Irene E. Barbieri
<b>Short bio: </b>
I’m originally from New York City and moved to the Washington area 25 years ago. All of my grandparents are from Italy where there is a strong appreciation for design and beautifully handcrafted items. And so I created Mia Gemma partly with the idea to bring the richness of Italian style to Alexandria. Before opening Mia Gemma I had a rich and diverse career in the health care industry but always had the dream to do something very creative outside of the typical business environment. My education includes an MBA from George Washington University and a BA from Marymount University.
<b>Why did you choose this particular business? </b>
Not only because I love unique jewelry and accessories, but also because I wanted to create a place where women can come, feel pampered and have fun finding the perfect complement for their already beautiful self. People have always told me I have a great eye for design and now I’m finally putting it to good use.
<b>Why did you choose to work for yourself rather than as an employee for someone else? </b>
I’m a single parent of an eight year old daughter, so it was a big step for me to leave a comfortable corporate environment and make the transition into small business ownership. But I think the success I’ve had with Mia Gemma is an important lesson for my daughter that venturing out on your own as a woman can be a rewarding experience. Also, working for myself close to home gives me the flexibility I need at this point in my career and personal life.
<b>What have you learned from being in business? </b>
I’ve learned to be patient. In retail, you build the business one customer at a time by giving consistently great service and offering customers something special they can’t get anywhere else.
<b>Share an anecdote of a challenging or humorous experience or biggest surprise learned from working your business: </b>
There have been a few surprises for me. The first is how this business has connected me to my community and how great this feels. I have met so many of my neighbors and have forged new relationships within my community that would not have occurred if I hadn’t taken this chance. Another surprise is more related to consumer behavior. In particular, I’ve been impressed with the lengths to which many men will go to choose that perfect gift that will delight the women in their lives. On the flip side, I’m pleased to see so many women without reserve, treating themselves to a special piece of jewelry or an accessory because they know they deserve it.
<b>What have been the advantages and/or disadvantages of operating a business in Alexandria? </b>
I would say that there are a number of advantages: There is a true sense of community here in Del Ray both between shop owners as well as with customers and this makes for a great work environment and spirit. The festivals and community events that are sponsored here in the summer and fall have added to building awareness of Mia Gemma and this is a clear advantage over other locations. Another big plus has been the City resources available to small business owners through the Alexandria Economic Development Corporation and also through the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. Both of these groups have experienced, knowledgeable staff that offers free technical support to those starting a business and ongoing help as you need it. The people there were very helpful and gracious and I recommend these groups to anyone considering a business in Alexandria.
On the disadvantage side, parking and traffic continue to be a problem and will only grow with the further development of the Route 1 corridor.
<b>Description of services and/or products: </b>
Mia Gemma is a gallery of handcrafted fine jewelry, handbags, scarves and hats created by up-and-coming artists from American and European studios. Every piece is either one-of-a-kind or a limited edition. In jewelry, we provide a wide range of styles and designs in 18k gold, silver and precious and semi-precious gemstones - necklaces, earrings, rings (both wedding bands and gemstone rings), bracelets, broaches and bridal jewelry. Whether a woman prefers a delicate, more refined style of jewelry or a more dramatic, heavier look, any woman is bound to find her particular style at Mia Gemma. Handbags are hand made from the most luxurious fabrics and leathers. Our custom work also provides women the ability to personalize a piece further based on her unique requirements. Mia Gemma offers women an escape from their busy lives to come and experience a few moments of precious indulgence in a relaxing, elegant and fun environment.
<b>Professional affiliations/associations: </b>
Potomac West Business Association