Lizzy Klein Of mazi + zo

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

Validate — As with starting any business, validate the basic model. How do you know customers want this product or service? Do they want it from you? What are your margins? How will you attract customers? I remember meeting an entrepreneur who wanted to help people access organic products at better prices but he didn’t have any secret sauce for sourcing items at lower costs or reducing an ancillary cost like fulfillment. Great cause but a terrible business plan.

In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizzy Klein.

Founder Lizzy Klein is an NYC-based digital entrepreneur who caught the startup bug early and hasn’t looked back.

She loves all things bright and colorful (seriously, check out her IG feed

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, went to Cornell University, and then moved to NYC to pursue a career in fashion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In 2020, Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote organization chose mazi + zo’s VOTE necklace to help fundraise. When Michelle Obama spoke at the DNC, initially I was crushed to see her wearing another designer’s VOTE necklace. About 30 seconds into her speech, however, orders started pouring in for my necklace. Customers searching for “vote necklace” and choosing our jewelry over what Michelle Obama wore was gratifying and we raised a lot of money to support voting rights.

We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

The mistake: round packaging! I’ve never liked traditional jewelry packaging and so when I launched mazi + zo, I wanted to pack our jewelry sustainably, ideally in something reusable. I settled on round stainless steel tins and designed a sticker for the top — inspired by a pack of edibles I saw at a cannabis dispensary. Round tins meant I needed to source custom round jewelry cards, find a solution to protect the jewelry from brushing against the steel, and then design a gifting solution. While we get a lot of love for the packaging (customers post how they re-use theirs on IG), it doesn’t work at retail or in-person selling events. I’ve found workarounds for all of these issues, but it was a lot more effort than I ever expected and I think I’d have been better off dedicating that extra time and money in other areas of my business. I’d bet a professional packaging designer would have identified the potential pitfalls of my packaging from the start.

The lesson learned: work with pros on areas outside of my expertise! I recently launched a small luxe collection of diamond and ruby necklaces and will need to design more upscale packaging for those. I’m planning to hire a packaging pro for those and will likely update the packaging across the board.

As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?

I refer to these as our “Solid Gold Values” and they’re linked to from every page on our site:

We Always

  1. deliver the highest quality fine jewelry at a fair price;
  2. handcraft our jewelry in NYC;
  3. use top-grade reclaimed 14k gold and pure .925 sterling silver;
  4. strive to eliminate waste in production, packaging, and shipping;
  5. support equal rights across the board and prioritize inclusivity;
  6. work exclusively with suppliers committed to environmental sustainability, ethical sourcing and fair hiring practices.

We Never

  • inflate our prices so they can be discounted later;
  • manufacture outside the U.S.;
  • use silver that contains nickel, cadmium, or lead;
  • sell gold-plated, gold-filled, or gold vermeil jewelry (because jewelry should last a lifetime.)

The majority of these speak to “quality” which is something I strive to deliver in our jewelry and also in my actions and interactions with others. Specifically, supporting equal rights and inclusivity has led to three programs where I’ve used mazi + zo jewelry designs to raise funds and awareness for causes that mean a lot to me: voter rights, reproductive rights, and (currently) protecting Jewish students on college campuses.

What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?

While the majority of my business might look like a traditional for-profit business, I’ve always operated within a value system that prioritizes doing the right thing over personal gain. I didn’t think about incorporating fundraisers into mazi + zo until 2020 when I knew I had to do something to contribute to free and fair elections, which led to the VOTE necklace.

Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?

Choosing to run a values-driven business is fundamentally a marketing decision for any company — it affects all four marketing pillars: product, price, promotion, and place. At mazi + zo, our values lead to a top-quality product, mean that we need to charge a little more, feature any B2B or B2C messaging, and impact where we’re comfortable placing our products. In our case, the benefits are clear in every category but price, which is a challenge. We compete with companies that sell jewelry at significantly lower prices so we need to be sure our values are self-evident. The upside is that we consistently earn repeat business and organic word-of-mouth marketing. In addition, when we’ve partnered with other organizations to fundraise around social values, those organizations build brand awareness for us with a whole new customer base.

How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?

Because we’ve been values-driven from the start and it’s pervasive in our business, I can’t isolate the impact that our purpose has on business results. I can say I wouldn’t have started mazi + zo if I didn’t think I could run it in alignment with my values, so maybe the impact is 100%?

Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability in your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or have to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?

Each time I’ve chosen to donate a portion of my sales to support an organization I believe in, it hits my bottom line. I donate 30–35% of the selling price of these pieces which is break-even for me, and the 50–60% of my time I dedicate to promoting those efforts is at the expense of the rest of my business. I’ve also lost social media followers whose values aren’t aligned with mine. On the positive side, when I sell a lot of necklaces at break-even pricing, the effort drives additional income for our workshop and freelancers in addition raising money. I’m a solo business owner and I’m grateful the downside of this tradeoff affects only me.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.

1.Validate — As with starting any business, validate the basic model. How do you know customers want this product or service? Do they want it from you? What are your margins? How will you attract customers? I remember meeting an entrepreneur who wanted to help people access organic products at better prices but he didn’t have any secret sauce for sourcing items at lower costs or reducing an ancillary cost like fulfillment. Great cause but a terrible business plan.

2.Brand Alignment — your business and/or product must align with your purpose. Make sure your suppliers, packaging, events, etc. make sense or you’ll look like a hypocrite. Brands that claim to support environmental preservation can’t use plastic and candy brands can’t pretend to fight childhood obesity. On the flip side, it makes sense when Klean Kanteen donates 1% to environment or Bombas gives clothing to homeless people and we all feel better about buying from them.

3.Controversy — Your purpose will attract customers who align with your values and may deter others. If your purpose is controversial, it can limit your audience. You probably won’t lose any market share supporting the environment, children, or mental health but standing with any race, religion, gender, or political topic is a different story. Taking a riskier position can pay off in earned media and in the creation of a community that rallies for your brand. When MAC Cosmetics launched their Viva Glam initiative in 1994, the proceeds went towards HIV/AIDS research. When MAC took this “risk”, they knew they had a strong customer base of makeup artists, a group that overlaps heavily with the LGBTQ+ community, so while they may have lost a few customers, millions became rabid supporters and drove consumer adoption.

4.Choose partners with care — if you’re partnering with an organization or donating to a particular entity, choose carefully. You want a partner who will be around for a while, will support your initiatives in their marketing efforts, and won’t create unexpected PR problems for you. If you’re donating funds, you want a partner that’s demonstrated impact in their area. Charity Navigator is a great resource for understanding how an organization uses their funds.

5. Know your numbers — There are a lot of different formulas for giving back so make sure the option you choose is fiscally sustainable. For example, my company can afford to donate the proceeds from a particular item or collection to raise money, but donating 35% of all sales would put me out of business. Most organizations choose to tie their contributions to sales or other customer-driven actions (i.e. $1 for every IG post) so they know each dollar of their contribution has direct ROI.

Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?

My business is very small and I don’t pay myself a salary, so to be happy in two years, I’d want to have 10x my current revenues and I’d hope to have also supported organizations doing good things.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I try to follow the campsite rule: leave things (or people) in better condition than you found them. This can be as tactical as picking up a piece of litter or more personal like making a helpful introduction.

How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?

Shop (and use welcome10 for a 10% discount!) and follow us on IG at @maziandzo.