After spending 13 years in New York City working in the fast-paced fashion industry, one might think Donna McRae becoming a yogi and handmade jewelry designer was a completely deliberate choice. But actually, just like easing into a vinyasa yoga sequence, launching a purposeful and soulful jewelry business happened gracefully and seamlessly for McRae — flowing from one life chapter to the next. When she worked as a dress buyer for Ann Taylor from 1983 to 1987, then helped a design company, Donna Ricco, grow from $1 million to $45 million in revenue up until 1995, McRae thought the big city was where she was supposed to be. But after experiencing a series of life changes and circumstances, designing and selling jewelry for her Boston-based brand, Laughing Lotus Boutique, is where she feels most at home. “I studied metal-smithing my freshman year of college, and I wanted to major in art…but I didn’t think I could make a living at it,” says McRae in an interview with Exhale Lifestyle. “So I chose fashion marketing, moved to New York and learned the technical skills of design as a buyer and product manager. My strength was and has always been that I have a ‘good eye.’”
Over 20 years later in 2014 after she opened a yoga store at a local studio in Wellesley, something kismet happened while McRae attended a clothing trade show. “I parked in the wrong lot and entered through a side door. Right in front of me was a jewelry supply vendor,” she says. “My heart started to race, like I had just discovered a secret door to another world.” She ended up buying supplies for her very first collection — which was a big hit at the yoga shop. And from there, “I followed the current of the flow and made more, and the next season more again,” says McRae. “Rather than having a set of serious goals and projections, I was feeling my way, following what worked, and floating through open doors.”
Below, McRae shares more about how her fashion business background got her to where she is today, how motherhood led her to discovering a new passion, and how she trusts in the universe to get her where she needs to be.
How were you able to bite the bullet to make the move to a different city, and eventually, to a different career?
Donna:I thought living in NYC was [like living in] Mecca and being a buyer for my favorite store was my all-time dream job. However, NYC was taking its toll on me. I had been mugged many times and my rent controlled duplex apartment on West 68th Street had been broken into twice. The city was losing its sparkle for me. I was longing to return to Boston where I grew up. I was 36 and I wanted children, a life partner, and a home. While vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard I met a man who offered me all of that as well as his heart. We dated long-distance for two years and then he proposed to me. This coincided with my seven year anniversary at Donna Ricco. The very next day, the CEO called me in his office to say they were not renewing my contract. So, the decision to leave NYC was really made for me. It was difficult to leave but I knew the universe had my back and I had to go with the flow of events. I don’t think I would have ever been ready to leave on my own, but with a little kick in the butt from the universe, I was able to make the big move that I truly wanted and needed in my deepest soul.
Jewelry – “Rooted in meaning, blooming with intention”.
How did stepping into motherhood lead you to leap into yoga and entrepreneurship?
Donna:I was still working in the fashion industry when I moved back to Boston for designer Sara Campbell. And I was traveling to NYC every other week when my second child Lily was born. As a one year old, she had chronic ear infections and would be up all night crying. I remember pumping in the bathroom on the train to and from the city. I took a leave of absence with an invitation to return, but life had other plans for me. With my newfound time, I started jogging daily and an injury led me to yoga. I became very curious [in yoga] and committed to practicing daily. I did my first teacher training and formed a friendship with local studio owner, Jennifer Harvey of Laughing Dog Yoga. She was expanding the studio and knowing my background, invited me to open a store at the new location. When she hosted a reiki training, I knew another door was opening for me. Customers would ask me for the meaning and energetic properties of the crystals and stones I was working with. I cleanse and recharge all my crystals with reiki protocol and use healing bowls and mantra. I could feel people were deeply connecting with the meaning of the crystals through my jewelry.
What lessons did you take from your previous jobs to run your own jewelry business?
Donna:I learned how difficult it can be for designers to rely on factories to produce their designs, and although making clothing requires incredible skill, workers tend to be underpaid. I realized that I truly love designing my own product and producing it on my own, by hand. I’m able to sell directly to the customer and adjust the product to their preferences. This doesn’t require so many hands involved and there’s something beautiful about doing it all yourself. Throughout my fashion career, I learned to stay close to the voice of clients. I analyzed best sellers and I’ve developed a “third eye” for what people want to wear. I’m always listening, watching and reacting — this is what my dress buying experience taught me. I create what I love with good intention — this is what my yoga has taught me.
How did you launch Laughing Lotus Boutique and how has it expanded since then?
Donna:In 2015, I went to a business networking event and won a brand consulting session sponsored by Vistaprint, chosen among 200 other entrepreneurs who applied. My own jewelry business hadn’t even launched yet, but I named it Laughing Lotus Boutique on the spot. I chose one out of five logo designs their team made, and I still use it to this day. I decided to close the yoga shop at Laughing Dog when my last child left for college in 2017 and I became a full time jeweler with a traveling store selling directly to clients. I became part of the yoga festival and pop-up movement. I was accepted into SOWA Market and The Greenway Open Market and have popped up at many events around Boston including at colleges, other yoga studios and stores, and at-home events. In 2019, I did my first pop-up at The Shops at Chestnut Hill — open right now through Christmas. During the pandemic, I fast-tracked the website, reaching a broader audience. This year, I started to sell to a few wholesale accounts such as Folklorica in Newton and the Great Put On in Martha’s Vineyard. I mostly still work one-on-one with clients, both in-person and over the phone.
What advice would you give to someone who is unsure of their next career or life move?
Donna:Do what you are truly passionate about, without thinking about the rewards too much. Do what you love, show up every day and work from your heart as if it’s a beloved family member or a child that you are nurturing. Once you step into this flow of giving, doors will open and grace happens. I continued to study yoga and meditation, and this had a strong impact on how I created my company. Less effort, more grace. Being a conscious business owner is as important as making a profit for me. I also like to focus on being sustainable and ethical and one way I do this is by planting trees to reduce carbon footprint.
Visit her website https://laughinglotusboutique.com/ or follow her onlaughinglotusboutique