When Lisa A. Owusu decided she wanted to leave her law career and start designing fine jewelry at age 30, New York City’s Diamond District accepted her with open arms. The talented jewelers she introduced herself to on 47th Street would teach, mentor, watch over and support her in the pursuit of her new dream. When an 89-year-old Argentinean jeweler named Hugo retired, he offered to let her take over his shop’s lease and buy all the contents of his office for a bargain price, including his jewelry workbench, polishing machine, jewelers’ tools and a safe.
“I wouldn’t be here today without all of these very gifted craftsmen teaching me along the way,” Lisa says. “They gave me room to grow in this space and their help is what made me passionate about mentoring people, too.”
Once she fine-tuned her made-in-NYC brand, Charlton & Lola, her desire to mentor other people only grew stronger. This past year, she trained a group of young women from Harvard in jewelry production after they found her online and took the semester off to create a fine jewelry start-up. She was drawn to their mission of donating a percentage of proceeds to help other women around the world become entrepreneurs themselves. Lisa helped them understand the compositions of gemstones and metals while also introducing them to her network of production contacts.
Part of Lisa’s business also includes creating custom pieces for her international clientele. Whether learning from a mentor, sharing her expertise with a mentee or crafting something perfect for a client, Lisa has shown she is an expert at building relationships. Her strong global influence is to thank for that. Lisa was born in Brooklyn to Ghanaian parents. When her father got a job at the African Development Bank on the Ivory Coast, her family relocated. At 18, she came back to the U.S. for college, studied at Wesleyan University for undergrad and then headed to Washington D.C. to be a paralegal for two years. England was next, where she attended the University of Bristol for law school.
“I’ve always been in international schools. I grew up speaking French and went through American school and British school,” Lisa says. “Throughout my life, I’ve had friends from every culture, every nationality, and that makes me very open to connecting with people.”
Lisa believes that helping others find their own success—especially those in the generation behind her—is a worthwhile investment. Here, she teaches you how you, too, can move the future workforce forward.
Allow your mentees to work through their mistakes
I check in, but I don’t mother my mentees. I want them to learn how to come back from their mistakes. My parents always let me make decisions and live through them, like when I told them I wanted to move to England and I’d never been there before. I realized that even if I made a mistake, I earned it and I had to work my way out of my situation. That is the best way to empower someone as a human being.
Listen to what they have to say
I meet with the group of young women I mentor once a month. Just making my office open to them, hearing what they’re thinking of building and creating in the future and learning how I can best support them in their development does wonders. When you graduate college, you’re so hopeful, you want to make a name of yourself. As a mentor, it’s important to show them what to do with that ambition and how to direct it in a productive way.
Give them room to pursue their dreams
Passion gets stifled when people in your community or family tell you something’s impossible or you’re not supposed to do it. That’s when you lose faith in yourself. I’ve always liked giving people space to experiment. Even if it doesn’t work the first time or the next, if you feel something is calling you, pursue it. When I left law, someone told me, “You spent $150,000 on a law education and now you just want to work with your hands.” Conversely, when I told a jewelry teacher that I wanted create a silver ring with my own two hands, he said, “Of course you can do it and this is how.” That is what I want to pass on to younger people—the belief that it’s okay to be you because you might create things that this world needs.
Help them hone in on their motivation
Business always has ups and downs and there are intense lessons to be learned. I tell people that they need an element of soulfulness in why they’re doing whatever it is. When it becomes hard, you need something to ground you to keep going.
Expose them to reality
Take them through a day in your life. My business, in particular, is very romanticized. It’s always about final product and how beautiful it is. But there’s a tremendous amount of labor that goes into creating a single piece of fine jewelry. Some people don’t know that a gemstone is actually a rock. The mining to get that rock out of the ground, send it to New York, cut the stone, design it, polish it and clean it takes a village.
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Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump
Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo