Women in Business: Eva Foose and Marcela Raska
The Embassy of the Czech Republic hosted an online talk as part of its series Women in Business with Shelalee jewelry founders Eva Foose and Marcela Raska on October 24, 2023. They spoke about their friendship, Czech heritage, experiences starting their company Shelalee, and vision for the future.
Both reminisced about growing up in the Czech Republic. Eva hails from the metropolis of Brno, where she obtained her engineering degree. She then had the opportunity to study in the United States at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, obtaining graduate engineering and business degrees. Eva started her own part-time consulting business from home and has three children.
Meanwhile, Marcela is from the glassmaking region of northern Bohemia. She earned a Master’s Degree in Education focusing on math and physics at the Technical University in Liberec. She moved to the United States with her husband and has two children.
Growing up in Bohemia, Marcela mentioned, “Glass beads were one of my favorite toys...I grew up playing with them and my stepfather worked in Preciosa his whole life, a company that makes beads and other glass products.”
In 2011, Eva and Marcela met in Kentucky and became friends. They enjoyed making jewelry with glass beads from their homeland. Initially, Eva developed the ring design and gave it as a gift to Marcela and her friend. Eva wished she could spread the idea and wanted to share the rings with more friends. Marcela liked the idea. Therefore, the two spread the word and shared their love for Czech glass. They founded Shelalee in 2012 and incorporated it into an LLC in 2013.
In developing the logo, they used a ring, one of their best-selling products, for the design. As for the company name Shelalee, Eva said, “The ‘she’ is expressing strong women, empowering women.” Overall, Shelalee focuses on inspiring the virtue of beauty as the reflection of uniqueness, compassion, kindness, and strength hidden in every single woman.
During their online talk, Eva and Marcela showed a beautiful selection of rings and different types of colorful beads featured in their jewelry. Their designs have evolved. Eva mentioned, “We not only want to make (the jewelry) beautiful but functional so it is lasting and doesn’t break.”
They also started naming their jewelry to be able to communicate with customers as well as highlight pieces inspired by their friends. For example, some of their necklaces are named after their daughters - Anna, Rebecca, and Elizabeth. Earrings honor their friends, people they have met, or even flowers such as Dahlia.
Functionality, beauty, as well as sustainability are important in their creations. “We are trying to work efficiently. We use up whatever we purchase from sterling silver, stretchable bands. We use up everything. There is very little waste,” says Marcela.
She mentioned that their glassmaker is very efficient as well. They work with Rutkovsky Supplier, a small family firm in Northern Bohemia that has been in the glass business for multiple generations, to find their exquisite collection of beads. Their raw materials, including sterling silver, stretchy cords, and stainless steel wire are all US-made and 100% nickel-free.
The two moms from Kentucky make 98% of the jewelry. When asked about producing the jewelry themselves, Marcela said, “Keeping up with the demand is not such a problem. We do custom-made products if someone has a specific color. We love these demands, but the majority of the pieces are our designs, our color creations.”
Regarding plans for the future, Eva said, “We like the fact that the company is in our control, and it is the two of us that created it. It is our friendship that keeps it going. We try to develop new designs...We are always looking for different markets that we will fit in. We feel like the cultural ambassadors because we are always talking about the Czech Republic!
They credit their husbands for staying home with their children when they have to go away for art shows and other events. Marcela said that time management is also important. She added, “It takes up some energy, but it gives us a lot of energy.”
At the start of the company, Marcela mentioned that they did not have big plans for the company. However, ten years later, they are still going strong. When asked if she has any advice for future entrepreneurs, Marcela said, “Stay open-minded. If you don’t try it, (you) would not know how it is going to go. When there is an opportunity, just take it.” She also attributes the success to having a great friend and partner in the business.
The Women in Business series is a part of the Czech Embassy’s Mutual Inspirations Festival 2023 – Eliška Junková. Eliška Junková, who was born in what is today the Czech Republic, was famously known as the “Queen of the Steering Wheel.” Although she only raced for five years in the 1920s, she went up against the world’s top male drivers and became the first woman to win a Grand Prix. Junková was also a great businesswoman – who combined business with her love of travel. Her entrepreneurial spirit inspired the Women in Business series. Please go to www.mutualinspirations.org
to learn more.