Greek Goddess and Former Family Physician, Vicky Gkarmiri, on Founding Her Own Jewelry line: Next Door Goddess
Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
Hi, I’m Vasiliki (but everyone calls me Vicky)! I’m a Greek immigrant, family physician-turned-jewelry designer and co-founder at Next Door Goddess. I design and create artisanal handcrafted boholuxe jewelry, inspired by moments in the Greece and the Mediterranean landscape, which helps women express on the outside their vivacious spirit, look and feel fabulous.
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
Camaraderie, connection, mutual passion and the desire to grow together…You can’t beat this!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
The defining moment that changed my life’s trajectory was a question in a course: If you were to die tomorrow, what is the ONE dream you will regret not having given a change to come to life? And a second one: When you die, what do you want your legacy to be? What will your tomb stone write? I always wanted to help people and have a wider impact, something I was already achieving in my previous career as a Family Physician that I deeply loved. However, there was a moment in that medical path when a necklace saved my first lecture as a young doctor. A moment when I had the experience of how your outfit is more than something you wear- it is a powerful tool that conveys a message about who you are, and who you want to be perceived as, not only to the world outside, but, most importantly, to you. This revelation stayed with me-then that first question in the course helped me realize I had a dream that had grown inside me. It started as a fascination with beads and a creative expression, an artistic hobby. I had on the side for almost 30 years, ever since I randomly stepped in a bead boutique. All these years, I have been designing and making jewelry, and I have always had in the back of my head this idea that, maybe at 67, when I would retire from medicine, I would open a little bead shop and share my art with the world. But then that second question- thinking about the legacy I wanted to leave behind, led to my second a-ha moment. I realized that my dream had evolved to more than the quest of beauty, the desire to be surrounded by and create beautiful things, wearable art to share with other women. That change had a lot to do with my personal journey to confidence and self-love. Dove did a research that showed only 4% of women would describe themselves as beautiful. For the most part of my life, I was part of the majority. No matter what my family and friends would tell me, there was always a “but” in my mind-I was never enough. It took me years to see how not feeling beautiful can lead you down a vicious circle of low self-esteem and needless comparisons, when all you have to do is bring out and celebrate your own beauty that cannot be compared because, like you, it is unique. I realized I longed to be a part in the conversation that empowers women to feel gorgeous and magnetic just as they are, and use my jewelry design skills to help women like me bring on the outside the vibrant Goddess we all have on the inside. When a woman brings out this inner Goddess, she can do amazing things-she can stay unforgettable. Slowly, but steadily, the dream was becoming a business idea and the name of what stands today as a company, Next Door Goddess, was born. I was going back and forth for a while-it was a very hard decision for me because I loved the career I was leaving behind but on the long flight of immigration I decided that if I had the courage to change continents at 45 I also had the courage to shift careers. And I decided that I would take this leap. The encouragement and help of my husband, who is my co-founder in this business, and all the mentorship I have received along the way by some of the most charismatic and giving women out there, has been instrumental in this process.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I used to be a family physician with a rather interesting CV that spanned from Education and Research to a Master’s in Healthcare Administration Services, being elected in the Executive Board of our National Association, and representing Greece in European Bodies in the field of Family Medicine. I was in the National Healthcare Sector for the most part then switched for a while to the Private Sector before we immigrated, working with a colleague and dear friend of mine in her office.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
On the contrary, I never thought I would become one. I come from a long line of people that have worked in the public sector and having a steady, predictable wage has been highly valued not only in my family, but also in Greece, where I was raised, in general. Even more so, given the fiscal crisis, and the fact that I was a woman (and later a mom). It was my husband who is a born and now a seasoned entrepreneur that has inspired me to try the entrepreneurial path out. Interestingly enough, he comes from a long line of entrepreneurs!
