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Riley and John Peterson: Thinking Outside the Jewelry Box

Riley and John Petersen are the creative team behind the jewelry company, Gunner and Lux. They’re also a daughter-dad duo who love bright colors, unicorns, and making each other laugh — a lot.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Emma Love. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

 

NARRATOR: It was a hot summer afternoon in 2015, and five-year-old Riley Kinnane [kih-NANE]-Petersen was open for business. 

RILEY: Lemonade! Jewelry! Lemonade! Jewelry!

NARRATOR: Now, this was Atlanta, Georgia, so a hot summer day was the perfect time for a cup of cold lemonade. But the people who started pulling up to Riley’s roadside stand weren’t just there to cool off. They were drawn in by the homemade necklaces and colorful charms that Riley had laid out for sale. She’d made them herself! Well, with a little help from her dad, John.  JOHN: Okay, we’re going to tie the string around your finger, and pull the rope through for a perfect knot!NARRATOR: Riley was so excited to see what people thought of her handmade creations. Lots of kids had lemonade stands, but her business was different.

Some curious customers stepped up and took in the table of treasures. Lemonade and jewelry? As they oohed and aahed at Riley’s designs, she and her dad had to wonder, 

JOHN/RILEY: Could this be the beginning of something BIG?

SHOW INTRO

NARRATOR: I’m Emma Love. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us. On this episode, Riley Kinnane-Petersen and her dad John Petersen.

RILEY: Hey, that’s us! 

JOHN: We’re a daughter-dad duo.

RILEY: And we’re making bold, positive, empowering accessories for all. 

NARRATOR: John Petersen and his partner, William Kinnane were very excited to adopt their daughter Riley in 2009. Both of them had always dreamed of being dads and having a child. From a very young age, Riley showed her creative spirit. She loved to play dress up, decorate her room, make meringues, and visit the atlanta zoo and aquarium.

Riley’s dad John, who had studied art at Wesleyan University in Nebraska, wanted to show Riley that it was easy to create beautiful things. He started collecting antique jewelry and assembling them into unique pieces for Riley, as well as other friends and family.

At night, Riley loved watching her dad John make jewelry at their kitchen table. It was intricate work! There was a lot of detailed measuring, setting stones, cutting chains and attaching beads and other broaches with pliers. John searched thrift stores and asked friends and family for old castaway jewelry. Soon, they had a trove of beads, baubles, trinkets and gems to play with.

JOHN: What if we take these vintage pearls and we connect them to these gold chains?

NARRATOR: Riley was amazed at the way her dad put his jewelry together. She watched as he combined different shapes and colors to make a unique piece — and soon had lots of ideas of her own. As her fingers got bigger and stronger, Riley started helping — adding one bead, and then another.

RILEY: What if we put a little pompom on the end of this one?

Or maybe you use hot pink string to match that shiny button?

NARRATOR: By this point, John was selling some of his jewelry online and at local boutiques. And he wondered what would happen if he were to encourage Riley to create her own necklaces. 

Which leads us back to that summer day when Riley was five years old and decided to sell jewelry at her lemonade stand. 

RILEY: Lemonade! Jewelry! Lemonade! Jewelry!

NARRATOR: Her customers were very impressed, and, after John posted photos of his young daughter entrepreneur on his Instagram account, interested buyers began to flood his feed!

NARRATOR: In twenty-fifteen, Riley and John made their business official, and eventually settled on the name Gunner and Lux. They gave Riley the very important role of Creative Director. With more ideas than ever, Riley and John made kids’ jewelry using neon strings, wooden beads, vintage treasures, animal figurines and more. 

They had so much fun, designing and putting together each piece. And in every package, Riley made sure to include a personalized note.Riley also wrote thank you cards to her customers. 

RILEY: Thank you for buying a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry!

Thank you for ordering an elephant necklace!

Thank you for loving rainbows as much as I do!

NARRATOR: She always thankedmade sure to thank the postal workers, too.

RILEY: Thank you for always making it easy to mail things even when I need to buy more stamps.

NARRATOR: It was a lot of work! Especially for someone who wasn’t even six years old yet!

