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With successful jewelry line, Durant High alum Carley Ochs enjoys 'incredible ride'

BRANDON

As a child Carley Ochs played dress up, draped in her grandmother's furs.

When she became a teenager, armed with a hot glue gun and sewing machine, peers at Durant High School would give her jeans to re-style.

She even decorated the senior class shirts.

Now, the Bourbon and Boweties founder helps style women all over the nation with her line of bracelets.

"I've had a love for vintage and all things fabulous since I was a kid," Ochs said. "My grandmother got me a sewing machine at a young age so I think my sense of duty to make things came from her."

Though she didn't know it at the time, the brand started after Ochs made the decision to teach English in China after graduating from Florida State University.

On the flight home to Valrico, pieces of Jade from a Shanghai marketplace were packed among the clothes and shoes in her suitcase.

"I made my first bracelet with that Jade. Now I realize it was terrible. It was much too large," Ochs said. "My friend Lindsey still has it."

After some re-touches, family and friends raved about her bracelets and suggested selling to boutiques.

In 2012, The Finicky Filly in Charleston, S.C. was the first boutique to carry her brand. The Fringe Boutique in Plant City also was an early supporter.

"We were one of the first and she was certainly our largest seller when my mom and I opened Fringe Boutique five years ago," said Fringe Boutique co-owner Morgan McGimsey. "We got returning customers who were originally coming just to buy Bourbon and Boweties."

As demand grew, she opened headquarters in Brandon, close-by to her Valrico hometown.

"No way, I didn't think it would be this successful and we just made the Inc. 5000 list," Ochs said. "When I started it, what I loved was that everyone would say, 'This is different'. I think that's the biggest compliment we can get."

Today, there are seven full-time women working in the headquarters which is always stocked with music and white wine.

In addition, between 200 and 400 women make bracelets out of their homes.

For Ochs, her office is the car.

"I've lived on the road for the past four years, traveling to trunk shows," Ochs said. "I haven't been home for more than 40 days since last Nov. One year I traveled 340 days a year. I think I've been to every small town east of the Mississippi."

And she navigates the miles alone.

One year an employee accompanied her, but she only lasted two weeks in the passenger's seat.

"I think the trunk shows are important because people like making a connection with the person who more or less made the product," Ochs said.

The effort has earned Ochs added praise.

"I love that personal aspect," McGimsey said. "She started it in such a small way and she never lost that."

Before founding the Bourbon and Boweties brand, the Valrico native had never made a bracelet in her life.

Today, she's made 150,000.

In addition to being a hit with boutiques, her bracelets also can be found in at least 68 Nordstrom locations.

She's accomplished it all with zero advertising.

"It's all been through word of mouth," Ochs said. "I think our success is due to the price point and the fact that we have something fun and fabulous for women of all ages. We go through hundreds of thousands of stones throughout the year, so no one will leave with the same stuff. It allows each woman to express their own fashion sense."

Growing up in Valrico, Ochs stood out with her sense of style.

"I think people thought I was weird for a long time," Ochs said. "I was unapologetically fashionable. I didn't always get it right, but I wore it because it made me feel good and that's what fashion is. It makes you feel good, regardless of what others think."

In July, Bourbon and Boweties launched two new lines: earrings and necklaces.

"People have waited years for it," Ochs said. "It's all still handmade in Tampa, we always want to keep it local. We're getting into leather and funky pearls and lots of necklaces. It's different than what we were doing and pretty labor intensive."

Currently, Ochs is in the design phase for the next launch in January.

"We all know you have a million different options at your fingertips of what you can spend your money on. The fact that we've influenced women's styles and what they choose to put on their bodies is amazing," Ochs said. "It's been the most incredible ride."

     
       
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