What's on Tap

What's on Tap

'Fashion is a conversation': Dana Carvalho's Sweetie Pie Jewelry

Posted February 11, 2015

Dana Cavalho makes Sweetie Pie Jewelry in Chapel Hill. Photographed in Hadley Emerson Boutique, which sells the baubles. (Chapel Hill Magazine)

— Never underestimate the power of Kelly Ripa – or the attention paid to the petite morning show host’s fashion choices. Dana Carvalho knows this very well.

Dana, a former preschool teacher, had piddled in artisan jewelry design for years – she’d even sold some pieces to fellow moms in her daughter’s school. But in 2009, she launched her fashion jewelry company – Sweetie Pie Jewelry – and decided to really make a go of things by approaching stores about carrying her items.

Hadley Emerson in Chapel Hill was first, followed by Lark and Dress in Raleigh. Things were going pretty well. “And then Kelly Ripa wore one of my necklaces to the Super Sunday fundraiser in New York,” Carvalho said. Before she knew it, her creation was appearing on the pages of InStyle, Glamour, Real Simple and People StyleWatch. It was actually Ripa herself who called the store in Greenville where her niece purchased the necklace to ask about the designer.

Soon, Leighton Meester wore Sweetie Pie’s Chloe and Samantha necklaces on Gossip Girl. Rachael Ray donned a necklace on her daytime show.

Although Dana acquired representation from New York for a while, today vendors are seeking her out. That’s probably because her jewelry is fun, colorful, accessible and on trend. It’s costume jewelry. No piece is over $140. Most are more like $54. She keeps overhead down by running the operation out of a small office in her home. She is a one-woman show, although credit must be given to her pug named – what else – Sweetie Pie, who sits at her feet as she works. Dana makes every single piece – even when her part-time employees are around, she designs, dyes and constructs while her cohorts sort, count, organize and wrap. Her materials are chains, Lucite, pearls, filigree, beads and crystals – some of it vintage, and all of it made in the U.S. All of her products are given a woman’s name; bestsellers include the Grace necklace and the Florence earrings.

Her jewelry isn’t the kind that you feel pressured to wear every day because of the astronomical amount of money you spent on it. She has previously done knotting and stringing work for jewelers who sell necklaces for tens of thousands of dollars, and she acknowledges that their work might be considered high art, while her pieces are seen as more commercial. And that’s OK. In fact, she prefers to be thought of as a small-business owner rather than an artist or designer.

Dana made a conscious decision years ago to appeal to a demographic that she’s not part of. “Even though I’m not young and contemporary, I just kind of got what that was,” she says.

But lately, her client list has expanded to include “anybody who wants to use fashion to express themselves.”

“I always say that fashion is a conversation,” she says. “Accessories are an inexpensive way to communicate what you’re feeling. I’m feeling bold, stylish, flirty, cheerful, somber. And the people you’re having that conversation with are your peers. It’s almost like musical riffs. You wear something today that inspires me to wear something tomorrow.” 

Editor's note: The Great Room at Top of the Hill in downtown Chapel Hill will host a Valentine’s Day Indoor Tailgate on Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dana will be there doing a Sweetie Pie trunk show. Enjoy a winter lunch buffet with TOPO beer and liquor tastings. Tickets include bloody marys and mimosas. (The cash bar will be open as well.) Watch UNC men’s basketball take on Pitt on the big screen. There will also be Videri chocolate, Chapel Hill Toffee, complimentary copies of the brand new issue of Southern Bride & Groom, a Top of the Hill gift basket giveaway and more. This event is perfect for couples or groups of friends! It’s part of the Taste event series. Tickets are $95 per couple or $50 per person and are available at Taste 2015's website. A portion of proceeds will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C. 


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