Creating a line of edgy, innovative jewelry, in addition to being full-time students, has not been easy for rising seniors Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato. These cheery identical twins from Wilmington, Delaware, have been making ripples in the fashion world ever since they teamed up to form Lizzie Fortunato Jewels, which they started in high school. Their company now serves a quickly growing, swank clientele.
The driving force behind the early success of their enterprise is how well the twins have divided company duties. Lizzie, an English major, designs the jewelry, and Kathryn, an economics major, runs the business. In the back room of their apartment, sitting cross-legged on the floor among piles of style magazines and boxes of beads, the twins are in constant motion while they excitedly describe their trade. Lizzie wears a bright orange sweater under an elaborate mix of silver, pearl, and shell necklaces. Kathryn sports a black sweater and simple Chanel earrings.
As they discuss the business, they eagerly run to grab articles, photos, and even a napkin sketch of a freshly contrived summer collection. Enthusiasm is not in short supply.
The jewelry has "a chic, urban look, with a lot of island and exotic inspiration," says Lizzie. "I want something that's eye-catching--huge earrings, or a silk rope with coral and an old, dirty antique key. I'm really into mixing high and low." They have found materials for the jewelry on travels to the Philippines, Spain, and local flea markets.
In the course of the conversation, Lizzie continually downplays her artistic ability, while Kathryn repeatedly interrupts with, "Lizzie is being modest again." Lizzie blushes and flashes a quick smile when Kathryn says they have been successful because "a lot of people know what's trendy now, but don't know what's going to be cool in a year. Lizzie has that ability, and that's what makes her jewelry unique."
Sophomore year in high school, Lizzie, already designing her own skirts and dresses, began to make beaded bracelets and necklaces. Kathryn saw the opportunity to capitalize on her sister's ability. "By our junior year, we spent entire summers at various Delaware beaches, going door to door and selling our jewelry," says Kathryn.
Freshman year at Duke, they took a hiatus until springtime, when friends started to ask about the jewelry they wore. Word quickly spread and, by the time they were sophomores, Kathryn says, "we would have a dozen people come to our room every Saturday afternoon wanting jewelry." This year, production has moved from West Campus to their apartment.
Kathryn and Lizzie have gone from selling out of their own living space to supplying stores located in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida. Durham has been host to well-known trunk shows where buyers have lined up before the doors opened, anxious to get one-of-a-kind jewelry before it disappeared. "There will be girls who come and choose three or four pieces and write a $500 check for beads," says Kathryn. "It's shocking. I would never expect it," says Lizzie.
Divide and Conquer
Lizzie Fortunato '06 and Kathryn Fortunato '06
August 1, 2005