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On the cuff

What’s that big line on Cherry Street?

Patrons waiting for the opening of Rustic Cuff’s new storefront on Cherry Street

Greg Bollinger

A line of middle-aged women, accompanied by friends and family members, snaked down Cherry Street, wrapping around the block as hundreds filtered in and out of Rustic Cuff. I saw the line consistently. I saw people waiting for hours in all climates for a chance to purchase jewelry. Then I saw the bracelets that compelled them. 

Cuffs are costume jewelry—made from plastics, rubbers, alloys, glass, and leathers like ostrich hide or python skin. Price tags range from less than $10 for sale items to $38 for beaded bracelets, all the way to $138 and more for custom animal hide cuffs. Some are simple. Some are gaudy. Some are rose gold and pewter. Some are crafted with stingray skin and engraved with motivational axioms. 

“To understand the craze you have to understand women—and women love jewelry,” said Jewel Kaste, a former Rustic Cuff employee and a longtime friend of its founder, Jill Donovan. 

“It’s literally like being in a candy store when you’re a kid. You know how you would go to a Baskin Robbins and want to stick your face up to the glass and go, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so many colors, it’s so fun, I want all of it’? That’s the way women feel when they go into Rustic Cuff.” 

Jill Donovan’s obsession with cuffs turned into a business when she moved production from her home to an 800-square-foot office space at 41st and Harvard in 2013. Though not envisioned or zoned as a retail space, shoppers started coming daily and then attending cuff launches by the hundreds. The devoted call this office location the Mothership. 

In 2014, Donovan opened a showroom in South Tulsa at 106th and Memorial, dubbed the Sistership. A second showroom opened January 2016 on Cherry Street, called the Babyship, and closed on April 14 to make way for a larger location next door called the Queenship, which opened its doors on April 15. There are also showrooms in Edmond, Oklahoma City, and Dallas.

“I never intended to do this,” Donovan said. “It wasn’t like I sat down to write a marketing plan and figure out how I can start a company. It’s intended by God, but unintentional by me.” 

The popularity is partially due to B.J. Weintraub, a Broken Arrow woman who started the invite-only Facebook group “Addicted 2 Cuffs, Jill Donovan Fan Club” two years ago. A2C JDFC fosters an online community where more than 41,000 members bond over their cuff obsessions and admiration of Donovan by sharing photos and stories and information about sales and meet-ups. 

Even with smart business practices, such as subscription services Cuff of the Month Club and the Regifters Club ($48 and $38 a month, respectively), Donovan says Rustic Cuff is about more than revenue. Her business ideas often develop into philanthropic projects, such as Project Cuffway. On April 7, the event raised $204,000 for pancreatic cancer treatment through sponsors, ticket sales, and a silent auction. Donovan not only gives and pushes others to give, she employees over 200 women
in Tulsa.

Kaste described Donovan and Rustic Cuff as filling “a need in a lot of women who feel sort of cut-off from other women—to have something in common that they’re all super excited about.” 

When asked about her subscriber base, Donovan said, “I don’t tell, I just say something like 50 million. There are a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot.”

In early April, I ventured alone into the Babyship—an assault of what smelled like cinnamon scented candles, speakers blasting The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why,” and groups of effervescent women looking at the walls and islands of brightly colored cuffs. 

I left empty-handed. 

While I’ll never leave the store carrying their bag, a greenish shade off Tiffany’s blue, I’m bound by the same rusty shackles of capitalism that bind us all. To dislike Rustic Cuff is, let’s face it, nothing more than a matter of taste in accessories—and everyone’s entitled to their own. 

“I will say that not everyone is going to understand it and that really is okay,” said Donovan. “I’m okay with that. But I think that if you even walked into a showroom or you met somebody that was part of Rustic Cuff you would realize that it’s not just a bracelet company. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a family.”

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