Celebrating Love with Raintree
To kick us off, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, Raintree, and the story behind the business?
Raintree is a family business, a husband-and-wife team. Mike and I met in St. Thomas when we were both working for other luxury goods companies about 12 years ago. I had recently moved there and designed an engagement ring for an old high school friend of mine. I didn't have my jewelry tools with me or any connections. I was introduced to “Motorcycle Mike,” and he agreed to help make the ring. We were married on a beach on St. John six months after we met, and we've been making jewelry together ever since. Our first daughter, Riley, was born on St. Thomas where we had started the Raintree company.
Raintree was the name of the family farm where I grew up. My father was killed by a tornado that hit that farm when I was three, so the name was more of a tribute to him and that legacy. I had always wanted to use it as a business name, but it never really happened until Mike and I came together.
We realized that we didn't want to raise our children on St. Thomas so we ended up picking up and moving to Vermont. We started with a studio, and within a year, we had our first retail store. We grew as a brand pretty quickly because we do a lot of “outside-of-the-box" designs and big ring pieces. We were on social media so much because, being in Vermont, we needed to push the brand and gain awareness of who we were. We opened our first retail store in Vergennes in 2015, and over the last eight years, it's grown now to a national brand with five design awards and over 50,000 followers on social media, and we just started doing wholesale this past year! The Church Street location is our flagship, and we have people come visit us from all over the country.
What's one question you get asked most frequently from customers?
One of the big questions is if we do custom. And, we do! Then also the sourcing - where we find our gemstones because we are gemstone heavy, and we're more into obscure gemstones (morganite, tourmaline, beryl). We can do big, juicy pieces, and it allows for more curiosity. People will say, “Oh, I've never seen this stone before. What is this?” So, it really attracts people as well because it's unusual. That's what we lean into.
You mentioned you've received five design awards? Wow! Can you tell us about those?
The American Gem Trade Association has a Spectrum Awards contest every year. That's a national contest for designers in different categories. It's kind of like the Oscars of the jewelry world. We entered our first contest in 2018 with our Kaleidoscope ring into the daywear category because it's a very minimalist design, but the architecture of the design is what really sets it apart, and we got honors in that, which was great! We've also won in evening wear and in classical for our big rings and our earrings. We don't have the ability to buy the huge 10-carat sapphire and pop it in a ring, so we do things that technically, other people can't do.
Speaking of your award-winning pieces, what's one piece that you're most proud of?
That's interesting… designer piece that we're most proud of… I mean, the Kaleidoscope is one of our top-selling pieces that has just opened up so many doors for us. People travel from all over the country just to come see it and buy it. Beyond that, I think our pearl innovation designs where we do our spinning rings, and we set diamonds in pearls, and we have the pearls spin on their axis. That's something that maybe 1% of jewelers in the world could do. We have jewelers from all over the world reach out to us and ask us how we do it.
What are a few fun Raintree gifts that could be perfect for someone hoping to spread love this winter season?
One of our most popular Raintree gifts is the 802 Bracelet. We say it's for lovers and lifers of Vermont. It's sort of a cryptic hook bracelet. It takes our Caribbean roots of the hook bracelet and then ties it in with Vermont with the eight beads, the zero, and the two is the hook. We do a lot of classic everyday pieces like our Heesoos' Catch earrings and our Pavone Pearls which make great jewelry gifts. Some people come in, and they think like, oh my gosh, I can't afford anything in here, but we do have all of the different tiers of price points for any shopper, whether you're in high school, college, professional, or retired. We also carry other makers here as well for high-quality gifts, from fine chocolate to ceramics and candles, everything.
We're seeing a beautiful... what is that behind you? A charcuterie board?
The charcuterie boards came to me as an idea because we do a lot of wedding bands and wedding gifts. I always want to give a wedding gift once the couple gets married and after they have their bands. I started with a smaller charcuterie board with the outline of Lake Champlain laser engraved on the front and then our logo on the back. Then people wanted to buy them, so I got them made in different sizes.
I've sold a ton of them because charcuterie boards are great. They're for coming together, gathering, breaking bread, and being artistic - laying it out. It doesn't have the state of Vermont outline. It's more about the region with the Lake Champlain outline instead. So, if you're not from here, you'll be like, what is that? And it's kind of cryptic - an insiders’ club thing, and I love that.
What do you love about running your own small business?
I've worked in this luxury goods business for my entire career on many different levels, from the small store in a small town to Patek Philippe or Cartier in the big city. So, I've seen the whole thing, and I've learned a lot. I've been able to pluck all of the things that I really liked from all of those different types of businesses and put them into our own business. Being able to call the shots, being able to trust us and our process, and seeing that work feels really good. I love that.
What's one other type of business you've loved lately in Burlington?
When people come here, and they can't find what they're looking for, I usually send them to Home and Garden. They have such a wonderful collection of items at a great price point. They're just wonderful people to deal with (owners Jack and Jana Qualey,) and their store just makes you happy. It's just filled with joy.
What do you love most about the Church Street Marketplace?
I have been coming to Vermont since I was seven or eight years old. For wintertime, we'd come up to go cross-country skiing. In the summer, we'd come up for biking. Our trips to Burlington and to Church Street were so memorable. I have a deep nostalgia and love for Church Street. I've seen it over the past 40-some years of my life.
I feel lucky to have a business on Church Street. I know that it's going through some growing pains right now, but we'll come back around. I have faith in the street. It's a huge part of what people identify with Vermont and Burlington and everything. Going out and seeing the lights in the evening and just looking up and down… it takes me back to when I was 10 years old and coming up here. And this (Raintree) is the candy store that I used to be able to go into when I was a kid. It really is a special place.
Celebrate the "Month of Love" with a visit to Raintree. Now's a great time to visit with their anniversary sale celebrating 12 years with 20% off store-wide! With a beautiful mix of handmade jewelry, you'll be sure to find something for that special someone or even yourself. You can visit Shannon & Mike at 101 Church Street during the following business hours:
Tuesday - Friday 12pm-4pm
Stay tuned for more upcoming interviews with our amazing Church Street Marketplace business owners. They are the heart of the Marketplace, and we're looking forward to sharing more of their stories. To read through previous blog posts, please click below.