This Jewelry Designer Is Trading In Diamonds for Designing Stickers
Candice Pool Neistat isn’t afraid to shake things up.
After spending a few minutes with Candice Pool Neistat, it’s surprising that anything could make the New York-based jewelry designer blush—she’s got the casual, devil-may-care confidence that’s befitting of a self-made businesswoman—but while posing for our photographer, she buried her face in her hands, laughing, before gamely climbing onto the fire escape for the next shot. It’s difficult for her to feel so camera-shy elsewhere in her life, since her husband, filmmaker Casey Neistat, often includes her in the videos he posts to millions of subscribers on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, the founder and head of Finn Jewelry is a powerhouse all her own, having started the label when she was a 23-year-old Texas transplant.
“I had a summer internship, and I was bored. I made these leather cuffs and sold them to Patricia Field’s store. They sold out twice and were in Cosmo. Then I moved here.” After meeting a friend while bartending in New York, the two decided to launch their own jewelry line, Finn, armed with nothing but a small loan from her father and a handful of stolen pens. Sixteen years later and now the sole owner, she began to realize that the label no longer reflected the woman she has become. “The aesthetic is very much what I was—pink everything and champagne everything and ‘let’s go to Raouls and have steak au poivre and spend all our money on champagne’. Now I’m 39 and have a kid, and it’s just not who I am anymore. I don’t dress up to go out. I don’t put on makeup. I don’t pore over every decision like I used to.”
She eventually grew frustrated that the company felt less like a creative outlet and more like a job, and knew it was time create something else. “When I first started the idea for Billy! it was going to be a little bit higher-end, like the one perfect cashmere sweater, and the one perfect gold necklace.” Because of her husband’s vast YouTube following, she soon found dozens of girls commenting on her site, telling her how much they wished they could afford her Finn pieces. Casey advised her, “You have this opportunity to speak to a whole bunch of people that connect with you—do it.” She then decided to shift the company’s focus. “I went from 18 karat to 14 karat, no wholesale, only online so I can cut costs. It’s like a one-and-done kind of jewelry brand. One necklace, one t-shirt. If you can’t afford the necklace, then get the t-shirt.”
The curated minimalism of Billy! is in sharp contrast to Finn Jewelry, which is often covered with diamonds and other precious gems. The streamlined collection thus far is a simple scapular necklace in sterling silver or her favorite yellow gold. By moving away from the traditional wholesale approach in favor of a direct-to-consumer model, her team is successfully reaching an entirely new and younger audience. It doesn’t hurt that the designer herself is brazenly cool, like your best friend’s older sister, and her excitement about making t-shirts and stickers after years of fine jewelry is infectious. “I would never make stickers for Finn, but I love selling vinyl stickers and sticking them on lampposts on the street. I love when people send me pictures of it on their laptops. It’s totally fun, and because it’s all mine, it’s really rewarding.”
With so much of the company’s merchandise emblazoned with “Billy!”, it seems fitting that there’s a story behind the brand name. When family friend, Billy Farrell, hosted his photography agency’s five-year anniversary celebration, Pool Neistat decided to design something special. “I made this t-shirt with iron-on stickers from Michael’s that said ‘Billy’ with an exclamation point, so that it was like ‘Billy! Hey, Billy, take my picture.’” After multiple people asked her about the t-shirt, she knew the timing was right to focus her attention on a new project. “It was right when I was first peaking with my frustration from Finn, so I said, ‘I’m just going to start my new line, which is my basics, and I’m going to call it Billy! because it’s unisex.’ It’s a cool name, it’s so old-fashioned, [and] it’s such a fun name to say. Then the exclamation point just gives it that energy.”
These days there’s plenty to occupy Pool Neistat’s mind, including a move to the top floor of the NoHo building where the Finn offices reside. The current tenant’s departure means she finally has seniority, and the designer still remembers everything it took to get to this point. “Everyone is going to tell you what you have to do—you’re not borrowing enough money, or you need to get an office space, or you need to have a website. No. You think about what you need to get to the next level. I started Finn on a $9,000 loan from my father. [It was] enough to make 9 samples and enough to make really fancy business cards and enough to buy a URL. That’s all we had. We didn’t have a phone number. We didn’t have an office. We lived in my studio apartment. We both had other jobs. You just do whatever you can.”
While some might assume a new business needs thousands of dollars in startup investment, Pool Neistat disagrees. “The risk is too high when you do that. Of course, believe in yourself, but you don’t have to throw yourself to the wolves. It’s a lot of expectation, and then it becomes very stressful. If you don’t have so much to lose, then it’s a lot less scary.”
We were dying to know what advice she’d give other aspiring entrepreneurs and were surprised to find that she doesn’t think that term exists. “You can’t be an aspiring entrepreneur. You either have it or you don’t. You can be successful or unsuccessful, but if you’re an entrepreneur, you know you are one, because these ideas keep you up at night and you want to do it before anyone else does it. It’s like a race. If you wake up in the morning and you don’t have something to do, then you need to find a part-time job to keep you busy. You have to be busy. You can't be like, ‘I’m going to start a company’ and then wait for it to happen.”
Her inspiration for Finn and Billy!, while difficult for her to define, is equally meticulous. “I think if you’re an entrepreneurial person or an artistic person, you just have this Post-It note in your brain. You see something, and you maybe don’t realize that it’s resonated with you—like somebody’s necklace or someone’s grandma’s ring, or a pattern on a gate—and that Post-It note is there on your refrigerator door in your mind. Somehow you have to remember to do whatever is on the Post-It note.” She admits to stopping people on the street so she can examine their jewelry, especially if it’s vintage. “If it’s gold and diamonds, I have to stare at it.”
Among the dainty pieces she wears every day is her stunning solitaire engagement ring. The pressure on her husband to find his designer wife the perfect ring was, understandably, significant. “Whenever anyone was like, what do you want as your engagement ring? I would say that I want a ruby, I want something vintage—anything but a solitaire. Those words would come out of my mouth for years. Then when Casey got down on his knee, the first thing that I thought was that is a beautiful diamond, and then it registered—he’s asking me to marry him. Then it was, oh fuck, and then it was like, oh, it’s a solitaire.” She laughs, acknowledging that he correctly put it in yellow gold, the only metal she wears. “It’s a beautiful diamond. Now I love it.”
With two companies to run and a husband and daughter at home, the energetic entrepreneur remains seemingly unfazed. The secret, she claims, is indulging in the occasional 5 PM happy hour at the downstairs bar, Vic’s (she’s a Tito’s and soda girl), and the blissful solitude of her car. While she is a self-professed terrible driver, she maintains that buying a car seven years ago restored her relationship with the city. “I love New York in a car, especially in the summer. I have my radio on, I listen to that new Justin Timberlake song with the windows down. It’s my mediation. You’re the boss.” We couldn’t agree more.