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A successful business grows here link by link - Entrepreneur is a hit with Cubannie Links

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Annie Basulto strings together strands of jewelry at her small, sunlight desk in her third-floor Fort Greene apartment surrounded by bits of metal and painted leather, sample books from Asia, and hundreds of boxes of athletic shoes. Looking at her studio space, it’s hard to believe that her trademark gold-painted leather earrings and chains have made their way to celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Rhianna and Dania Ramirez, an actress from “Heroes.” “I’m not mass producing. I make everything here,” says Basulto. “It’s not like I go to trade shows and pick up a million pieces. I can do everything from home.” Basulto, a jewelry maker and founder of her own handmade jewelry line, Cubannie Links, has been making jewelry since 2006 and officially started her company in early 2007, while she was working as in production at Rocawear, an urban fashion company. “Rocawear was my first real big industry job. Because of that job, I never want to work for anyone else again,” says Basulto. Basulto started playing with metals and leathers in her spare time and made earrings for her friends and co-workers as gifts. She noticed a store in her neighborhood, Havana Outpost, which carried a lot of unique items and she approached the owner about selling some of her earrings there. “People from the neighborhood sold vintage clothing or African arts and they had cool and trendy stuff. It’s not flea-markety,” says Basulto. Unlike many of her jewelry-making peers who have capitalized on the arts and crafts trend that has led to flea markets in Williamsburg, Chelsea, and other parts of the city, Basulto has avoided the crafts fairs. She found that she was wasting her time and making little money doing it. Instead, she targeted stylists. “I kept meeting girls who were stylists and I spent a lot of time talking to people,” says Basulto. “My boyfriend got my jewelry in XXL magazine, and other stylists became interested. If stylists love my stuff, they’re going to wear it and use it in magazines, photo shoots and with celebrities.” Cubannie Links quickly built up a steady amount of buzz on the Internet through magazine photographs of celebrities and popular fashion and jewelry-focused blogs such as Concrete Loop. Alicia Keys wore her earrings for a performance during the American Music Awards and has worn them more than once. Dania Ramirez has worn her jewelry several times, including for a television interview she did about the show, ‘Heroes.’ “Usually celebrities toss things away or wouldn’t touch a piece again,” says Basulto. “You don’t see celebrities wear something all the time unless they love it. Girls can be vain.” Basulto thinks her jewelry has been popular because of its large sizes, metallic colors, unusually interlocking shapes and it is light weight compared to actual metal. “A lot of people think my jewelry is gold, but it’s not,” says Basulto. “Big earrings are in, but they weigh nothing and they look like gold from afar. Their ears don’t hurt and they can wear them every day.” Basulto could get her jewelry mass-produced from China, but she prefers tinkering with sample color chips and leather swatches from overseas vendors and assembling them in her studio. Making her orders by hand has allowed Basulto to keep in contact with her customers and build relationships with stylists. “I don’t sketch, I just play with it,” says Basulto. “I tried mimicking a style, but I’m never happy with that piece after I’m done, and I’ve learned that it will come. When I finish a piece and when I can’t wait to show it to everybody, that’s when I know that I’ve made a great piece.” Cubanelle links are currently available in Miami, Chicago and New York, where she has had her jewelry sold downtown at ‘Cure Beauty Bar (921 Fulton Street) and in Fort Greene at Tessan Boutique (280 DeKalb Avenue). Basulto hopes to have her jewelry sold at stores like Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s or Intermix, a trendy urban boutique in New York, as well as at vendors on the beach in Miami. “Miami Beach is where I hung out all my life,” says Basulto. “I think that store will get my name out in Miami and it would be really cool for people at the beach to wear my jewelry.” For more information on Basulto, go to www.cubannielinks.com/.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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