By Rachael Van Horn The Woodward News, Okla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Oklahoma entrepreneur Jill Donovan's company "Rustic Cuff" is about a lot more than beautifully made bracelets and a savvy marketing campaign.
The Woodward News, Okla.
There is no arguing that Oklahoma Entrepreneur Jill Donovan's Rustic Cuff -- recently ranked No. 7 by Entrepreneur's Top Company Cultures -- is popular.
After all, Rustic Cuff jewelry is sold and shipped around the world daily and is offered in more than 250 clothiers and boutiques across the United States. And there is no question about the quality of Maryland born Donovan's cuffs and other jewelry.
But what many people don't really know is that this growing Oklahoma company is about a lot more than some beautifully made bracelets and a savvy marketing campaign.
It's about purpose, connection and giving back, said Katie Shirley of High Plains Technology Center.
High Plains Technology Center has booked Donovan on Wednesday, April 26th from 11 to noon in the HPTC Delores Jones Media Center to offer a one hour presentation.
"There are venues even in her own area in Tulsa who can't get her booked," Shirley said.
"And here she is, coming to Woodward. This is a big deal."
It is the first in a series of short programs through HPTC they like to call their Connection Series -- an endeavor to help inspire local entrepreneurs by bringing some of the most rare and encouraging business stories to life through a speaker series.
Scoring a rock-star like Donovan as a first speaker for the HPTC series may just be hard to beat, according to Shirley. But this is not just some freakish trend. Donovan's bracelets are symbolic of a larger life mission.
"Jill is about so much more than the bracelets," Shirley said. "And her philosophy is all about what we named our series, it's about connecting."
It is possible that no one feels that sentiment about Rustic Cuff and its creator Donovan than Woodward resident Corie Wells.
Like a lot of people, Wells stumbled onto Rustic Cuff sort of by accident, while trying to find a way to be supportive of her mother Jerilyn Craig, who, in 2015, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"My mom had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and I wanted a purple bracelet to represent pancreatic cancer to wear for my mom," Wells said. As she read about Rustic Cuff and what was really behind it, she connected immediately.
"So her father passed away from pancreatic cancer 18 years ago. And then the more I learned of her (Donovan's) story and the other stories, I just knew," Wells said.
So Wells, her sister Whitney and their mother Jerilyn decided they would purchase tickets for the first ever Project Cuffway fashion show and fundraiser for the National Pancreas Foundation.
It was Donovan's debut of her foundation born out of Rustic Cuff to honor her father, who died of pancreatic cancer only two months after being diagnosed. The event would be huge and would be held at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa.
In the days and weeks running up to the event, Wells and her sister were bolstered and harbored a lot of hope around their mother's diagnosis. Jerilyn had enlisted into a research treatment trial and her tumor had shrunk by a startling 11 percent, Wells said.
The chemo was aggressive and yet, Wells said her mother never once complained and even looked forward to attending the event.
"To look at her, you would not have known she was so sick," Wells said. "She would walk into chemo and just light up the room and I think it was just because she still had her joy. She never once said, 'I'm dying.'"
But just seven days before the trio were to attend the Project Cuffway event, Jerilyn died in her sleep on April 15th from complications related to her cancer and the weakening effects of chemotherapy.
"I wasn't angry so much as I was like, what good can come out of my mother passing.
Absolutely nothing. She was my best friend. She was my mom. I still want to call her four times a day and be like, 'What do I do with this or give me advice on raising the kids,'" Wells said. "She was so close to the kids. She had that natural gift of love and giving. That is what I struggled with. I was like, what I am I going to be like now?"
The two sisters talked about whether or not to attend the event. They were in deep grief.
But they remembered something their mother said about why she had enlisted into the treatment trial and that was, if it couldn't help her, maybe what the researchers learned could help someone else.
And so after attending their mother's funeral that following Monday, the two sisters made their decision.
"My sister and I decided that mom would have really wanted us to go," she said. "We had just been to our mom's funeral and emotions were really raw."
When they arrived to the huge event, with more than 800 people in attendance, they were in for a blessing they couldn't have predicted that would show them just who Donovan really was and that she meant was she said about the mission of Rustic Cuff.
"So when we walked into the event, the lady there was so nice. We just said we didn't know where to go for seats and she said, 'You can go anywhere in this section. You just can't sit in these three seats because those are reserved.' And so we were going to the row right behind it and out of the corner of our eyes we just kind of glanced and we saw this chair with a purple ribbon and a white flower with our mom's name on it, Jerilyn Craig. At that moment we felt like our mom was really there and we just knew this was something amazing to be a part of."
That year Project Cuffway raised $130,000 for the National Pancreas Foundation. A little over two weeks ago, at the Second annual Project Cuffway event, $204,000 was raised, Wells said.
Now, one year after losing her mother, Wells feels like the healing has at least begun. But she marvels at the work of God through what appeared to be a collection of coincidences that led her to be connected with Rustic Cuff and Donovan.
Now Wells and her sister have become part of the Project Cuffway story, recently producing a video about their mother and their experience. Wells is doing the initial research into creating a local chapter of the National Pancreas Foundation. At present, Oklahoma does not have a chapter. But most notably, Wells wants to keep her mother's legacy alive, which was to help others.
And it all started because of a little purple bracelet and a woman who used her success for the good of others.
So for people who hear about the Rustic Cuff event planned in Woodward featuring its founder Jill Donovan that will take place this week at High Plains Technology Center and think it's just about a savvy business woman talking at a podium, think again, says Wells.
"I just want to encourage people to go because this is an important event. People will be inspired," Wells said.