Photo Courtesy of Alder & Co

Jewelry Designer Marla Aaron On Bucking Tradition By Selling Her Collection In A Vending Machine


In 2013, Marla Aaron walked away from a powerful job in global communications to launch her eponymous jewelry collection. Aaron knew in her gut that her jewelry designs—designs she was fiercely passionate about—were destined for success. “You're a blind idiot when you create something that you're proud of. You believe, ‘This is so amazing—everybody will want it,’’ Aaron says. “I thought I’d just pitch the top twenty-five independent jewelry stores in the country and they’d buy my line.” But, Aaron quickly found out that it would take more than a great pitch letter. “Naivety is a good thing sometimes. I had no idea that stores wouldn’t blindly respond to my emails. I was nobody and one of zillions pitching new products.” When Instagram first launched, Aaron used it to showcase and tell the stories of her brand. She didn’t realize the impact it would have, expanding her reach and building her devoted following. Today Aaron’s collection is sold online and in select stores across the United States, the Middle East, Asia and Europe—and one very special vending machine.

Aaron was on a business trip in Japan when she made a startling discovery that would pivot the brand strategy behind her collection. Vending machines were everywhere! They took over every street corner with people lining up to buy everything from the highbrow to the low brow, from the pocket-sized to the humongous. A lightbulb went off and Aaron knew she had to shake up her brand strategy and find a way to sell her eclectic pieces in vending machines too.

“Our jewelry is about playing,” Aaron explains. “People buy our locks and chains and then add their own pieces. It becomes a very playful experience even though it's fine jewelry. That was in my head as soon as I saw the vending machines.”

Marla Aaron. Photo Courtesy of Marla Aaron Jewelry

But, how does one even begin to find a vending machine that sells luxury goods? Aaron started where most brilliant ideas are born: Google. She typed in “vending machine makers” and easily got the information she needed. That, however, was the easiest part of the process. Not only was it an uphill battle to build a vending machine with the right aesthetic but also it was tough to find it the perfect home.

Aaron had many deal breakers. The machine had to live in her home base, New York City and placing the machine in an obvious location—like a jewelry store—wasn’t an option. “Many stores were very interested—but putting a vending machine in a non-jewelry environment? That was actually harder to achieve,” Aaron explains. It took almost two years to get the machine built and find it the perfect home. “I wanted to offer consumers a non-traditional, fine jewelry experience. If I put the machine in a jewelry store, I’d just be creating a silly promotional experience.” Aaron really wanted the vending machine to reside on a street corner like it would in Japan—but with the need for electricity and WiFi, that was simply not possible.

“What I always assume will be the easiest part of something, actually becomes the hardest part. I thought building the vending machine would be the hard part, and finding a place for it would be easy,” Aaron explains. “Nothing could have been further from the truth. I sat in many meetings where people looked at me like I was out of my mind.” But, Aaron thinks if she goes for vending machine number two that it will be an easier sell. “People never want to try something different,” she says. “No one wants to be the first.”

Medium Stoned Lock. Photo Courtesy of Marla Aaron Jewelry

Except for Aaron.

Becoming the first luxury jewelry designer with a vending machine became her mission. So, she knew it was meant to be when one of her best customers floated the idea of the Brooklyn Museum and made the introduction. “For me, the Brooklyn Museum was just a total slam dunk,” Aaron says. “When you partner with the right people, when someone really grasps your idea—it's very easy.”

Then there was figuring out the branding via the vending machine. Even though Aaron’s jewelry collection falls under the “luxury brand” umbrella—she actually takes issue with that distinction. “I loathe the word luxury. It sounds so separatist,” she explains. And, watching the vending machine become a reality meant redefining the luxury experience. “At first, I thought the machine should be lined in suede to look like a jewelry box and I knew that having the customer receive a beautifully packaged product was very important. But, the luxury experience is really about having a sense of choice and telling a story.” The choice her vending machine customers have is seven products from her collection ranging in price from $100-$1500 dollars. Aaron’s story is told through a video that plays on the machine’s screen.

That unwavering persistence, a mandatory part of making visions a reality, is nothing new for Aaron. She admits that her approach to business might be relentless and annoying—with no middle ground.

“I’m like a dog with a bone. I think, to a certain degree, you have to be that way to get things done. It's very easy to not get things done,” she says. “It’s much harder to bring things to fruition. We're constantly developing new locks for the collection yet I'm always putting things in the pipeline. Not all those ideas in the pipeline will see the light of day, but you just have to be relentless and keep going. You can’t make things happen by half-assing it.”

And, the vending machine isn’t the only way Aaron has fought to break the mold. Her personal #LockYourMom project is a cornerstone of her business, giving away a unique lock (worth $150 and not available for purchase) to single moms on Mother’s Day. “I was a single mom for the first six years of my son’s life. I worked fulltime and it was very difficult. Mother’s Day was such a bittersweet experience. My son was too young to get me anything and I felt like everyone around me was getting presents,” she explains.

