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.”

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."