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
We immigrated, we launched our first website…And nothing went as planned. Our first website was hacked before we even had a sale, and we had to switch platforms. Then, while we were building our current website, the pandemic hit. We launched in the middle of the pandemic, on January 02 2021. We thought we would be doing trunk shows-everything was shut down. People were more on Social Media, but first we had the Texas winter of 2021, and then we found ourselves homeschooling all 3 of our children since the pandemic hit in 2019-this year of 2022 included. We were reluctant to run ads before streamlining our product (which was harder to do because we had to look for feedback online). Getting Press and being a member of online networks has been the single strategic approach that went as planned (if not better) and had results. It has driven people to our website and social media organically and, most importantly, I have had the support and guidance of many other like-minded women that have walked the path before me or next to me-which feels amazing.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
Finding our customer in the States, figuring out what she really wants, and communicating the value of our products to her in the right way. As a designer and creative that landed here from Greece in 2019, and shortly after the world shut down and she stayed inside, it was hard for me to put a finger on the pulse of women in the States. The approach to style and lifestyle in Greece is very different from here-and many Greek women love big, bold, colorful jewelry-especially in the summer months. From this to the black and white minimalist style of NY or to a relaxed bohemian Miami style, there’s a world of difference. As a designer, to feel the vibe, to see how your product can fit in someone’s life, and find out who that someone may be, you need to be on the road, see people and how they dress, how they live. For a long time I was relying on social media for this. Meanwhile, I needed to create collections. My other challenge was my own creativity. I LOVE playing with different styles as a person-and I love creating jewelry that span many genres. However, as a jewelry startup, this is the quickest road to brand suicide unless you have the funds to support all the messaging, photography and approach every different genre needs. Having to niche down on my designs and shorten the menu, has been one of the most challenging, but also most fruitful things I was required to do. My third challenge was talking to my customers. Messaging is the cornerstone of selling and without selling you have no business. Being an immigrant, I had an added layer of difficulty with this, so, early on, I realized I would need help. The biggest lesson I have learned to this day is what my mentors have been saying all along: “You shouldn’t create in a vacuum, you can’t create for everyone and you have to offer the right product to the right person in the right way and the right price”.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Seeing my designs on some of the most amazing, strong, positive women out there and seeing how they connected to them and made my jewelry part of their story. Contributing in this moment when a woman puts on her jewelry and she feels gorgeous, empowered, beautiful…This is pure magic, an amazing feeling I can’t get enough of. It’s a great honor to be chosen-and trusted-to be part of it. When a woman buys a piece of jewelry, it’s not because she needs it-it is because it spoke to her heart. And that makes this moment, this choice, very special.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Not really 🙂 – I subscribe to the idea that work is part of our life. So, instead of seeing this as a scale where work and life are on the opposite ends and life begins where work ends, I believe in working in a field that inspires us, doing things that make us feel amazing, contributing to a bigger story and surrounding ourselves with colleagues and mentors that support and help us to be the best version of ourselves. In all my working environments, that have been vastly different, I have carried this mentality with me which helped me feel that I was not losing my life to work-on the contrary, I had many amazing life moments working. The need to balance things came with family-having children vastly changed my time allocation, my priorities-I was still loving and building my career only on a slower rhythm than before. My value hierarchy changed. For the first time, a 24-hour shift on Christmas had a different emotional weight.That was when I started thinking of a more flexible work environment that might allow me more freedom to form my own schedule. What I would suggest is starting with our values in mind-what are the most important things to us in this phase of our lives? This is the base for forming and tweaking our careers and work environments so that the help us feel fulfilled.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
I wish I had known earlier some of the key mindset shifts I would need to make in this process, and the importance of niching down not only regarding my product, but also the messaging part of it.
What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
This year we have been able to give back more than the previous one and this is a great joy for me. Every purchase on out website supports postpartum US moms and their babies in need through In Kind Boxes, a volunteer run not for profit that provides them with high quality mom and baby care essentials. But we also support other causes to the best of our capacity.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are already geared towards our next collection and we will be working with a sales representative and business strategist for wholesale outreach. Our sister line, ZuZuMaMa, has just emerged with the first element I designed myself and is made by our vendor in Greece-all very exciting projects. What we want to achieve over the next 5 years is broaden our wholesale outreach with well targeted partners and elevate our customers’ experience while developing a more eco-conscious and community-based approach to our offers.