By Lauren Brooks
Little did Suzanne Jones know that an attempt at creativity and design would open up so many doors and change her life.
During a tough period in her life, Suzanne realized at 32 that she was a high-functioning alcoholic and credits God with changing her life through Alcoholics Anonymous. Through these major life and career changes, she started making jewelry as a creative outlet—a beauty from ashes kind of story as she likes to call it.
It all started with trying to replicate a fashionable necklace for her daughter and finding a hand stamping kit on a random aisle at an arts and crafts store. Before long, a good friend’s counsel led her to try her hand at creating and selling in larger quantities for Girls on the Run, Daisy Troops, and in Short and Sweet, a local consignment shop.
And all along Homewood was there to support her, buying her pieces from her mailbox for years in what would eventually become her Holland & Birch line. “I wasn’t great at first but after I started making more, I realized I was delving into this creative world and could produce an income this way,” she says.
A mom to four kids and wife to C.J., Suzanne had sold real estate locally for 11 years and helped start Homewood Fit, a women’s fitness group, before venturing into jewelry. Real estate, she says, is where she got her “first taste for selling.” When it came to the jewelry business, her first wholesale outlet was in Fab’rik, a clothing store in downtown Homewood. “I didn’t know if I could handle wholesale,” Suzanne admits. “But (their owner) Melissa (Mistrot) was a great cheerleader to me.”
With more successes under her belt, in 2015, Suzanne took the plunge and leased a space in a building in Homewood across from SoHo and split the rent with three other friends. One of these friends, Dawn Curtis, called the studio space Second Stories because it was literally on the second floor of the building. It became a place to minister to and encourage women in various forms. Dawn went on to write her Second Stories books and Suzanne created a Second Story bracelet, with new jade stones and gold plated charms, which she still sells—in fact, it’s one of her best sellers.
After a year or so of being in this studio, Suzanne found out she was unexpectedly pregnant with her fourth child, Ollie, who she refers to as her bonus baby, and she ended up moving out and adding workspace in her home. Having an infant made working from home a necessity, but secretly she dreamed of having her own space.
After a couple of years, she knew it was time to make a change. “By the time Ollie was 2, he was throwing my beads down the stairs, and I realized I needed to get out of the house,” she says.
That’s when a friend told her about a recently renovated space in Homewood’s SoSo Commons. When she visited, she knew right away it was the spot to open Holland & Birch. “The walls were already painted my logo color and it was move-in ready,” she says. “I never dreamed that I would have a store front, but I knew the business would grow and it would be ok.”
The area of shops, which include Cottage Basket, Lindsey Culver Photography, Stems & Styles, are anchored by two long-time landmarks, Upside Down Shoe Repair and Spray Tan Ann. Holland & Birch officially joined them in January 2018.
That move, like most everything with Holland & Birch, didn’t necessarily have a traditional business plan. “Whey I try to plan, things don’t tend to work out as well as when they just organically happen,” Suzanne says. “Things just happen when the Lord knows I need them to happen.”
She does have part-time staff and a wingman, Kelly Dorrough, who, she says, help her hold it all together. “I have type A girls who work with me and balance me,” Suzanne says. “I function best in a messy space—it’s organized to me and I know where things are. I tell my mom that I’m sorry for how my room was when I was growing up.”
The 700-square-foot-ish studio and shop is the perfect size to display the jewelry and other accessories while chairs and a sofa offer a cozy atmosphere for customers to visit and linger. “I’m authentic and open and that allows other women to share their struggles too,” Suzanne says. “But it’s also a happy place—sort of like a sorority house.”
Display cases, shelves, and tables present jewelry that women can purchase and/or have customized with initials, words, or phrases. Shoppers come to buy gifts for Mother’s Day, graduation, birthdays, and Christmas, and often end up getting a little something for themselves, too.
A bookcase on one wall of the shop displays the Bitty Birch collection—smaller, adolescent versions of the jewelry perfect for younger customers. Stud earrings, hand-stamped bracelets, and smaller necklaces make sweet offerings for little girls. Suzanne also offers girls’ birthday parties at her shop where guests can make an age-appropriate necklace and bracelet.
Suzanne also loves to sell jewelry as fundraisers for ministries, adoptions, hurricane relief efforts—anything people can get behind to help worthy causes. “People are going to give to a good cause. My heartbeat is giving back to people and helping them find hope in heartache,” she says. “I especially love doing fundraisers for individuals who have a hard story. Their friends literally support them through buying and wearing jewelry that supports their cause.”
One customer lost her infant son last fall to a rare disease, and Suzanne made her a bracelet as a gift. The woman was so touched by it that Suzanne offered to make more bracelets as a fundraiser. The profits from these sales went to the foundation that researches the disease. “She had so much gratitude because this was something she and her friends could do to honor her son’s life,” Suzanne says.
Likewise, Suzanne has ongoing fundraisers for Big Oak Ranch, Breast Cancer Awareness, Meals OnCol (a meal delivery service for cancer patients), Mwana Villages (an orphan prevention program), Williams Syndrome, Milla’s House (a grief center in Memphis), Hope for Autumn (helping families affected by childhood cancer), Parkinson’s and Second Stories (a ministry that helps women tell their redemptive stories).
With the fundraisers, she offers three price points to give options: hand engraved brass cuff bracelets, the Second story new jade stone bracelets with hand stamped charms, and the 14K gold filled cross necklace.
No matter the cause, Suzanne makes most of the jewelry there herself—it’s a studio as well as a shop—but has also trained other women in Homewood to help make and fulfill orders. Today jewelry shops around the country order from her and sell Holland & Birch jewelry in their shops, from Seaside to Michigan.
The company name has organically evolved and expanded, just like the business itself. “Holland” is a family name, and Suzanne’s daughter, Mary Holland, 14, was the first one who wore her jewelry. “Birch” was added later as a counterpart for “Holland” to contrast the traditional with a trendy, boho feel. At first, Suzanne considered using the word “wood,” but then a friend sent her several specific types of trees and their meanings and one in particular jumped out at her because it described her life journey.
“I wanted a contrasting name when I rebranded four years ago,” says Suzanne. “So we added ‘birch’ because the name suggests renewal and new beginnings. Birches, a hardy tree, are one of the first trees to appear on fire-swept land.”
And indeed each piece bangle, earring or necklace Suzanne crafts rings of the same theme of renewal that led her to start it all.
Find Holland & Birch at 1816 28th Ave. S., @hollandandbirch on Instagram or hollandandbirch.com. The storefront is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and can be reached at 205-283-5338.
Top Sellers and Fan Favorites
In a fun turn of events, Mary Holland and a friend helped her mother come up with the concept for the Estelle earrings. These gold plated teardrops, which have suede, leather, or ribbon wrapped around them, are based on a weaving technique taught by their elementary school art teacher. $38.
Custom Brass Birch Cuff
The hand stamped brass cuff is a best seller and can accommodate up to 13 letters. According to Suzanne, “loved” is the message most people request. But “hope” and “be still” follow closely behind as customer favorites. $38.
14K Gold Cross and Chain
Another popular purchase, the 14K tiny cross necklace that comes in lengths of 16 or 18 inches. “You can shower, sleep, sweat, and swim in it,” Suzanne says. $48.
Second Story Bracelet
Made with new jade stones and a gold plated stamped charm, Suzanne says she tried to retire it but people kept asking for it. $28.
Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman’s non-profit organization, Show Hope, ordered 150 of these one-of-a-kind bracelets made from vintage belts and helped put Suzanne on the map. $45.