Meant to Bead

My first career was in banking. I started as a teller in high school and eventually worked my way up to VP, Bank Manager. I know it sounds like a left-brained job for a right-brained person but I found ways of being creative even in the finance industry! I’m so glad I had the valuable experience of working in my teenage years. It taught me common sense skills and a strong work ethic. I left my company after our second daughter was born. In 2003, with three daughters ages 5, 4 and 3, I went back to school to study Spanish (to keep up with my kids who were also learning the language) and Early Childhood Education, with the goal of becoming a social worker. It was around this time that I started making jewelry as a hobby. I remember enjoying a simple jewelry-making craft with my daughters. Once I learned how to attach a clasp I was hooked! I started taking beading classes and couldn’t get enough of practicing my newfound skills.

Growing up, I was surrounded by inspiring women and artists – my grandma, mom, aunt, and great aunt. Whether it was gardening, painting, sculpting or stained glass, I loved working by their side. I was fortunate to have a very close relationship with my grandparents which later influenced my own parenting and fueled my passion for engaging kids in imaginative and hands-on activities. I guess you could say I had an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. Taking advantage of our proximity to several cemeteries, I used to get flowers from our landlord who had a nursery, turn them into bouquets and sell them on the street corner to passersby! Even so, it was never my intention (as my husband likes to remind me) to start a business. It just goes to show, you never know where life will lead you!


From Hobby to Wholesale

Within a year, I was selling my jewelry pieces to friends and then in 2005, I launched Dragonfly Designs as a wholesale business. Our slogan back then was “Jewelry with a Conscience.” Stores across the country, as well as local boutiques, began carrying my line. This is also when I launched jewelry making parties for kids, which is still one of our most popular offerings! We partnered with nonprofits across the Bay Area like CASA, giving a voice to children in foster care, Hamilton Families, a leading service provider to those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, as well as providing art classes to youth in juvenile hall sites from San Jose to Marin County. During summers, we lived locally and volunteered in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuzco, Peru and the Dominican Republic to allow us to practice speaking Spanish, experience other cultures and teach our children the importance of giving back. The kids went to school with local children and volunteered with us when they weren’t in the classroom. Our two eldest daughters and I were selected to represent the nonprofit Nest, a global network connecting artisans in 90 countries with growth opportunities. We traveled to the Dominican Republic, to support their sewing co-op and during our downtime, taught jewelry making to over 100 women and children.

Dragonfly Takes Flight

In 2007, our son was born (yes, I had four kids under 10) and I hired my first employee. The two of us used to make jewelry at my dining room table to fulfill our wholesale jewelry orders! Within a year, Dragonfly had expanded around the Bay Area and San Diego with parties, classes and camps – I was so excited to work with children and share my love of art and creativity on such a large scale! We had Area Managers in the North, South, and East Bay, San Francisco, the Peninsula, and San Diego

Lessons Learned

Things were humming along for a few years and then, like almost all businesses do, we hit a wall. Despite steady business, we had cash flow issues and I had to make the devastating decision to let my entire staff go. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. For the next three years, I (along with my teen daughters) taught every class and hosted every party! When I look back I wonder how I kept it all going. I couldn’t have done without the support of my amazing husband, Mark! He got up with the kids and made lunches on nights I stayed up working until 3 a.m. He was and still is my biggest cheerleader, because he truly believes in and supports the work I’m doing with my team. Another driving force was not only my belief in what we were doing but also not wanting to let our loyal customers down. From that day on, I vowed to take a much different approach to managing the business with metrics and financial health as a priority. Stay small and local, grow slowly, and remain dedicated to quality in everything – from materials to our staff. That’s what really sets us apart. All of our instructors are college-educated, many with advanced degrees in the arts.

Where Creativity Meets Fun

This isn’t just a job for them, it’s their passion. We were consistently busy and in 2015 and we changed our slogan to “Where Creativity Meets Fun” to better encompass our expanding classes like Textiles & Fiber Arts, Leatherworking & Metalsmithing, Art Exploration and jewelry-making Bead Bars. Our Bead Bars are unique to us! The idea came from a natural progression of our kid’s birthday parties. We can serve a larger number of guests at the same time and adults can join in the fun!

The great loves of my life are family, friends, laughter, travel, nature, and of course, BEADS! Dragonfly Designs is a family affair – our kids have literally grown up in the business and my staff is like family to me, too. I’m so grateful for YOUR SUPPORT in enabling me to share the love of creativity in our community for the past 15 years. We will continue striving to give you unforgettable experiences. Whether it’s your child’s birthday party, a summer art camp, a night out for Beads & Brews or a large scale event with a colorful Bead Bar – creating wonderful memories is why we do what we do!

Looking ahead, I’m very excited for the future! We now have a permanent, weekend event space in San Mateo,we’ll share our proven, art education curriculum through online classes to reach beyond the Bay Area and San Diego, and continue to fulfill our vision of Craft+Connect+Celebrate with you and your family. We need your valuable input on how we can best shape our programs and hours at this new location. Can you take this quick, 5-question survey?

Dragonfly Designs has continued to grow and evolve in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of back in 2005. Again, thank you for being on this journey with me!

Love & Peace,
Stacee Gillelen

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