By Hannah Connorton
I got to be a shark this week.

Well, not literally, but figuratively. Have you seen the ABC show Shark Tank? It’s where entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of “sharks”—a group of wildly successful and business-savvy businessmen and women, among them Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary, a/k/a Mr. Wonderful—and try to get one or more of the sharks to invest in their idea.

Jeweler’s Resource Bureau President Cindy Edelstein borrowed from this concept recently to create “The Big Pitch,” where 12 new designers from the recently held JA New York Summer show were invited to present their jewelry collection to a panel of retailers and one member of the press (yours truly). We the panel were asked to give the designers advice and feedback, including praise and constructive criticism, both verbally and in writing.

Edelstein, who also is a consultant to the JA New York shows for its designer pavilions, brought a range of designers and brands to The Big Pitch, opening the panel to first-time JA NY exhibitors from the show’s New Designer Gallery, American Craft Council showcase, Accessories showcase, Design Lab and Wearable Tech pavilion.

To keep everything fair (and get it done in a reasonable amount of time), the designers had just a few minutes each to present, followed by a few minutes of questions and feedback from the panel.

For an inaugural event it ran incredibly smoothly. Each jewelry-maker adhered to their allotted time (thanks to Cindy’s stopwatch-wielding husband, Frank) and, in my opinion, received invaluable information from the very people with whom many of these designers wish to do business.

Nadine, founder of jewelry e-tailer Stone & Strand, and I check out the jewelry and materials for a new designer during the panel.

From an editorial perspective, it was not only fun but a refreshing change of pace. Often the media is invited to press previews, collection launches and other events to see jewelry that’s ready for retail. While the designers typically are eager for a reaction, many editors (including myself) aren’t always comfortable giving honest feedback at these events. It’s not really the right setting for constructive criticism.

The panel was invited to touch and try on the jewelry, as well as ask any question to help them understand a collection better.

That’s not to say I was champing at the bit to point out flaws in anyone’s collections during the panel. Many of the designers presented unique, innovative and truly original designs that truly impressed me.

But it was productive to be able to tell a designer their pieces may be too heavy, they might want to introduce their collection with more options, their prices are too low, etc. For a new designer, what could be better than getting honest feedback from those with whom you hope to work? And for retailers and editors, what better chance to use your industry and marketplace knowledge to help someone succeed?

“It was a great event,” Edelstein told me Wednesday. “The designers learned so much, from how to make a succinct two-minute pitch to how to handle the pressure of multiple retailers asking questions at once. Just hearing the different questions gives insight into the way a wholesale line needs to be merchandised so that it can please a buyer.”

She added that several of the designers got immediate orders following the panel.

“The retailers all said they had a great time, found lines they might not have discovered on their own, and even found value listening to the other retailer’s questions and comment. All in all, it was a win-win event for everyone,” she said.

I couldn’t agree more.

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