Pearl Expert Johanna Lolax The World Is Her Oyster
By Cherie Ronayne
Some slow down with age and disability. Johanna Lolax didn’t. The founder and owner of TenderBeautyPearls.com and a familiar figure on Worcester’s business and cultural scene, Lolax, 51, walks briskly with a stylish cane, conveying beautiful pearls to private customers and local shows.
Although Johanna, the former Manager of Fallon Clinic Foundation and a past Executive Director of the Performing Arts School of Worcester, has already positioned her new business as a regular at The New England Business and Original Wedding Expos, she explains that TenderBeautyPearls.com is still largely internet-based ~ and she’s taken to this bold, new retailing frontier like a happy oyster to the big, blue sea.
“The online model I developed for my pearl jewelry business is efficient and cost-effective,” states Lolax. “I built and I update the website myself and I do my own search engine optimization. All this helps to keep overhead ~ and my prices on fine, cultured pearls ~ low. I developed relationships with pearl farmers throughout the Pacific Rim, so I can ship the best pearls directly to my customers, at the best prices.”
Lolax’s reputation for impeccable customer service and a 24/7 work ethic preceded her new business. She raised more than $4 million for charitable projects during more than 15 years as a fundraiser and leader in the non-profit sector. Her three years as a Board Member and volunteer teacher with Junior Achievement of Central Massachusetts won her numerous awards, and three years ago, Worcester City Manager Mike O’Brien issued her a public commendation for her work renovating a city park.
Then at 50, she decided to bring a lifelong dream into reality with the creation of her for-profit venture, TenderBeautyPearls.com, and its charitable arm, Tender Beauty Foundation, Inc. Recently, Lolax offered us insights into her dream and her business.
V: How did you become interested in pearls ~ as opposed to other gemstones or products ~ as the staple of a new retail business?
JL: My interest in pearls began at a young age when my mother showed me a family treasure ~ her string of genuine Mikimoto pearls. My uncle bought them for her when he was stationed in Japan during WW II. They were as beautiful and as luminous as water in sunlight, and I was fascinated. When I was planning my business, I decided on pearls for several reasons, including the fact that they are light in weight and easy to ship. Another is that pearl farmers turn out to be pleasant and mild-mannered in general, so it’s fun to deal with them directly.
V: Tell us about Tender Beauty Pearls specifically ~ what makes them different from other pearls?
JL: “Tender Beauty” is one of the trademarks my business owns, and I use it not only as my business name, but to brand the highest grade of freshwater pearls I carry online. My Tender Beauty™ brand freshwater pearls are from the top 0.01% of the freshwater pearl harvest. This grade has the highest luster, roundest shape, and smoothest surface of any freshwater pearls in the world.”
V: What was your Gemological Institute of America training like? Do you feel it gives you an edge?
JL: My training with the GIA combined both distance learning and in-person components. It was rigorous and fun, requiring a detailed understanding of the biology of pearls, pearl farming techniques, pearl history, marketing, and pearl grading. The instructors are very serious, and you need to pass at least a dozen tests to earn your degree. I earned a GIA Graduate Degree in Pearls in June 2008, which earned me the respect of jewelers, lends credibility to my business, and helps me to understand exactly what I am buying from pearl farmers.
V: What does the well-dressed woman need in her jewelry wardrobe for pearls?
JL: Any well-dressed woman needs to start with the classic white strand of good quality, 7-8mm white pearls. They can give a business suit a polished look, dressy clothes an elegant look, or a pair of jeans real panache. They also light up the face ~ something every mature woman will appreciate. Build from there with pearls in natural colors such as iridescent lavender and peachy-pink, and you’re on your way.”
V: Any new trends in jewelry made with pearls?
JL: Anything you can do with diamonds you can do with pearls ~ there even are faceted pearls on the market now. The trends definitely are toward elegant pearl ropes, sexy lariat-style pearl necklaces, and attractive chandelier-style pearl earrings. Professional women like Michelle Obama look great in big, bold styles like double-stands of larger pearls. She’s really brought pearls back into style!
V: Tell us about your non-profit foundation.
JL: I founded Tender Beauty Foundation, Inc. in 2008, and it received its 501 c 3 designation in April, 2009. We expect to make our first, small grants in January of 2010. The Foundation’s primary purpose is the preservation of the world’s oceans and waterways, but we also fund other important projects. It’s my way of giving back. Anyone who is interested in more information and application guidelines is invited to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.