We had the good fortune of connecting with Jillian Whitaker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jillian, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I honestly never intended to start this business – in “real life” I’m actually a composer working in the film industry. But a year ago I lost my horse in a traumatic freak accident and found myself needing a way to have her with me every day, so I made myself a bracelet with her tail using some old leather and things that I had lying around the house. I had never made anything like that before and discovered that I had a bit of a talent for it.
A few close friends started asking me to make bracelets for horses they had lost and pretty quickly I started getting flooded with requests for bracelets from owners of horses who had passed and horses who were still with us. It became a way to channel my grief into something positive, creative, and meaningful, and what started as a form of therapy for me eventually became (with a good deal of convincing from a few friends) a full-on business. At first I was a bit hesitant to monetize on something that was born out of my trauma and tragedy, but I came to understand that I was given a huge gift to not only help sustain me financially through the costs of the accident and the added burden of the pandemic, but I was also given a huge opportunity to share my love and my gift with others.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was exceptionally lucky in that the initial design idea for Black Dragon Bracelets sort of came to me out of thin air. There are about a billion horsehair jewelry companies out there, so it was really important to me that I was creating something that was different, beautiful, innovative, high-end, and inclusive. After some initial research I found that nobody was creating anything that looked similar to my design. I also found that while most companies catered specifically towards women, my leather design had a much more inclusive and unisex look to it which automatically widened my potential market. I decided that rather than try to copy what every other company was doing, I would run with my unique design and use that as an advantage. I also made the decision very early on to work with vegan leather rather than real leather. I knew I would lose some customers over that decision, but it’s a decision that fit my values and lifestyle and I think it’s important that a business reflect the values of the people who run it.
It took a lot of trial and error to learn the crafting process since I had never worked with leather or horsehair before, and I have extremely high standards for quality. I started out with very low pricing and worked on keepsakes for friends to practice, and gradually as my craftsmanship and client base grew I was able to not only raise my prices but expand my available products as well. It’s definitely been a delicate balance between attractive pricing and making enough money to cover my costs and grow my business, but I am a strong believer in artists valuing their time, energy, and talents and I price my products according to that. This business was never about making money for me, but every transaction needs to be a fair energy exchange between the artist and the customer and money is an important form of energy to get in return.
I am very lucky that Black Dragon Bracelets sort of fell into my lap at the perfect timing when I needed a little extra financial cushion. I’ve invested a lot of my time, energy, and resources into it, but at the end of the day it’s something that I do for the sheer love of creating something meaningful for people who love their animals as much as I do. I’m really just going with the flow of where the business takes me, but I would love to be able to keep making these keepsakes for many years to come!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The first place we would have to go is Basecamp in Burbank for a cup of coffee! My favorite atmosphere, great coffee, and the owner Jon is the nicest guy. Plus it’s just down the street from Disney and Warner Brother studios which are a must-see when you’re in town. I’m always up for a day at the beach, Venice or Malibu if we just want to soak up the ocean and Santa Monica if we want to do some shopping. I would of course take them to visit my horse just outside of the valley which is the perfect way to get out of the city and enjoy some time outdoors. If we wanted to travel a little further I love going whale watching in San Pedro – I’ve had two great experiences with that and some incredible ceviche after at the restaurants in the harbor! Finally, although a bit cliché, you really can’t beat a day or a weekend at Disneyland!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost, Black Dragon Bracelets would never exist if it weren’t for the gift my sweet angel Cyd gave me in her passing.
My horse community has been so kind and supportive of this venture by not only convincing me to start my business, but continuing to help spread the word about what I do.
Lastly I would love to give a shoutout to the amazing horse rescue that I donate a portion of all sales to – VIVA Global Rescue. VIVA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit LGBTQ woman-owned organization located in Southern California that provides professional rescue, rehabilitation, and sanctuary to horses and animals in need. These two bright, beautiful, compassionate women are doing such amazing things for so many lucky animals!