Continuing on with our holiday gift giving ideas, we chat today with Wendy Hively who is the founder and owner of Charlie Madison Originals.
Wendy and her family served 20 years in the Navy before retiring back in 2007 but we look back briefly at what their military lives looked like then. And touch on how challenging career continuity was and still is for mil spouses.
Wendy shares how she founded Charlie Madison Originals, which is named for her daughters. They make the most beautiful bracelets and they tell a story which I love.
Being part of a family with 3 generations of hero's across multiple branches of service, is what inspired them to create an uplifting community of fellow military families, whose common bond and shared experiences remind you that you’re not alone on your journey.
Their military jewelry collection inspires you to tell your unique military family story as you grow through each season and transition of military life - from deployment to PCS, celebrating a veteran, honoring a fallen hero, and showing pride for your milspouse tribe.
Having a personal and meaningful everyday reminder to slip on your wrist each morning empowers you to focus on what matters most and reassures you that you’re part of a community who understands that your sacrifices as a military family matter – that you matter!
Check out Charlie Madison Originals HERE
Follow them on IG @charliemadisonoriginals
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[00:00:00] Today we are talking to Wendy Hily, and Wendy is the owner and founder of Charlie Madison Originals. If you're into jewelry or bracelets or , the Precious stones that kind of stuff. This is your jam. So
[00:00:15] I found Charlie Madison originals on Instagram and and I love the product, so I can't wait to order some because that's like totally my jam. This is part of the series that we're doing for the month of December, trying to high. Military spouse or military family, or retired military, cuz you're not in the military, you're not duty anymore, right?
[00:00:34] But still the military affiliation is still there. Just to, you know, let's shop small and support our community. So without further ado, welcome to the show, Wendy. I'm happy to have you here, .
[00:00:45] Oh, thank you for asking me. Really, truly.
[00:00:47] We'll just dive in like we do for all of the other interviews that we do with what is your, what is your military affiliation? So you guys have been retired for quite a little, for quite a while now, but just what is your, what is your affiliation to the military?
[00:01:00] Yeah, so my, my husband was in the Navy for 20 years, and so gosh, he retired.
[00:01:05] Was it like 2007? I think so. It's been a while. It's been, it's been a minute since we've been out. Yeah. So we're kind of on the other side now. But in addition to that, we have in our family three generations and four service branches represented of military. So it's not just my husband. I mean, it's every, there's a lot so, So it, it's, it was, it's just kind of special to us because we feel like we have such a connection and the military's given us so much so.
[00:01:38] Yeah. I love that. So, 20 years in the Navy, that's like, my grams was that way. Actually, I think he was like 20. They, they, my nana was like, you're getting out, you're, he would've stayed in like forever. He was such a . He loved, he loved me. Oh my gosh. But yeah.
[00:01:52] So I think my husband would. It would let him come right now, but he's too old at this point.
[00:01:56] So, you know,
[00:01:57] Right? That ship is sailed. Yeah. So, so if you, so you're, I mean, you guys are well out of your military career, but I'm just curious if you can take yourself back in your brain a little ways. Yeah. As a military spouse, what did, what did that look like for you as far as like the lifestyle that you had, the frequency of your moves, and then did you have a career while he was in?
[00:02:21] Like, what did that look like for you?
[00:02:23] Yeah, so we were, we were kind of different from what you think of a traditional military family. And I, I've come to understand that there isn't really A traditional, I should I say that, but there's not a one size fits all. So I've found that everybody has kind of their own thing, but because of his, because of what he did, we were stationed for most of his career here in the Washington, DC area.
[00:02:46] Yeah. We did, he did have one. Short deployment after Hurricane Katrina when the, the USS Comfort was sent out. Yeah. So he was on that for a month. Just for a month. It, it could have been longer, but it ended up just being a month. Mm-hmm. . And then we lived in Okinawa, Japan for three years. But other than that, we were pretty much just in the DC area for that whole time.
