This week’s Get a Real Job guest works side by side with Yoda, Iron Man, and more than one Disney princess on a daily basis. Allison Cimino is the CEO, founder and designer of RockLove, a jewelry company that started small (as in, a team of herself) and has gone on to land licensing deals with some of the biggest entertainment companies on the planet: Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and more.
In our conversation, Allison talked about her unexpected career journey, the challenges of simultaneously wearing the hats of a creative thinker and a nuts-and-bolts business person, and has some great advice for anyone who is about to take a meeting at Star Trek headquarters. (Spoiler alert: Let your geek flag fly!)
Below are some highlights of that conversation, which can be heard in full above or wherever you download podcasts. Thanks as always for listening!
Big ideas start with big problems
“My career has definitely been a winding path. At no point did I ever say, ‘I want to make Disney princess jewelry. This is my life goal.’ I was a violinist and I thought I was going to be a musician. I always loved jewelry, but never thought of it as a career. While I was at college, I put in this beautiful golden diamond nose ring that was supposed to be, you know, a premium quality. And I had a horrible allergic reaction. I looked like Quasimodo. It was very traumatic. And I learned that I had this metal allergy. And as soon as that experience happened, I decided I wanted to go abroad to Florence, Italy to do a old-style apprenticeship and make my own jewelry so that I could trust the metal I was putting in my body. And that became a cornerstone for RockLove. Making metals was how I solved my own personal problem.”
Birth of a licensing biz
“I was making pieces for boutiques with this kind of rock and roll style. And then I started working with bands and authors that I met at live events like Ink and Iron or Viva Las Vegas, the rockabilly-themed weekend. I’d make unique pieces of merchandise for them as an expansion of just T-shirts, stickers or CDs. And that was my start with merchandising, which was never a path I planned on taking.”
“The first on-screen appearance of my jewelry was on HBO’s True Blood. That was very exciting. And I have all of these low-resolution screenshots of that because this was at least a decade ago. But most recently I worked with the very talented props department for Star Trek: Picard. I created with them physical jewelry that’s worn on screen. And Sir Patrick Stewart, who has been my captain since I was seven, is there holding my necklace for the huge part of the first season. It’s a giant plot point and he’s holding it and I’m just crying. And my husband is taking videos of me and laughing and then we sent the video off to my father because he was the one that I used to watch Star Trek with. It was a very impactful moment. Patrick Stewart holding my jewelry! Gets me all worked up, even just telling the story.”
Related: A No B.S. Conversation With Model, Writer and Activist Emily Ratajkowski
Don’t play it cool
“When I visited the Star Trek studio, I absolutely freaked out and stopped everything to go sit in Captain Picard’s chair! And at Disney, they have this whole campus and there is just so much to see, your eyes are going everywhere. In moments that, I definitely feel that it’s important to just be yourself. And if you are gagging over some awesome prop sitting right over there, then just express that! You’re a fan, and the people you’re meeting with work there for a reason, too. They are fans, so you can nerd out a little bit. Your enthusiasm just endears you to these very jaded, consumer products people. So I think it’s really important to not try and put on false airs or pretend that you’re some big bad-ass. You got in the door, you’ve already sold them, so be yourself.”
Success starts with authenticity
“I only make jewelry for things that I’m a fan of, and that’s part of what has made RockLove succeed. And for me as a designer and the front person for the company meshing so well with the licenses and the people making the important decisions, my sincerity has brought me far. And so I think that anybody that is looking to make a brand, whether it is jewelry related or no, it has to come from a point of sincerity and not chasing dollars. It has to be something that you truly can not imagine waking up and not doing, even on the bad days. A certain level of truly caring about the business you are pursuing is absolutely paramount.”