In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke to jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, founder of her eponymous line of customizable fine jewelry and vast selection of hoop earrings. Ahead of the new year, she candidly shared the origin story of her brand on Instagram, for those who didn’t already know. “I was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor on my left chest when I was 30 years old,” she wrote. “I underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy at Cedars-Sinai….I was a wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles for 10 years leading up to my tumor discovery. I was dating [my now-husband] Kevin and he proposed to me during my chemotherapy and we got married 09/08/01.” When the couple was ready to have kids, Fisher’s oncologist thought her tumor posed a risk, so they explored surrogacy, after failed attempts at IVF. Against all odds, she gave birth to her first child, Shane. “I was being given gifts to represent him when he was born and none of them suited my personal style,” she shared. One highly coveted dog tag necklace emblazoned with her son’s name later, and Jennifer Fisher Jewelry was born. Read more about how Fisher got there, below.
My first job
My father raised us with a crazy work ethic, so my first job was cleaning ashtrays at his car dealership. I made 25 cents an ashtray! But my first industry job was at a boutique in Santa Barbara—I was a sophomore in high school and wanted to wear this mint-green Comme des Garçons dress to a school dance, and my dad was like, “If you want that dress, go get a job.” So I went to the store, lied about my age, and became the best sales girl they ever had.
How I got started as a stylist
I used to want to be the publisher of a fashion magazine; I was the kid that had magazine cut-outs all over my wall when I was younger. So I studied business marketing at USC with a minor in fine arts, and got my first internship at L.A. STYLE Magazine. But I loved shopping—specifically vintage shopping—and always looked for things I couldn’t find anywhere else. I dabbled in celebrity styling, but my friend at the time worked at Propaganda Films and told me that a director she worked with was looking for a new stylist, and he gave me a shot. During my interview, he was like, “Okay, kid, if you fuck this up, you’ll never work in this town again.” It was a commercial for Pace Picante salsa. I loved commercials, because you made more money than you did working for celebrities, you had teams of people helping you, and you could do multiple jobs at one time. My favorite memory was shooting a Bud Light commercial with Pamela Anderson.
My worst job
I worked for a big celebrity stylist before I started doing commercials, and she was so mean to me. It was a bummer and really turned me off to celebrity styling in general. She yelled and screamed, and it just wasn’t my vibe at all. I immediately thought, this isn’t for me.
What my diagnosis taught me
My friends noticed a bump in my chest at a wedding back in 1998. Six months prior to that, I had switched my birth control pill to a higher dose of estrogen. I went to my plastic surgeon who said not to worry about it, that it was probably a cyst, but I had a feeling something was wrong. So I made an appointment with a breast cancer specialist, and they discovered it was a desmoid tumor, which is benign, but related to connective tissue cancers called sarcomas. We started with chemotherapy, and I continued to work through the whole process. It mentally helped me a lot and taught me to listen to my instincts. Now, I just live with it.
What people might not know about surrogacy
At the time, it was illegal in the state of New York to have a surrogate carry your baby, so we looked in New Jersey, Vermont, Florida, and California. The road is different now, but it’s still a very long road, and very emotional. First, the surrogate has to choose you, so we were making albums of our lives, showing who we were as people, to make us seem like good contenders. Second, it’s very expensive. We call Shane the million-dollar baby, because it was so expensive to try and get him, then we ended up having him naturally. I was going through rounds of IVF simultaneously, and our surrogate got pregnant the first time, but ultimately miscarried after 12 weeks. Then, the second time she got pregnant, we saw a heartbeat, and after 16 weeks—when I was on my way to Sacramento to visit her and shop for supplies—there was no heartbeat. I’ll never forget that feeling. I thought it would never happen. The process requires so much patience and mental fortitude.
Why I founded my jewelry brand
I was being given baby gifts that were just not for me. As a lover of charm necklaces, I wanted a heavy gold chain with a dog tag. I literally went up to 47th Street in the Diamond District and found a woman to make one for me—and she still makes our jewelry to this day. I started wearing it on set, and it became this conversation piece that everyone wanted to talk about. Then I started getting requests to make them, and next thing I knew, I was making one for Uma Thurman. (I was good friends with her hairstylist, Ryan Trygstad.) I started a website selling direct-to-consumer customizable fine jewelry before anyone else was doing it—that’s what really set us apart.
How I monetized my obsession with salt
The salt started because of my diet; I couldn’t find anything to season my eggs that didn’t have garlic or onion, or wasn’t a spice rub for barbecue. So, I made a concoction with lemon rind, because my dad would send me lemons from his lemon trees in Santa Barbara, and I started using it on everything. Then one day, I posted it on Instagram, and I’ve never received more comments on anything ever. I gifted it to editors over the holidays. Then the demand became so high that I had to find a way to produce it at scale. I put it in beauty cream packaging, and now we have multiple flavors and a travel stick, in case TSA asks questions.
What’s next for me
My lab-grown diamond collection. I’ve always loved diamonds, and this was an opportunity to design them in a way that’s clean and attainable, that you want to wear every day and layer with pieces you have already. The stones are really beautiful—they’re gorgeous, and they’re clear, and they’re brilliant, and they’re bright. My goal is not to get into engagement rings—I want to see large stones on the pinky finger. You don’t have to be married to wear a diamond ring; that’s bullshit. Though I am planning to replace my engagement ring with a lab-grown one.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.