[00:03:08] And I we met here in the DC area and we. We met where we worked. So I have had a career separate from the business that came later. Mm-hmm. . But I am actually a scientist. So we talked at the beginning and I was gonna, so I, I did we, we met at a a DOD research facility, and then I worked, I've done cancer research.
[00:03:31] I've worked, when we were overseas, I was lucky enough to get a job as a civilian with the Air Force. When we moved back here to the, the states, I I have worked since then with the Food and Drug Administration, so Oh, nice. Just a lot of different things, but I'm, yeah, a big advocate for this, for military spouse, employment and unemployment because mm-hmm.
[00:03:52] I experienced on both ends of our move to Japan a period unemployment where I. I actually drew unemployment. Mm-hmm. , and it was, it was not easy. Especially you hear a lot of military spouses who like me, Are highly trained in a, in a very specific career field. Mm-hmm. , and we wanna work, we, we have to work because our families need it.
[00:04:17] Mm-hmm. , but these moves interrupt our, our career path and, and our ability to work. So yeah, it's tough. Which is why now I think a lot of which is why entrepreneurship now is so yeah. Is so attractive because you can really take it wherever you.
[00:04:33] A hundred percent I, and yeah, we were talking about initially you know, before we, before we started recording that you know, I like to just kind of dive into the ins and outs of careers cuz, cuz it is such a challenge for military spouses and I feel like the more people I talked to about their careers, I would say like 80% of them, at least our entrepreneurs have their own business work virtually.
[00:04:59] Yep. Because it's, you know, it's, it's so challenging to. To navigate the, you know, having a career with the moves moving all the time. Yeah. With the moose, with the moves and with the op tempo. You know, like my husband is gone all the time, like he's gone two weeks at least out of every month. And it's random times like, you know, like there's no rhyme or reason to it.
[00:05:20] Yeah. So like there's, someone's got, someone's gotta be around for if you got a family, if you have got kids, right, . Exactly.
[00:05:26] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. The challenge for sure. Entrepreneurship is really so much easier now than it, I mean, back when. In Okinawa, that was sort of, I mean, 2007, you know, there wasn't a lot of this online commerce like we have now, and of course there was no FaceTime and there was no Zoom and none of that.
[00:05:45] It has made it a lot easier in the last couple decades to To, to do entrepreneurship. Yeah,
[00:05:52] I agree with you a hundred percent. Okay, , you're a scientist, which is awesome. So then how did Charlie Madison original, I know where, where, so that's like a hard pivot. Where, did that come from?
[00:06:03] Where, where I know. Tell us about that. Yeah.
[00:06:05] It's interesting because I've, I've always also been a creative person, so I mean, like way back you talk like crocheting, scrapbooking, anything. I mean, I did, I probably done it all. You also probably done it. Yeah. , So back in, around, when was it like I guess around 2004 I got into, I discovered jewelry making.
[00:06:24] Okay. And it started out with a, a company that was doing jewelry, home jewelry parties. So I joined up with them. But I didn't really like it. I didn't really like it, so I I went out on my own and I started on Etsy. Everybody knows Etsy now. And it was, and it's huge. And it was really terrifying to hit.
[00:06:42] Your stuff out there into the world. But I did, and then it, it morphed over the years into what we are now, but the what we are now with the focus on the military, so. Yeah. Charlie Madison Originals is named after my daughters Charlotte and Madison. Yeah. So it's, it's a combination of their names and it's really a nod to our belief in, in family and whether it's the family you were born into or the ones you choose along the way.
[00:07:09] And of course we know with military families, we have lots of family that we choose. Yeah. Choose along the way. Our business, as you said, the beginning is jewelry, but it's made specifically for military families. So we have jewelry that's, that keeps you focused on, on your present moments and all those little moments that you have because that's, that's your life, right?
[00:07:33] That's those little moments are your life. So try to represent. You as a military family, your service branch deployment bracelets to help you get through and get through deployments. Veteran I'm trying to think even PCs, ones all kinds. So that's, that was what we chose to focus on. And then because of our military affiliation with, with our family we give back 5% of our sales to military affiliated non-profit organizations every single year.
