Women We Love: Chicago Small Business Owner, Abby Alley

Born Tough New Arrivals

Women We Love: Chicago Small Business Owner, Abby Alley

We might all still be rocking sweats, and I certainly haven’t worn a pair of heels in longer than I can remember, but that doesn’t…


We might all still be rocking sweats, and I certainly haven’t worn a pair of heels in longer than I can remember, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find small ways to sparkle in our everyday. I have been making myself put on jeans at least one work day a week, doing a little makeup for Zoom calls, and using jewelry to spice up even the simplest of  outfits. A chunky necklace or a great pair of earrings make me feel more put together, and help me look more chic if I get an unexpected FaceTime ?

When I found Abby Alley and her stunning sustainable jewelry, I knew they were going to fit perfectly into my everyday wear. And after I discovered her fierce pride and support for the Chicago small business community, and small businesses worldwide, I was sure she had a story I wanted to share with all of you! She works with African artisans to support their small businesses and make a positive impact in their communities, mixing their expertise with her passion to create something uniquely beautiful for our city.

Whether you fall in love with her Message Necklaces because $5 from every necklace sold will be given back to an outreach program for at-risk Tanzanian youth, or you have your eye on the Knotted Ring for its everyday beauty, there are pieces for every accessory-lover in her line. So before your next Zoom call, learn about her story, and support a lady-run Chicago small business!

What is something no one tells you about being your own boss?

It’s really important to be disciplined with your time and intrinsically motivated so you get things done. On the other hand, you can’t do everything on your own, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! It’s important to lean on people and build a team you trust. I’ve had great support from my family and friends. I also established a board of advisors this year that includes women from different industries who have various strengths. One of the best surprises has been the support and collaboration from other small business owners too!

Tell us about your creative process!

My creative process has evolved over time. At first, I tried to schedule design time, but you can’t force it. It’s important for me to honor the creative piece of my business, so I’m not just selling things to sell. I try to think, “What is missing from my accessories?” Or “How would I want to feel wearing that jewelry or using that bag?” I want my designs to embody an emotion my customers will feel.

And how you take your ideas from a product sketch to the pieces arriving to our door…

After I sketch my products, I create slides with the pictures, a list of materials and dimensions to go over with my artisan partners. We will have a video call to talk about the designs to make sure they are possible before starting the sampling process. The artisans will make the samples and send them to me. Then, we’ll talk over the phone to discuss edits so they can rework the design until it’s perfect. Once the sample is final, we take a picture and write the specifications down so they can use that as a guide going forward.

How have you been using jewelry and other fashionable touches to spice up your wardrobe over the last year?

Jewelry is unique, because it makes you feel put together even if you’re wearing a sweatshirt or on a Zoom call. By adding a necklace or earrings, you can dress up a casual outfit. For me, earrings always put me in a good mood and make me feel like myself. I love how jewelry can make you feel special and beautiful, and how it allows you to reinvent your wardrobe without having to invest in new tops, pants or dresses.

With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, what are some pieces you want to gift to yourself or your Galentine?

My Message Bracelets are the perfect encouraging gift everyone needs this Valentine’s Day. They are handmade in Tanzania. Plus, we are donating 20% of the profits to Pamoja Tunaweza Boys and Girls Club! The Linked Earrings are also a beautifully unique set to add to your wardrobe. For bags, you can’t go wrong with the Sling Bag. You can wear it across your body or around your waist. It would be a perfect gift for yourself, your galentine or a loved one.

Why is shopping small so important right now?

Many small businesses are struggling due to the pandemic. If they fail, our neighborhoods and communities won’t feel like themselves. They’re the fabric of our society. Chicago has so many neighborhoods that are unique, but if they’re all filled with the same name-brand stores, you lose what makes them special. Shopping small, especially from locally-owned fashion businesses, can give you the power to help shape your community with individuality and personality. There’s so much to love about our Chicago small business world!

How would you describe the world of Chicago small business?

I think Chicago has one of the strongest small business communities in the country. The small businesses represent the unique cultures that make up our neighborhoods. It’s very supportive too. All of the stores that carry my lines have shoppers that are so loyal to their businesses. It’s been really cool to see that!

Other than YOU, what are some of your favorite small businesses in the city?

Embellish, Nomad, Winifred Grace, Adornment and Theory are all fantastic boutiques with incredible owners. They all carry my products and have been amazing to work with. I also love Felt, Eskell and Fleur. Each store is so unique and offers a different shopping experience. I ❤️ my Chicago small business friends.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Someone once told me to think bigger. Plan for a bigger future, because even if you don’t get there, you’ll still get further than you thought you would. It’s ok to allow yourself to dream.

What advice would you share for young designers and artists?

There’s room for everyone’s point of view, so don’t be afraid to share yours. Your voice or your ideas are important, even if not everyone agrees with them. You need to be true to your own aesthetic and the people who love it will find you.

What are your 5-year plans and dreams for your brand?

I hope that the brand has grown to a place where it’s recognizable and people know about us, so my partners and I can grow our teams.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote?

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

To find another Chicago small business you’re sure to love, check out our local Windy City coverage here!