but continuing to be transparent every step of the way internally through all of these difficult situations has been really important. We can do our part, get our energy together, get our efforts together, and try to do the best that we can. For me as a leader, I've gotten very close to the team. I've gotten more comfortable with vulnerabilities, with having conversations that are maybe more on the emotional side than the business side that I'm typically used to.
I only have one follow up: tapping into that emotional side with your employees, it's interesting that you called that out. Do you think that that's something that a lot of companies might be leaning into? Seeing their employees as the people that they are and being more sensitive and in tune with that?
I hope so, to be honest with you. You know, it's been a challenging time for everyone. All of the challenges that happen, you have to make sure that your team's well-being is top of mind. Well-being becomes part of the conversation. It should become part of every manager check-in, part of your one-on-ones. We're all working remotely. We're not with each other. We can't see those cues as much as we used to. Now we have to go above and beyond and actually have these conversations and start building that rapport and support.