W100 Ranking: No. 51
Position: CEO, Hillberg & Berk
2013 revenue: $2–$4 million
Employees: 20 full-time, 15 part-time
Why we love her: She turned a pleasant pastime into a lucrative business.
Best advice: “The day you think you’re done learning, you should be terrified.”
Rachel Mielke used to sit at her kitchen table in Regina making bead-and-wire jewellery as a way to relieve the stress of her marketing job. But when friends and local buyers started showing interest, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and she turned the hobby into a business. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs,” she says. “I always knew I’d have a company — I just didn’t know what it would be.”
The company name, Hillberg & Berk — conceived during an evening with a friend and a bottle of red wine — combines the names of her great-grandmother and her dog, and it fits perfectly into Rachel’s vision: “I wanted to be taken seriously as a luxury brand. I wanted the company to sound as though it had been around for 100 years.”
In order to move from local success story to world-class luxury brand, Rachel also needed to reach a larger audience. She appeared on TV’s Dragons’ Den for the exposure — and walked away with $200,000 from billionaire philanthropist Brett Wilson. Today, her jewellery, including a bridal line and pieces created with Tacori diamonds, is sold through 30 wholesalers, as well as online and at the Hillberg & Berk Regina storefront. And her client list includes Carrie Underwood, Michelle Obama, Barbara Walters and Celine Dion.
In 2013, Hillberg & Berk was commissioned by the lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan to design a brooch as a gift for Queen Elizabeth. The stunning floral piece featured diamonds, Madagascar tourmaline and a large freshwater pearl. The Queen (who carefully selects her own jewellery) has worn it twice, both times to great fanfare from the local press. Rachel used the excess tourmaline to create her Legacy Collection: 160 pieces of jewellery that offer women the chance to have a royal experience of their own.
While Rachel, who has a two-year-old daughter, remains the company’s creative visionary, she also has a handpicked team of designers on board. “My original esthetic hasn’t changed from my earlier business, but my materials sure have.” And she runs the entire operation out of a three-storey heritage building in Regina: The first floor houses the retail store; the offices are on the second; and the third floor is where 90 percent of the manufacturing takes place.
Rachel recently launched a charity arm of Hillberg & Berk — donating $150,000 to women’s organizations so far — that supports everything from college scholarships to helping young women in Somalia go to school. “We want to empower women. Anything we can do to further women along their path, we will.”
PROFIT and Chatelaine magazines present the 2014 W100 ranking of the country’s top 100 female entrepreneurs. Collectively, they contribute $1.7 billion annually to Canada’s economy. And whether they are talking about state-of-the-art technology, work-life balance, or taking charge in a male-dominated field, these women inspire and motivate. Join the W100 winners on Nov. 26 at the W100 Idea Exchange. Hosted by editors of PROFIT and Chatelaine, it is a unique opportunity for all women entrepreneurs to come together and share best practices, to learn from management experts about today’s key business opportunities and challenges, and to create personal connections that can last a lifetime.