By Alex Davis
Have you ever felt passionate about two seemingly different things? For instance, maybe you are an engineer at heart but you find yourself scribbling poetry in the margins of your notebooks. While you may feel conflicted or divided by your competing passions, who’s to say you can’t pursue both of them? Attorney and business owner Virginia Claire Tharrington did just that. A second-generation lawyer, Virginia Claire first dreamed up her business, Waccamaw Pearls, while visiting a pearl market in Shanghai, China, and the rest is history. The business started with a classic double-strand bracelet with the signature Waccamaw Pearls sterling silver toggle, but has since expanded to include gorgeous signature pieces for all occasions.
I was fortunate to speak with Virginia Claire about work-life balance, hustling as a small business owner while working full time, leaning on a support network, and pursuing your passion – or in her case, her dual passions of beautiful pearls and the law. We hope you enjoy her story, and while you’re at it, click over to the Waccamaw Pearls website for some unique and lovely Christmas gifts for your family and friends (and for you too, obviously). You wont want to miss what they have in store – especially these fun pieces here and here.
Alex Davis: You run a successful business and work full time as an attorney. What has this taught you about work-life balance?
Virginia Claire Tharrington: The little balance I have in my life (and I am not saying it is much) is due to the fact that both of my jobs are really flexible and because I have an amazing support network. When I first started Waccamaw Pearls, I was just juggling it with school or work, but for the last year and a half I have been juggling a personal life as well. This has honestly been the hardest transition. I can work both jobs with no problem, but when you have loved ones who also need time and attention and who you obviously want to spend time with, I have found that juggling act to be a little harder. Recently, I have been gearing up for Christmas gift shows, which involves hours and hours of sorting inventory and pricing pearls. My sweet boyfriend has willingly helped me with these endeavors and even went so far as to agree to back earrings and tag necklaces so long as Tennessee football was playing in the background. My mom and other family friends are also crucial supports because they willingly help me work shows. We always have so much fun doing them.
AD: Tell us the story of how you started your business, Waccamaw Pearls.
VCT: After graduating from Meredith College, I spent two years in Shanghai, China teaching English at an international school. I taught second grade and had the most fantastic experience. Early on in my first year, a friend took me to one of the Shanghai Pearl Markets and later to a fabric market. I knew when I walked into both of them that I was in my happy place. I still have some of the earrings I bought on that first trip.
When I really started looking into the pearl markets more, I discovered that they had TONS of different types of pearls in all shapes, colors and sizes, but the things that were hardest to find were good sterling silver toggles. Not to be daunted, and knowing that I was living in China, I decided that I would just get my own toggle made, but I had to get 100 toggles. I knew I did not need 100 pearl bracelets, but that I could sell them to my friends and family at a great price, which is exactly how Waccamaw Pearls was born. I also put my favorite Bible verse on the toggle which is 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. I did this because I feel like if I wear it, it helps me to remember it.
When I started law school, I let my mom and some friends take over the business for a while so I could focus on school, but after my 1L year, I took it back over and have never looked back. We recently expanded to do more than just pearls. We now carry fun statement earrings and curated pieces which my mom and I love. Pearls are still my passion and the focal point of any show, but we also have lots of unique jewelry options now. I do mostly gift and Christmas Shows, pop-up shops, home shows, and online sales. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to find out about our upcoming shows in 2018!
AD: Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
VCT: Nope. I totally backed into this business. I have always been a “pearl girl” but I never thought about running a business or starting my own until one day I was just in the middle of it.
AD: Tell us about your 9-5. Do you enjoy your work as a lawyer? How does that complement your business goals in running Waccamaw Pearls?
VCT: I LOVE my day job. I am an attorney at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and love going to work every day. I help to represent the Sheriff when he is sued and I help to handle many of our pro se litigants (many of whom have more legal experience than I do). Every day at the office is different. Some days we focus on employment law or use-of-force issues, while others focus on school recourse officers or jail mail. We truly face a myriad of issues on any given day, but I love it. I also work with some of the best attorneys I know, so I am a very lucky girl to have the flexibility and the mentors like I do.
My day job complements my business because it is totally separate and apart from it, yet allows me to have enough flexibility in my schedule where I can manage to do both.
AD: Tell us what a typical week is like for you. How do you divide your time between running Waccamaw Pearls and working your “day job?”
VCT: Ha. What typical week? No week is ever typical for me, but Christmas is my busiest time of the year. I used to do more gift and Christmas shows around the Southeast but since I started working full time I have really cut down to two or three every Christmas Season. The week leading up to a show (like the Junior League Shopping SPREE) and the week of the show can be really crazy but my schedule at work is flexible enough where I can take time off for them. Luckily, we have never had court hearings due during a show season because I do not know if I would be able to handle that, but we will cross that bridge if we ever come to it.
I always say that Waccamaw Pearls will take as much time as I am willing to give it. I could spend 40-plus hours a week doing everything I need to do. But most weeks I don’t have that kind of extra time so I do what I can, let my mom run the Instagram (which she loves) and fulfill any order that I get. I would love to say that I constantly update the website with new products and maintain an active social media presence for my business but then I would be lying.
AD: What are some of the biggest unanticipated challenges in running a business?
VCT: UPDATING THE WEBSITE and doing my accounts. Also, I hate managing inventory!
AD: Do you think women can “do it all,” or just do what matters? How do you prioritize tasks in your own life and career?
VCT: Whenever I tell people “I am an attorney by day and a pearl peddler by night” they are so impressed and ask how I do it all. My normal response is, “I don’t.” Truthfully, I am more disorganized and scatter-brained than you would think and I wonder almost every day why I thought this would be a good idea, but I love it! I have a fabulous support network which helps me get everything done. Waccamaw Pearls would not happen without my wonderful mother, who is just as passionate about jewelry as I am and who can talk to me for hours about jewelry trends and new styles. She is also a retired attorney so I think I learned from her about how to do it all. She had me in April of her 3L year of law school and passed that July Bar. Nobody can “do it all,” but as Gandalf said “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
AD: What are your top three favorite time-saving tips that you use to make space in your life for what is important?
- Use the dictation tool on your iPhone – it is a gem and actually fairly accurate.
- The Container Store is an amazing place. Also, SCOUT Boxes are essential for dragging pearls around!
- Learn Excel and Adobe Illustrator – early! They are amazing tools if you know how to use them well.
AD: What is your favorite way to unwind after a stressful week?
VCT: Audiobooks and podcasts are my jam! My current favorites are Hardcore History, the History of Rome, and the Joe Rogan Experience.
Also, my boyfriend is an amazing support. He has worked multiple pearl shows with me this season and we have had a great time.
AD: What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs?
VCT: Four things!
- Take the “Sent from iPhone” off your email signatures. No one needs to know where you sent that email from!
- Once again, learn Adobe Illustrator! It is key and in college you can likely take the class for free.
- Be in a business where you control the markup. That’s the way to make a little money these days and why classic retail is struggling so much.
- The better at technology and websites you are the easier your life will be.
Follow Waccamaw Pearls on Facebook and Instagram at @waccamawpearls.