NARRATOR: Next, Riley started by selling her pieces online through instagram and a blog. Then, when a something very exciting happened. She got her first break when a local Atlanta store was looking to build out their children’s section and asked if she’d be willing to sell it to them in big batches. Riley and John discussed, and figured:

JOHN & RILEY TOGETHER: “why not?”

NARRATOR: A year laterinto their jewelry business, Riley and John got another exciting call. This time, from a big department store, called Barney’s New York.

JOHN: Hello? Yes, this is he….Oh wow, really?

NARRATOR: The sales team at Barney’s loved Riley’s creations and wanted to start selling them too! Riley and John were thrilled! 

JOHN: And overwhelmed. 

NARRATOR: How could they possibly go from making small orders at their kitchen table to crafting hundreds of pieces daily for a huge department store?

Well for starters, they moved their whole jewelry-making workspace to the top floor of their house. That way, they could spread out with all their materials and keep track of what was in progress. 

RILEY: We also had a ping pong table up there, which was very useful when we needed a break. 

NARRATOR: To support the business, John decided to quit his day job, and work full time for their company. 

JOHN:  I knew that the only way that Riley could still be a kid, and have a chance to see where this business could go was if I was available to support it full time.

NARRATOR: So, they set up a daily schedule for designing and pricing their pieces, listing them online and checking the orders that came through. Sometimes, they went to the local mall and hid a few necklaces in secret locations, then posted pictures for anyone who wanted to search for them.

As Riley and John got busier and busier, they decided to send some of their designs to a manufacturer for help creating unique components. While the first samples were being made in the factory, Riley and John kept looking for fun additions, like pom-poms or sparkly chains. Once the samples were done, Riley and John had to inspect and approve them. Then, they ordered as many as they needed and started assembling them together for shipping to the retail stores and customers.

They were really busy, but they had mandatory –

RILEY: Dance breaks!!

NARRATOR: As with any business there were occasional hiccups, disagreements, and oreo cookie tastings. , aAnd of course, school.

RILEY: School! Are you serious?

JOHN: Very serious.

NARRATOR: Riley knew that no matter how successful her business was becoming, she had to go to school and learn the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and science. These skills were so important for her to be able to order materials, take inventories and communicate with her customers. Not to mention, she had a blast showing her friends and teaching others how to make jewelry and accessorize. And for the next few summers Riley traveled around the south teaching jewelry-making workshops.

And after school, She she also made silly videos that went something like this…

RILEY: You’re fired!

JOHN: But I made your favorite dinner! I’ll even let you stay up late!

RILEY: Fiiiine. You’re rehired.

JOHN: Phew! Thanks boss.

NARRATOR: After all, they both knew this company would only work if they were in it together.  

RILEY: To whoever’s listening, be confident. If you think it might not work, try it. If it doesn’t work, try again…You’ll get it in the end.

NARRATOR: Those are the wise words of Riley, who is now fourteen years old, and – mostly –  loving her life as a creative business leader.

RILEY:  There are some days where I’m just not feeling it…and that’s okay.  Sometimes it’s important to just take a rest.

JOHN:  For sure!  William and I have always tried to impress upon Riley that her first, and most important job, is to be a kid.  Going to school, learning new things, being with friends and exploring all her passions (including her business) need to be her priority.  

NARRATOR: Riley has discovered that advocating for others is important to her, and that her business is one way she can support other women. She and John make sure that they donate a lot of their proceeds to organizations that are important to them, like Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and organizations that stand up for gender equality. They also make sure to weave messages of love and acceptance into their products, whether it’s a beaded necklace that spells the word FEMINIST or a tee shirt that reads LITTLE PINK REBEL.

Gunner & Lux is growing just as its founders are — with compassion and pizazz. And their mission will always be to inspire and bring smiles to everyone they meet.

As they say, 

JOHN & RILEY TOGETHER: Fun! Cool! Flair! Let’s think outside the jewelry box!

CREDITS:

NARRATOR: This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

This episode was narrated by ME, Emma Love, along with 

RILEY: Riley! 

JOHN: and John!

NARRATOR: Kinnane-Petersen. It was produced and directed by Haley Dapkus, with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. 

The story was written by and edited by Abby Sher. Fact checking by Joe Rhatigan. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe.

Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi.

A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible! Until next time, staaaay rebel!