[00:08:04] So we do that. As well. And we, we also have some great collaborations with nonprofits. So we get with them, we make bracelets that go along with their mission and their colors, and then
[00:08:15] money directly to them for the sale of those bracelets. So there's more than just the one organization every year. But but it's grown over the years and we just, we just love it. Just love meeting, meeting new people and learning about. What everybody is doing for the military community.
[00:08:32] , that has been so eye opening to me because like, so I've been a military spouse for 20 years and you know, moving all over the place and all the things and, and this last move from Washington to here to Colorado was really hard on me.
[00:08:46] We were separated. He had to finish his tour. The move, it was just, it was just a lot. And I'm like, this is a lot. Why is so hard? Like this is like, it's not, it doesn't get easier. Like it doesn't get easier. It's getting harder. Like the more we move, the older my daughters get, I have two daughters as well.
[00:09:01] Yeah. The older my daughters get, I'm like, oh my God. Like this is not easier. And, and then I just, I felt so isolated and so alone and so that's why I started this podcast. Cause I was like, there's gotta, and I couldn't find anything. When I initially, I was like, there's no podcast for military spouses.
[00:09:16] There's a lot of podcasts for military , but I couldn't find any. I couldn't find any when I was looking initially. Which is an issue, I feel like, I feel like there's so many really cool organizations. There's so many like nonprofits. There's so much help, there's so many resources, but we just, the dissemination of getting that information out to military families, to military spouses is like, there's a disconnect there somewhere where it's, I, I don't know.
[00:09:46] Like I, I feel like you really have to make an effort. To find it, to look for it and to like really dial into it. Because since I've started this podcast, I've met some incredible people. I found out about incredible organizations that I can work with that support military families and veterans and, and I, but I, I'd never, I mean, again, 20 years and I'm like, where, where are this?
[00:10:10] And it's been around for a long time, but I just had never heard of it.
[00:10:12] I think you act absolutely. Just hit the nail on the head. Yeah. I think that I, I know a lot of different people doing different things, but then.
[00:10:23] When I'm looking for something, I have a hard time finding it, and I, I just, I just want us all to be connected somehow. Because I hear from people saying people all the time, they say, oh, I have a friend who says she, she doesn't know anybody. There's no resources for, and I'm like, but we have a lot of resources.
[00:10:41] There's so much out there. Yeah. So why, even with our customer base, I'm like, Why can't we just reach the military families? I mean, why is this so hard? Yeah, but its, it shouldn't be, right? Because we're. You run across people like you, you and I when we met and you said, you live in my hometown. And I'm like, that's, it's such, it's a small world, right?
[00:11:03] But why can we not all be connected? It's crazy.
[00:11:07] It is. I agree with you. It's so crazy. , so tell us a little bit about how are you juggling?, you said you started your business in 2007, is that right?
[00:11:16] Yeah, but not like as, as you see it right now, we're in our seventh year, so as on our own website, like it's, so it's really only about seven years. Okay. But So, in all fairness, my daughters are 19 and 26. Okay? So if you have young children, your, your life is not gonna look the same as mine, right? So so it's become a little bit easier working full time.
[00:11:38] Of course, the last three years because of Covid, we've worked full time at home, so it's super easy. Our studio is right here in my home on our fourth floor, and my daughter works. My older daughter Madison works with with me now for, with she just does everything, but she's our marketing director. She, she majored in marketing in college and she nice.
[00:11:59] But she really helps with everything. So, yeah, while it's great, our website looks very professional, it makes us look like we're a really big company. I promise you. It is me and my. Yeah, that is it. And my daughter,
[00:12:13] and well, kudos to her because it looks fantastic. So obviously she got a good education there in marketing
[00:12:20] She did. So, you know, we always say we're doing something right or we've, I've spent a lot of money on classes over the years to figure out how to do it right. Yeah. So we are not, we're, we're not a huge company. We're also not a multimillion dollar company. Yeah. That I can promise
[00:12:36] you that. . Yeah. Or I wouldn't be
[00:12:41] working a job and running a business, so.
