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How this mom and social worker became a jeweler to stars like Rihanna, Katy Perry

Maya Brenner took her passion for jewelry and turned it into an international best-selling brand.
Meghan Markle is a big fan of her designs.Maya Brenner
/ Source: TMRW

We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."

Maya Brenner never expected to be the CEO of a best-selling international jewelry brand.

Her self-titled brand has been worn by celebrities like Rihanna and Katy Perry, and after Meghan Markle was spotted wearing Brenner's Asymmetrical Letter Necklace featuring an "M" and "H," the brand launched an office overseas.

Brenner spoke to TMRW about her journey to success, which included how she dealt with her website crashing after being featured on "the big stage" and dealing with imposters who copy her designs.

TMRW: You’re arguably one of the best known names in dainty jewelry design, but you started as a social worker. Can you tell me a little bit about what prompted the crossover?

Maya Brenner: It started as a way to do something creative and calming after a stressful day at work. I loved making my own jewelry because I couldn’t afford all the pretty things I was seeing in the shops when I was a social worker in New York. People started asking me on the street where I bought my necklace, and the rest is “herstory.”

TMRW: Was there a specific moment where you just knew that Maya Brenner was going to be the brand it is today?

Maya Brenner: Funny enough, it was after a brief mention on TODAY’s “Steals and Deals” back in 2010. The flash sale lead to my website crashing, selling 25,000 necklaces in 24 hours and not having enough inventory to fulfill the orders. It took us four months to make and ship all the outstanding orders and it taught me that if you’re going to be on a big stage, you better be ready. It was a lot of exposure that really helped me invest and grow my business into what it is now.

TMRW: What started with a beaded necklace has morphed into creating accessories for celebrities and people around the world. What keeps you grounded?

Maya Brenner: Well, I start each day like most parents...with three kids needing, wanting or grumbling so that helps. We’re a small business and we face all of the same issues and obstacles of any other business no matter how glamorous it may appear.

TMRW: Who or what inspires you?

Maya Brenner: I am very much inspired by and still largely design based on what is missing from my own personal jewelry wardrobe. For example, the state pendants came about when I moved my business from New York to Los Angeles and then the letter collection was inspired by when I became a mom. Our next collection launching soon are gorgeous stone bands meant to be stacked because a pop of color is what we could all use right now.

TMRW: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Maya Brenner: I think it’s really important to grow your business organically and at your own pace. A lot of people want to seek investors, spend a ton of money up front and go into debt. It might take more time but ultimately it ends up being a lot less pressure to go at a slower pace sometimes. It’s definitely what has worked for me over the past 20 years.

TMRW: There have been some people along the way who have been "heavily inspired" by your designs. How do you cope with this?

Maya Brenner: I mostly just try to ignore it and focus on making the best products and experience for our customers. It’s harder to ignore if they are using my name or our product photos, then we may reach out and ask them to stop. But ultimately it’s about knowing that we were the original and sticking to what makes our product so special and cherished by the people who wear it.

TMRW: You recently announced you were participating in 40 x 40 initiative from Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. How did that come about?

Maya Brenner: A friend asked me to participate and I jumped at the chance because I thought it was a brilliant idea. I’ve always (mentored other women) quietly throughout my career and helped anyone who asked me or reached out. It's such an important way to give back especially since there were so many people who helped me along the way.