Jewelry maker Ali Howell ’86 is among 13 winners of the second annual Belk Southern Designer Showcase. Howell, the founder and designer of ali & bird jewelry, was selected from nearly 300 entrants. Her pieces will be sold in Belk department stores throughout the country and online in spring 2014.
Howell, an Atlanta resident, started ali & bird in 2009. She describes her original pieces as “affordable statement jewelry that reflect current fashion and color trends, bringing modern flair to classic looks.” The jewelry is handcrafted with semi-precious stones in the United States and is sold by more than 75 retailers.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Howell dived into the design realm as an SMU student when she landed a summer job in the Dallas Market Center showroom of a friend’s mother. “That led to an internship and a job offer after graduation,” she says.
After earning degrees in advertising and psychology from SMU, she moved to New York City where she launched a career in visual merchandising. Howell’s talent for mixing bold colors and classic designs served her well as the creative force behind the marketing, showroom displays and advertising campaigns for Herend USA, a fine china company, for 10 years.
At first, jewelry making was strictly a hobby. “I’ve always been a creative person, and when a friend started making jewelry, I watched her and asked her to show me a few things. I got hooked,” says Howell. “I made a several pieces, and every time I would wear one, people would ask where I got it.”
Bucking conventional wisdom, Howell took a chance on her own business just as a recession gripped the global economy. As it turns out, her timing was perfect. She found that while women weren’t investing in new clothes, they were buying distinctive, well-priced jewelry to freshen last year’s looks.
Howell’s company is truly a family business. She designs and creates the pieces in her home studio with the help of several assistants and off-site “stringers.” Her 12-year-old daughter, Lindsey, also known as “Bird,” not only lends her nickname to the enterprise but also a hand in making the jewelry. In addition to his job in the corporate world, husband Ward handles marketing for ali & bird. The Howells also have a nine-year-old son.
As a winner of the Belk designer competition, Howell looks forward to introducing her jewelry to new Dallas customers when the retailer debuts its 170,000-square-foot flagship store in the Galleria mall. When she’s here for the opening next spring, a trip to the Hilltop will be on her to-do list.
“Whenever I’m in Dallas, I try to make it back to campus,” Howell says. “SMU was a great place for me. I feel I got a good education and started on a path that has led me to where I am today.”
– Patricia Ward