Charm maker: Easthampton woman takes Puerto Rican vacation, discovers passion for a successful jewelry business

  • Amelia Bailey, left, and her sister, Danielle Bailey, work on making beaded art with Lori Novis, who owns Mango Fish Art in Easthampton. The company’s charms are sold to a company that markets the charms to colleges, universities and other educational institutions. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Bailey,an employee of Mango Fish Art, works on a piece. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left, Danielle Bailey,an employee and Lori Novis, CEO, work on making beaded art for Mango Fish Art. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Bailey,an employee of Mango Fish Art, works on a piece. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Bailey,an employee of Mango Fish Art, works on a piece. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Above, pieces made for Mango Fish Art. Right, Lori Novis works with beads in her Easthampton studio. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lori Novis, CEO,of Mango Fish Art working on pieces. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lori Novis, CEO,of Mango Fish Art. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 11/10/2019 11:29:06 PM

EASTHAMPTON — When a local librarian vacationed to a small island near Puerto Rico’s mainland 12 years ago, she wasn’t expecting to stay for eight years or to return to the states with a new career.

Lori Novis, a 53-year-old resident of Easthampton, owns and operates Mango Fish Art, a small jewelry company that produces intricate charms made of 72 glass and crystal beads imported from all over the world.

The charms are primarily geared toward college students. Each charm’s colors are specially chosen to match the customer’s school, sorority, or club colors. The charms can attach to graduation caps, necklaces, bracelets, key chains and more.

Mango Fish Art’s charms are produced at an Easthampton studio and at the homes of its handful of employees. College retailers such as Graduation Source market Mango Fish’s products to students, who then issue a work order for a specified number of beads at wholesale.

The business’s early success attracted the attention of the Women Business Owners Alliance, which last month recognized Novis as one of two women for its outstanding new members award. She uses a commencement regalia company, Graduation Source, to distribute her creations.

Mango Fish Art is run entirely by women. Novis wanted to give young women the chance to do business with others like themselves.

“It’s important for me to affect someone’s future. That’s what drives me,” Novis said.

An unexpected start

Novis can’t credit Mango Fish Art’s success today without acknowledging her past decade.

Novis began making beads decades ago, after learning the skill from a master bead maker near her then home in Edison, New Jersey. Although it wasn’t her profession, she cherished the hobby.

Then in 2007, she and her husband, Fred Hanselman, traveled to Culebra, a Puerto Rican island, to get away from their busy New England lives. The 1,800 people who live on the island, which is only 168 square miles and 17 miles off the Puerto Rican mainland, rely on tourism and fishing as their main sources of income. One major attraction is their world famous Flamenco Beach, highly rated by travel websites.

The two were enamored with the land and the people, but Novis realized the lack of funding some local welfare organizations were enduring. It was during this vacation that Novis laid the groundwork for a new endeavor that involved helping social service agencies acquire grant money.

In addition to making charms, Novis has another passion — drafting federal funding grant requests. During her time as a librarian at the Trenton Public Library in Rhode Island, before the move to Puerto Rico, Novis was able to secure $2,000 in funding through the American Library Association for new books and programs at the library.

During her vacation, she began discussing the financial difficulties with an animal shelter on the island. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, the islands are technically eligible for federal funding. But first, they needed to be officially listed as a nonprofit, which would dually exempt them from taxes and open the door for funding. Novis likened the 501C status as the “golden ticket” for federal funding.

Upon her return to the states, Novis felt uneasy. She wanted to help the organizations in need on the island and felt she could do more by physically being there.

“That’s when I found out I could sell my property at bottom market price and still afford a place in Culebra,” Novis said.

Flamenco Beach proved to be the perfect location for a brief professional stint outside the states. Two years later, they returned to the island and opened a guest house just two miles from the beachfront and a mile from the town center. Novis and her husband had their hands full renting out the rooms of their guest house, titled Mango Fish, but this was secondary to her volunteer work as a grant writer.

In her time on Culebra, Novis secured nonprofit status for the animal shelter, a private K-8 school and a community library. She’s responsible for winning over $150,000 worth of grants for the three organizations, and continues to work administratively for the animal shelter.

It was here that Novis was inspired to enter the jewelry business. She split her time doing community activism, running her guest house, and producing pieces for the local gift shops.

The couple had planned to stay for five years, but ended up sticking around for eight.

“I was very involved with the community,” Novis said. “I felt like I was letting people down, but it was time to go.”

Upon her return, Novis had no plans for the jewelry company. She felt like her extended stint in Culebra was enough adventure, until she came to a realization while at her new job as Franklin County Technical School’s librarian: 40% of the kids she saw daily lived below the poverty level. She learned this through asking one of the school’s cafeteria workers, and confirmed it through the state Department of Education.

“I was just in shock,” Novis said. “I realized I need to give these people opportunities; I need to hire people.”

But lacking a business background meant going into the jewelry sector nearly blind, Novis said. Her professional background in library science wasn’t suited for entrepreneurship. That’s when she was introduced to the WBOA, where she attended business seminars and received counseling from an advisory volunteer board.

With this training in place, Novis launched her business. A short time later, she won first place in a pitch contest and used the prize money to travel to her first trade show.

Today, Novis employs four women. Sisters Danielle and Amelia Bailey have been a part of Mango Fish Art since August. Danielle, 23, says the work is complex enough that it requires training, but she learned quickly was soon able to work from home.

“As a full-time college student I’m limited in regards to time, so this works really well for me,” said Danielle.

“We can really work whenever we find the time,” said Amelia, 19, making the job a perfect fit for their busy lives.

Novis also enlisted the help of two female law students as interns to assist with business logistics. Although they may not be getting paid, it gives them experience into building a business from the ground up.

In relation to her working with young women who have difficulty finding the time to make money, Novis said

“It’s like I’ve come full circle. I’m home again.”

Mango Fish has sold upward of 500 charms, averaging at $55 each, raking in a revenue of $15,000 to date.

The Mango Fish guest house and its namesake jewelry business got the title by combining two of the most memorable places on the island. During their vacation in 2017, a neighbors property was strewn with mango trees of all varieties. While snorkling off the island, Novis and her husband were greeted by schools of majestic palometa fish. Her husband’s son, Andrew, suggested the name.

Novis’ plans for the future of the company expands regularly. She hopes to create charms that encapsulate the spirit of sports teams, social clubs, and more.

“Mango Fish will be to western Massachusetts what Alex & Ani is to Rhode Island,” Novis said, referring to a jewelry business specializing in bracelets with individualized charms.




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