Photography by Kenzie Riegel
Arlo Jean’s geometric earrings help empower the everyday woman to feel beautiful and capable.
Arlo Jean is a polymer-clay jewelry company, but there is a lot of heart behind every detail of the brand. Victoria Bardega began Arlo Jean in March 2020 in the midst of quarantine due to COVID-19. Having the urge to create out of a place of brokenness, Bardega went to her local craft store and began experimenting, determined to figure out how to make earrings.
“Growing up, I loved earrings. I was obsessed. Any time I went anywhere, I would commit to buying a new pair of earrings that would remind me of that city,” says Bardega.
She initially wrestled with names for the brand, and some of her friends helped her piece together Arlo Jean. Arlo means “army hill,” and Jean means “God is gracious.”
“Jean is the name of my grandmother, and she was actually in the jewelry business for 20 years. She was the woman who taught me the art of accessorizing. I also wanted to commemorate the confidence that she instilled in me at a very young age,” says Bardega.
“We took the name [Arlo] as a way to develop an army of women who will stand up and feel confident every single day. Whether it’s by putting on a pair of statement earrings or a favorite headband, we want them to feel so confident and empowered in their own skin and build a sisterhood of women that would encourage one another and be like a ‘Jean’ in their life.”
“Every time you buy a pair of our earrings … you’re pouring into the lives of other people you may never know.”
Polymer clay is a very moldable material, allowing for different shapes and styles. The handmade earrings are lightweight and nickel-free with a neutral color palette. A pair of earrings can be key to elevating any style; it frames your face and can certainly help set the tone for any outfit. With Arlo Jean’s eye-catching and beautifully designed geometric earrings, you can either keep it simple or opt to go big and bold.
“I looked at other companies that had an Aztec vibe because I’m Hispanic and gained some inspiration from that,” says Bardega.
However, creating unique styles of polymer-clay earrings is not as simple as it may sound. Bardega admits that she was terrible at first, and it was very discouraging. After several months of experimenting and much encouragement from her husband, Bardega launched her first collection in March of 2020 on Etsy and soon sold out.
“It was incredible to see the amount of support that people give to a new idea — but that’s Lakeland for you. Even if the idea has been seen multiple times before, there’s support to just show up and put your own spin on it.”
Bardega has also noticed the competition in the clay-earring business.
“Yes, there are a ton of people making polymer-clay earrings, but my heart is to create something that makes somebody else feel incredible about the way they are. Especially as women, we can deal with a lot of insecurity. Maybe I’m not having the best day — maybe my hair is all crazy or I forgot to put on some makeup, but whenever I put on a statement earring, it gives me another sense of confidence that when I’m on a Zoom call or in a meeting, I feel like my best self.”
Arlo Jean has reached over 500 sales thus far, and Bardega has no plans of slowing down.
“I think that any successful business is spearheaded by a plethora of communities. People need one another. What’s so amazing about Lakeland and the surrounding Polk County area is that people are so supportive and want to see you succeed.”
Arlo Jean is more than a business simply aspiring to make money. Bardega began the company wanting to extend the mission of empowering women outside of the brand and to make it a global enterprise. She reached out to A21 Campaign, an organization that fights human trafficking, and began donating a portion of their sales to them.
“We take a cumulative sales portion and donate a portion of that to A21 in partnership with them. I get their letters every month in which they share success rates of how many people are being rescued from each of their campuses all over the world, ranging from Greece to Indonesia,” says Bardega.
“We’re never going to get to a point where one person is enough. Everybody should be talking about human trafficking. It’s an issue that we should become so aware of because it’s happening everywhere — it’s happening here in Polk County.”
Arlo Jean remains sensitive to the times and is aware of how they can better serve both their local and global community. When so many people lost their jobs due to COVID-19, Arlo Jean dedicated a portion to the affected families. Most recently, Hurricane Eta hit some of Bardega’s family and friends’ home country of Honduras at the beginning of November. Arlo Jean has now partnered with Kids’ Ark International in Honduras to donate funds to single mothers in villages who need food and aid for their families due to the aftermath of Hurricane Eta. Raised by a single mom, Bardega says this partnership is very personal to her.
“Every time you buy a pair of our earrings, you’re not just buying something for yourself, but you’re pouring into the lives of other people you may never know.”
As Arlo Jean grows, Bardega hopes to be able to hire employees to work for the company and expand the product base, partnering with more local artists. Earrings will remain the staple, as that’s part of the heart behind the brand. Arlo Jean’s aspiration of encouraging women to embrace femininity through jewelry affects more than those purchasing the products; they are partnering with organizations who empower other women by providing aid and other resources, working to build up one another as a community.