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Dionne McCray, Iva Jewell

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Dionne McCray is the founder, designer, and owner of Iva Jewell by Dionne. She makes accessories for the daring, brave, and beautiful woman who likes bright colors and big prints. “I’ve always been happiest when I am making things,” she said.

Photo of Dionne McCray

She named the business after her mother, Iva Jewell, a former home economics teacher. She taught Dionne to sew, knit, cook, and crochet, and inspired her love of fashion and design. “I was looking for something unique, and that has a nice ring to it,” she said of her business name. “My mother is a Southern belle, and that’s how I was raised: with etiquette, to be courteous, and to speak for yourself.”

Dipping her toes in

In 2015, Dionne launched her business and began painting burlap tote bags with African prints to sell on Etsy. “When I was a little girl growing up in Orange County, all through college, I always made my own clothes,” she said. “It was my creative outlet.”

Customers reacted positively to her products, and she was looking for a way to expand. A trip to Kenya proved pivotal. She had traveled there to help a friend with a start-up business. Dionne fell in love with the bright cotton fabrics she saw. With her accessories line, she has found success in catering to businesswomen. These customers may have to dress more conservatively in their corporate jobs, but long for a way to add a splash of color to their outfits. “I thought, what if I made things women could carry that would give them a sense of style but that would not distract from the message they’re sending,” she said.

In July 2018, Dionne received a $10,000 loan from Working Solutions through the SBA Microloan program. She also received support from the Wells Fargo Diverse Community Capital program. Dionne reached out to Working Solutions because she was interested in consulting and coaching.

Not only do they give you funds; they educate you on how to use the funds to grow your business. Without Working Solutions, I would have wasted a lot of money.

With help from the Working Solutions loan as well as a crowdfunding campaign, Dionne completed the first run of her production line. This included fold-over clutches, laptop sleeves, and oversized totes made from African wax fabric and Indian saree lace. The pieces are bright, cheerful, and memorable—inspired by Dionne’s love of color, patterns, and global textiles.

Thinking strategically

Photo of Iva Jewell and Dionne McCray

Because of crowdfunding, she has gained a lot of interest and support, but she is careful to grow slowly. “You don’t want to make 200 things you can’t sell,” she said. “My strategy is to grow slow and be purposeful. I don’t want to lose credibility.” Dionne still works full time as a software quality director for a medium-size company in Walnut Creek. She spends “every other waking minute” on this venture.

Eventually, she would like to grow to include more accessories and possibly some apparel. “Ideally, I’d have a manufacturing office and a retail space; maybe showcase another designer and have offices to support everyday work,” she said.

Dionne said she would definitely recommend Working Solutions to a friend. “If you need money, it’s great,” she said. “If you want to understand what to do with it, to have coaching of any kind, go with them. I’ve been very supported in that way.”