[00:12:43] Right, right, right. Yeah. So it is a lot of juggling, but it's also prioritizing and just figuring out. , you can get things done. And as if, you know, if you're, if you're listening and you're also a small business and you're fig, you're trying to figure out how to grow mm-hmm. , it's, it, it comes to a point where you, you have to decide what you either can't or don't want to do anymore.
[00:13:05] So, like for me, one of the first things was accounting. I mean, ugh, I hate it, but mm-hmm. . I have a wonderful accountant and in fact another plug for the military spouse, entrepreneur community. Every time we need something to outsource, I always go to a military spouse in, in the community. I look for, our accountant is a military spouse photographer, our PR gal, every, everybody is a military spouse.
[00:13:29] And I, and that is also so important to me. Yeah. Is to, to build, build up other. As you, you know, as you grow.
[00:13:38] So, yeah, I love that, that it's, it's a very intentional practice to hire military spouses. Yeah. To, yeah.
[00:13:45] That very intentional. Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. And in fact, we have on our blog too, these interviews called Meet Ami Spouse, where we share stories of other military spouses and what they're doing, .
[00:13:57] Some are entrepreneurs, some are not. But yeah, we do that to those features cuz again, it's important to shine a light on other people when you have so much, you know, should be grateful
[00:14:06] for. Yeah, I love that. Okay, so tell us a little bit about the, so is your line just bracelets? Do you offer other things as well?
[00:14:15] So kind of give us the, give us the gift giving guide that
[00:14:18] we have. The gift giving guide. Yes, . We are primarily bracelets. We've, we've done a little of the other things, but we just decided that we are the bracelet queens. I mean, we love the bracelets. Everybody loves the bracelets.
[00:14:33] I agree. Why not, right?
[00:14:34] Yeah. Yep.
[00:14:36] So we do have some a few necklaces, like branch necklaces, so air force arming and all the branches. Mm-hmm. and then special occasions. For the holidays, we have some a line that is holiday specific and so it's called our cabin collection and it's okay. It's kind of evokes the Christmas, our holidays in the, in the mountains, and we have occasionally we do those, but it is.
[00:15:00] Really, we are all about the bracelets and our community is all about stacking 'em up. And we love talking about stacking your story. So especially with military families, like you have a military mom bracelet and then military family. So you get mm-hmm. ,, that meaning out of what you're wearing.
[00:15:15] It's not just because you can buy jewel buy jewelry everywhere, right? I mean, everywhere you can buy jewelry,
[00:15:21] And is that, was that an intentional thing on your part to, because I feel like, you know, when you're spread kind of thin, right? I'm working full time and that that's, that seems like a smart business decision to focus on one thing, vice, oh, I'm gonna make all of these items and have a ton of inventory.
[00:15:39] Does that keep it a little bit simpler and easier for you guys to produce and to, how does that, what does that look like?
[00:15:45] Well, that's an interesting question because of of over the years I've taken cla been in programs and stuff, and especially for jewelry cuz they want you to do with jewelry, a collection.
[00:15:54] So that involves everything, matchy and all the, and, and it, it just didn't make sense for me. It was just, This is what made sense. And so I tell fellow entrepreneurs as well, you can take some advice and you can sort of listen to what people say, but in the end, it's your business and you don't have to do what everybody else is doing.
[00:16:15] And that's what we've chosen to do. We've chosen to be the bracelet queens, and so that's what we are. And so it's okay to do that. It's okay to choose whatever works for.
[00:16:26] Yeah. Yeah, I love that. Okay, so Charlie Madison originals, is that, so you have a website and then are you, do you sell, is it just off of your website?
[00:16:35] Do you sell your products anywhere else?
[00:16:37] So it's charlie madison originals.com. That's where our, our website is our online shop. But we also do have a shop on Spouse Lee. So if everybody's familiar with Spouse Lee, which is a sort of, it's like Etsy, but it's a marketplace for military and first responder families to, to, to sell.
