Wearing a long fitted blazer, gold brooch and oversized glasses, Kate Manoucheka Airey stands out. Her website, SincerelyFearless.com, also stands out for the unique style of products it offers.
Kate Manoucheka, a U of I junior studying communications, and her sister, Marnelle Airey, decided to create their own online jewelry boutique the weekend after the Fourth of July in 2011. The boutique opened four months later on Nov. 4, 2011.
Kate handles the creative and marketing aspects of the business, while Marnelle, in Florida, is responsible for the managerial aspects, such as shipping, packaging and placing orders.
Sincerely Fearless caters to women ages 15–40 and sells statement jewelry pieces, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and glasses.
“Our pieces are very intricate and bold and big and very detailed, so we try to make sure that even if it’s a small little piece, that there’s something about it that makes it intriguing,” Kate said.
The sisters’ different styles play a part in the pieces that are chosen to be sold.
“We’re kind of, I wouldn’t say complete polar opposites, but we have our own style,” Marnelle said. “I’m definitely more girly, a little more structured, a little more glammy-girly, and she’s more like funky; she wants interesting, weird pieces.”
Their respective styles result in different preferences at times but with a good end result.
“Sometimes there are pieces that we definitely agree on, and then there are other times where there’s a piece that I want, and she’s like 'no,' and then there’s a piece that she wants, and I’m like 'no, it’s atrocious,'” Kate said. “But I think it works out because now we’re able to capture a wider audience of girls because we have two different styles.”
Inspiration for creating the jewelry boutique came from Kate’s previous employers at True Star Magazine, who started their business from scratch. The sisters’ mother was also a source of inspiration that pushed them to create Sincerely Fearless.
“She was a business woman, and she definitely wanted us to be self-sufficient, but she unfortunately passed last year,” Kate said. “So we had to keep forward and try to find a way to survive and have a means for ourselves.”
The sisters found that their lack of background in running a business was a main challenge when they first started.
“We were very afraid,” Kate said. “We have no outside funding, so it was just us, and we’re like okay, we don’t want to fail; we don’t want to go about this the wrong way. I was just basically calling around all the people that I knew who owned their own business or were knowledgeable of the situation and did a lot of research, and then we finally moved forward, but we were scared the whole time.”
Generating an audience was also difficult for the sisters, and they are still in the process of meeting people and gaining a following.
“We knew that what we were building was something that a lot of young women would love and would like to partake in, but we were like, 'okay, how are we going to generate an audience?'” Kate said.
The Airey sisters have taken advantage of social media such as Twitter and Facebook and have also reached out to YouTube celebrities and done giveaways of their products. They have made fliers and distributed them around Champaign, Chicago and Florida, the three locations frequently visited. The sisters are also invited to events, most of which have been fashion shows.
“When we get invited to events, then we try to get the word out, and we’re always open to providing pieces for fashion show,” Kate said.
Jewelry is the sole focus of Sincerely Fearless at the moment, but the sisters hope to expand to other areas in the near future, including clothing and, most importantly for Marnelle, shoes.
“I am definitely looking forward to having shoes added to the accessories portion,” Marnelle said. “I love shoes. I’ve kind of started looking into suppliers and things like that.”
She hopes to have shoes on the website by next year.
Originally, Kate and Marnelle wanted to create their own custom pieces for the business, but they found that making and mass producing them would be difficult for them as a start-up. Instead, they currently buy from wholesale. Their first custom piece is coming soon, which was created for them. Adding self-generated custom pieces is still a goal, however.
“Being that I am also a lyricist and a music artist, I definitely want to have some pieces that music artists can wear, like for instance, if it’s a big old giant microphone or music notes or things of that matter,” Kate said. “So just a lot of creative, cool-looking type of pieces that people wouldn’t normally think to wear as accessories.”
While the sisters have participated in other companies’ fashion shows, they are hosting their first fashion show of their own products on Friday, April 20. They initially wanted to have a launch party in December, soon after the site was launched, but because that never happened, the sisters decided to hold a fashion show and subsequent launch party together, which coincide with Kate’s 21st birthday.
“It’s just a certain energy, I guess, that comes with being in a fashion show,” Marnelle said. “Usually you get to work with great people. That’s usually one of the best things about meeting people; usually we vibe and there’s good chemistry.”
The show is called “Clothing Optional” and will feature an elaborate, evolution-based theme.
“We got the name because our tagline is ‘Accessories a must, clothing optional,’ and so basically what that means is, your accessories can sometimes highlight you more than your clothes can, so the clothing is optional.”
Jade Williams is an executive team member on the fashion show’s planning board. She believes the traditional idea of what a fashion show consists of helps to create a unique feel for Clothing Optional.
“It’s definitely unique because it’s not focused on clothing,” Williams said. “It is focused on accessories, and when most people hear fashion show, they assume someone’s going to model a dress or a skirt … but the focus is on jewelry, and clothing is not completely used, not that the show’s actually risqué.”
The show will be held at Soma Ultralounge this Friday. Doors will open at 8:30 p.m., and the show will begin at 9:00. Tickets will be sold at the door for $10.
Both sisters are excited to make their formal introduction and create more buzz around Sincerely Fearless.
“I’m highly excited,” Kate said. “I always dreamed of doing this, and I’ve always wanted to, but I never saw myself actually planning it out, and now that I’m in the midst of it, it’s crazy and hectic, but I love every bit of it, honestly, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”