Knowing that unique experience firsthand made Aaron want to support that community. Giving away locks was the perfect fit. “It's a small, silver heart with an exclamation point on it to represent the ‘uh’ of motherhood,” she explains. To receive a lock, people write in with their own story or nominate someone they’d like to bestow with the honor. Last Mother’s Day, Aaron gave away 200 locks. She hopes to top that number in 2018.

For now, the vending machine has turned Aaron into somewhat of a rock star among the design community—and she wants to inspire them to take risks and think outside the box too. “The response has been extraordinary and I'm anxious to share our learnings with the design community,” Aaron says. “I think it's important. There are very interesting applications to explore with vending machines. Can you imagine a craft fair with just vending machines?”

Yes, yes we can—, especially if Aaron is the brains behind it. Her master plan is to continuously challenge the ways you’re “supposed” to build a brand and business. “I don't want to do anything traditional. I want us to be different, I want us to stand out,” she says. “How we're building my business and selling fine jewelry? I hope we're doing a modern interpretation of it.”

3 Min Read

Tempted To Dial Your Ex: 5 Ways To Know Whether Or Not You Should Contact An Old Flame

Thinking of ringing up your ex during these uncertain times? Maybe you want an excuse to contact your ex, or maybe you genuinely feel the need to connect with someone on an emotional level. As a matchmaker and relationship expert, I was surprised at the start of the coronavirus quarantine when friends were telling me that they were contacting their exes! But as social distancing has grown to be more than a short-term situation, we must avoid seeking short-term solutions—and resist the urge to dial an ex.

It stands to reason that you would contact an ex for support. After all, who knows you and your fears better than an ex? This all translates into someone who you think can provide comfort and support. As a matchmaker, I already know that people can spark and ignite relationships virtually that can lead to offline love, but lonely singles didn't necessarily believe this or understand this initially, which drives them straight back to a familiar ex. You only need to tune into Love Is Blind to test this theory or look to Dina Lohan and her virtual boyfriend.

At the start of lockdown, singles were already feeling lonely. There were studies that said as much as 3 out of 4 people were lonely, and that was before lockdown. Singles were worried that dating someone was going to be off limits for a very long time. Now when you factor in a widespread pandemic and the psychological impact that hits when you have to be in isolation and can't see anyone but your takeout delivery person, we end up understanding this urge to contact an ex.

So, what should you do if you are tempted to ring up an old flame? How do you know if it's the wrong thing or the right thing to do in a time like this? Check out a few of my points before deciding on picking up that phone to text, much less call an ex.

Before You Dial The Ex...

First, you need to phone a friend! It's the person that got you through this breakup to begin with. Let them remind you of the good, the bad and the ugly before taking this first step and risk getting sucked back in.

What was the reason for your breakup? As I mentioned before, you could get sucked back in… but that might not be a bad thing. It depends; when you phoned that friend to remind you, did she remind you of good or bad things during the breakup? It's possible that you both just had to take jobs in different cities, and the breakup wasn't due to a problem in the relationship. Have these problems resolved if there were issues?

You want to come from a good place of reflection and not let bad habits make the choice for you.

Depending on the reason for the breakup, set your boundaries for how much contact beforehand. If there was abuse or toxic behaviors in the relationship, don't even go there. You can't afford to repeat this relationship again.

If you know you shouldn't be contacting this ex but feel lonely, set up a support system ahead of time. Set up activities or things to fall back on to resist the urge. Maybe you phone a different friend, join a virtual happy hour for singles, or binge watch Netflix. Anything else is acceptable, but don't phone that ex.

Write down your reasons for wanting to contact the ex. Ask yourself if this is worth the pain. Are you flea-bagging again, or is there a friendship to be had, which will provide you with genuine comfort? If it's the latter, it's okay to go there. If it's an excuse to go back together and make contact, don't.

Decide how far you are willing to take the relationship this time, without it being a rinse and repeat. If you broke up for reasons beyond your control, it's okay. If your ex was a serial cheater, phone a friend instead.

If there was abuse or toxic behaviors in the relationship, don't even go there. You can't afford to repeat this relationship again.

As life returns to a more normal state and you adjust to the new normal, we will slowly begin to notice more balance in our lives. You want to come from a good place of reflection and not let bad habits make the choice for you. Some do's and don'ts for this time would be:

  • Do: exercise ⁠— taking care of you is important during this time. It's self-care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Do: shower, brush your teeth, and get out of your sweats.
  • Don't: be a couch potato.
  • Don't: drink or eat excessively during this time. Again, remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Do: think positive thoughts everyday and write down the 3 things you are grateful for. Look at the impact of John Krasinksi's SGN. It's uplifting and when you feel good, you won't want to slide backwards.
  • Don't: contact a toxic ex. It's a backward move in a moment of uncertainty that could have a long term impact. Why continue flea bagging yourself?