[00:16:54] We have a shop there as well. So we currently, you, you were mentioning the beginning, this. Collaboration we did with Mother Christmas on a mother Christmas bracelet. And that can only be found on Spousely because she is, she is kind of, she kind of works with Spousely a lot. So we have that bracelet there.
[00:17:12] But everything else you can find on our website. Okay,
[00:17:15] perfect. So then I'm just curious to peek behind the curtain a little bit of the business part of it. So like, sure. So you said you've got your, fourth floor, that's your, business area are, you and making all of the bracelets, they're handmade by you have other people that come in and help you.
[00:17:32] Like what is.
[00:17:33] Very rarely we, if we had some huge order, we would ask for help. My husband is not above stringing bracelets. Let me, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna say that he has, he has on occasion has
[00:17:46] been known. Yeah, there you go. Has been known.
[00:17:49] But my daughter and I do it all. So we make everything. We do, we do mostly all the photographs, everything you see.
[00:17:56] It's just us. It's just the two of us. And I know that may surprise people and they may think you have all this money to spend. We don't. We don't. Yeah. So I'm just telling you, you can get scrappy. You can. You can. Yeah.
[00:18:08] And, and I think that that is kind of, again, a tribute or a, a shout out to your daughter in the marketing and that you, I mean, it looks like a big brand, and you've got, I mean, like your presence on social media and all the posting and your website and all of that things like, you're so prolific in that way.
[00:18:28] It seems like it's this big, like juggernaut of a company. And that's not the case,
[00:18:33] basically. It's not. It's not. And I tell you, she is the one who has taken over like the video stuff lately. So TikTok she does. And then most of the really cool videos you see on Instagram are her mm-hmm. . And she's, you know, she's 26.
[00:18:47] That's what they do now. It's all the videos. So she is, I mean, she comes and she's like, mom, look at this video that I made. I'm like, wow, that is so cool.
[00:18:56] You go, you go through those videos all day long. . I'm gonna sit over here making these bracelets. That looks fantastic. fabulous. I love that. That's so awesome.
[00:19:09] . So military spouse, like that's your customer, that's who you are designing for and who your target audience is.
[00:19:15] And we have also a lot of military moms too. And even people, people who have. Family members that are, that have served over the years. I mean, it, we have a lot. Yeah.
[00:19:28] Yeah, for sure. And so and then you were talking about your collection. So the collection that you have for the holidays is called the cabin collection.
[00:19:35] Right. How often do you, how many, do you have a, a, like a large catalog of collections or is it something that you do seasonally? Like what does that look like?
[00:19:44] We have most, most of our. Sort of regular stock we keep throughout the year, and then we do something special normally, like in the summer and for the holidays, a big thing.
[00:19:57] I think next year we're gonna try to release more every month of some meaningful ones. Now we do, what we also do is a a $26, what we call mini of the month. Okay. So we have. Bracelet with smaller beads that we do every month. It's just available for that month unless we have leftover. And so people love, that's kind of like a gateway piece cuz you can get in and it doesn't cost, you know, it doesn't cost a lot of money, although I don't think our bracelets really cost a lot of money anyway, but Sure.
[00:20:25] Yes. But people love that. People love the little, that they can get a, a little bracelet for that. , we don't have the bandwidths to do collections every couple months. It's a lot of work. ,
[00:20:36] I'm sure. Yeah. Yeah. I'm sure. So, and, and then so you said that you've kind of continued after you've started your business, that you, what kind of education or you know, workshops or like what have you done to kind of grow in this jewelry making process?
[00:20:51] I've, I've taken a number of online classes, business classes programs some specifically geared toward jewelry, the jewelry industry. Okay. But others that are just br like about branding and I think I probably have an online MBA just over, over the years from all the classes that I've taken, but, I think it's important to continually learn and stay up to date on how, because it's, it, it changes.
