Sophie Wiseman-Floyd was living in Haiti in 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck, plunging the Caribbean country of about 5 million people into utter distress. Wiseman-Floyd, 17 years old at the time, returned home to the United States to finish high school. But she couldn’t help but feel that she had missed out on something.
“It was a really cool experience for [my family] to be exposed to a developmental world culture,” Wiseman-Floyd says. “And then, the earthquake happened. There was just something missing. I needed to figure out what I wanted to do, so I decided to move back and take a gap year in Haiti.”
It was a decision that set her on her current path to making jewelry. In Haiti, a company hired Wiseman-Floyd and 300 artisans to make jewelry for $5 a day, triple the minimum wage in the island nation. Wiseman-Floyd soon decided to strike out on her own and started a business, Haiti Jewels, where she taught local women to make jewelry to be sold in U.S. and European markets.
“Those three years [in Haiti] switched me from thinking about a public health career to design,” Wiseman-Floyd recalls.
In 2013, she headed back to the U.S. once again, to major in industrial design at N.C. State. She knew right away that she wanted to start her own jewelry business stateside, but it wasn’t until her senior year that her business, Heir, became a reality. Wiseman-Floyd began curating jewelry from gold and brass instead of the recycled products she used in Haiti. She also launched a website to sell her creations and began showing and selling her work at pop-up markets.
Last May, on the week of graduation, Wiseman-Floyd got a call from the boutique Bevello—the store wanted to carry her jewelry in its North Carolina locations.
“I did a million happy dances in my room. It was unbelievable,” Wiseman-Floyd says.
Now, Heir jewelry is sold in seven different stores around Raleigh. As for her “workshop,” Wiseman-Floyd currently makes all of her jewelry, by herself, out of her home.
“I use my dining room table for production mode,” she says. “It’s my favorite part of the day when I get to sit down and actually make the orders.”
Wiseman-Floyd recently made a spur-of-the-moment leap into the Knoxville market during a visit to the area over Thanksgiving last year. She packed every piece that she had, and wound up selling out, even landing a contract with a store in the area to sell her jewelry. The expansion, she hopes, will help grow her business and branch out to even more markets. She has a five-year plan to hire more employees, and is considering working with women who have arrest records or who just need help starting over with their professional careers.
Heir products are unique in their simplicity. Necklaces, earrings and cuffs are the most in-demand items and Floyd says her jewelry allows the fine details on her pieces to make the biggest statements. Connecting with her clients, Wiseman-Floyd says, is key.
“You don’t have to be loud to be heard,” Wiseman-Floyd says of her pieces. “Even as we grow, I want to be connecting personally with our clients. I love watching women try on my jewelry for the first time and seeing their faces light up. I love having clients reach out and ask for a creation.”
As her company grows, Wiseman-Floyd hopes to hold on to that personal touch. She says she views Heir as a guild and doesn’t envision her jewelry ever being mass produced.
“I get so happy, almost to the point of tears, when people choose to buy the jewelry that I make versus something that is manufactured elsewhere [on a large scale],” Wiseman-Floyd says. “When people seek out our craft, it’s the biggest compliment in the world. It makes my heart feel like it’s growing too big to fit inside of my chest.”
Shop HEIR custom pieces as well as staples at heir-raleigh.com or on Instagram @heir.raleigh.