Holly Hosterman & Paul "Yashi" Lubitz Arcata, CA
The sound of jewelers' hammers ring in the background. Desks are covered in designs to be photographed for an upcoming catalog. The artful jewelry emerging from the Holly Yashi studio in Arcata, Calif. is made of vibrantly colored niobium, Swarovski crystals and semi-precious stones like garnet and amethyst. Less obvious but no less important to the success of the company are innovative investments like a new state-of-the-art water jet machine and a major marketing effort that includes a new logo and Web site.
Back in 1982, just a year after Holly Yashi was started, its creators discovered titanium and the rainbow hues the metal made possible. Co-founders and Humboldt State alumni Holly Hosterman ('77) and Paul "Yashi" Lubitz ('77) brought their bright wares to a trade show and boom—they were swamped with orders. "Back then, our garage was our workshop," says Hosterman. "People went gaga over the new designs. We came home with a stack of orders and invited our friends and parents over to help us fill them. It really threw us into high gear in terms of production."
Holly Yashi's jewelry became popular initially because of its pioneering use of titanium—no one else was producing similar items. Later, the company shifted to niobium, a metal that can take on the same bright colors as titanium but requires no toxic acids to work with. Today, the company has branched out into a range of whimsical styles, from garnet-studded hoop earrings to strands of smoky crystal pearls. And the company's reach has grown as well, with more than 1,100 retailers around the world selling Holly Yashi jewelry.
Hosterman pairs her talents as creative director with Lubitz's entrepreneurial skills to continually grow the business. The last two years, they say have been economically challenging but artistically successful. That creative success was fueled by the purchase of the $200,000 water jet machine, which allows the company to quickly bring an idea to life. Hosterman can begin sketching designs in the morning, inspired by ideas as diverse as ancient Egypt, nature, and even petit fours pastries. Within minutes, the sketch can be scanned and uploaded to the machine, which can produce a prototype the same day. "We get a tool and we push it right to the edge. So when we call the machine tech we might even know more about its capabilities because we are trying so much that's new," says Lubitz, company president and CEO. "We have that artistic background. Our mentality is, 'Why can't we do this?'"
Purchasing the machine was a big expense, certainly, but it not only shortens the production cycle but also opens up the materials the company can work with. It uses crushed garnet—an abrasive—combined with a hair-thin stream of water to cut through any material. So the company can now produce jewelry from a whole new palette of materials, from traditional metals to glass to stone.
Another recent investment was the company's rebranding, led by a nationally known consultant who had worked on projects for Nike and Ralph Lauren. That ongoing effort included a new logo and an entirely new Web site geared to individual customers. "The idea of going direct to consumer for us is a great thing," says Lubitz. "In these challenging economic times, it's a glimmer of light to have these orders coming in every day." Despite the past years' growth, the current recession has slowed the company's sales somewhat. "The timing is just unfortunate," Hosterman says. "It's as if we finally got this new prom dress to wear out and there's no party."
Once the economy improves, potential expansion plans include pursuing international markets. Holly Yashi currently has sales reps in areas as diverse as Dubai and Paris, selling to shops and galleries there. The company is also considering moving into markets in Japan, Mexico and Russia.
Both Hosterman and Lubitz were named Distinguished Alumni by Humboldt State's Alumni Association in 1992. That recognition stems not only from their success but also their commitment to the Humboldt community. In 2001, when it came time to expand their physical workspace, they built their new studio in downtown Arcata, where they employ over 40 local artists, designers, and metalsmiths.
That commitment to community hasn't wavered. For instance, the new water jet machine is the only one of its kind for a 200 mile radius, and Holly Yashi rents the machine to local businesses who otherwise would not have access to it. In 2007, the company donated 1,000 commemorative pins valued at $20,000 for all graduating seniors who took the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility, the famous oath conceived by HSU undergraduates which has since spread to universities around the globe. And HSU Lecturer Bill Wilkinson in the Applied Technology department regularly brings students to the studio to see the machine at work.
But what truly sets the company apart is its dedication to creating heirloom-quality pieces. Whether it's intricate metal filigree, the hand-welded joints on an earring, or the designs themselves, all are produced to last. "Market differentiation is not a problem—we really are different," says Lubitz. "We have this basic belief that you have to have a great product. That's it. That's what we're all about."