[00:21:21] I mean, we, everything changes so frequently. Yeah. And it's hard to keep up. It's hard to
[00:21:26] keep up. So, yeah, for sure. And then creatively, how do you get the inspiration for what you, what you make?
[00:21:33] Well, that's a great question. Sometimes the stuff just comes to me, but we also have a Facebook group. We call them our Charlie Madison Insiders. So we have a Facebook group and anybody can join. It's free, it's just a private group. But it's, it's filled with military spouses and people who have military members and their family, and they're.
[00:21:57] So supportive. They're so inspiring and people love to come and post photos, like, this is my stack of the day. And they, they post their bracelet stacks, but it's, it's just a way to be. Be connected around the world and just keep people inspired. You know, it's just, there's just so much negativity out there that we just wanna find a way to spread a little positivity.
[00:22:19] Yeah, for
[00:22:20] sure. Okay, so then diving into the holidays, what does that look like for you? So as a small business, this is like crazy time for you guys. Yeah. Super busy time. So what is, if someone wants to order, they just go to your website or to Spousely, and then what is the deadline that, that you.
[00:22:37] For receiving by Christmas.
[00:22:39] December 15th is the last day for first class, and then December 17th for priority and ground. And the last day for all orders is December 20th.
[00:22:49] But you know, as we always say, every year we g we guarantee to get it out by a certain date. But you know, the crazy post offices, so we, we. So hard. We're trying to stay on top of orders and, and get them, get them out. So yeah, so now this is the perfect time right now because it's right in between the Black Friday business and I think people, I don't know, it's a little odd this year.
[00:23:12] I don't know if people are waiting to shop if they're not shopping. It's everybody's saying it's, it's a little bit, this year is kind of, Yeah.
[00:23:21] Yeah. I, I don't know. I, I think I, for me personally, like I've just been feeling very, like, do I need to spend money right now? I know. Do you know what I'm saying?
[00:23:31] Like, I know, and this, and, and this, the whole, I feel like. The Black Friday, the consumerism of this time of the year is just, I'm like, I don't know. I've just been asking a lot of questions lately, like, do we really need that? Like, do, how much do I really need to to buy? And then I think honestly, the economy's playing into it too.
[00:23:52] Prices are insane. I
[00:23:53] mean, absolutely insane. Absolutely. Just groceries alone, I mean,
[00:24:00] It's crazy. It's absolutely, it is. It's absolutely crazy. We actually, for a while there, stopped shopping at the commissary because it, there really wasn't a difference between, What you can really, cause here there is, yeah, here there's a big difference.
[00:24:16] There is now . Yeah, there is now. So like, and, and unfortunately, you know, my husband's in engineering, so he's attached to he's not attached to a base, so we haven't been attached to a base for a while. So it's not really convenient for us to get to a commissary. But we are making the effort to drive the 40 minutes up to Buckley Air Force Base , so that we can go to the commissary because it's, it's.
[00:24:40] Yeah, it's crazy. It's so expensive
[00:24:42] right now.
[00:24:43] I appreciate you taking the time to come on and, and chat with us and just share about your business because you know, like, again, like we were talking about beforehand, it seems like it's this huge thing, but it's you and your daughter and.
[00:24:54] And, you know, a few other people, but all in the military family and every, you know, you give money back to military nonprofits, which, , I think is awesome.
[00:25:02] I feel like your bracelets are a great gift for so many different people Yeah. That you could be buying gifts for this year.
[00:25:12] It's definitely something to keep in mind for sure, as you're, you know, doing your holiday shopping for your family and friends and everything like that. So, Well, thank you. I appreciate you being here. Yep. Yeah. Is there, is there, yep. Is there anything else that you wanted to tag onto that
[00:25:28] or share?
[00:25:28] No, I was, I was just gonna say, we have, our shop has a holiday menu, so we have gift guides you can search and, and there's things that aren't just for military families too. They're, they're made to inspire and so there's things that are not military related, so you can find, can find perfect anything really for any woman in your.
[00:25:49] I love it. Okay. All right, Wendy. Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you being here. All right.
[00:25:54] Thanks so much.