Lauren Sigler loved being at home in Alexandria with her two daughters, ages 3 and 6. But the former attorney was looking for a way to make money, without having to spend too much time away from her toddler who has cerebral palsy.
One of Sigler’s friends suggested she check out Stella & Dot, a jewelry line primarily sold through in-home trunk shows — a modern take on Tupperware parties. That friend had made $1,000 in matter of weeks selling stylish baubles from the comfort of her living room.
Sigler was intrigued, but hesitant.
“I was a lawyer. What in the world was I doing signing up to sell jewelry?” she recalls thinking. “I had never been to a trunk show, never even seen the jewelry in person.”
Sigler became a Stella & Dot “stylist” in August 2010. Since then, she has hosted 73 trunk shows in the Washington area, taking home $40,000 last year.
“This business has been a godsend,” Sigler said. “It has given me an opportunity to get out of the house, create my own business and still be there for both my children.”
There are 100 Stella & Dot stylists in the Washington area, from stay-at-home moms to college students. They are a part of a network of 12,000 sellers across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who have earned nearly $100 million in commissions.
“The idea here is to democratize entrepreneurship ... lower the cost of capital to start, lower the time commitment that a small business can require,” said Jessica Herrin, who founded San Francisco-based Stella & Dot in 2003.
A starter kit with marketing materials and $350 worth of sample jewelry costs $199. Stylists receive 25 to 30 percent of the sales — ranging from $22 to $248 in price. They must produce at least $250 in sales for a three-month period to be considered “active.”
Considering the average trunk show brings in $1,000, which would earn $250 to $300 in commission, it would take quite a lot of shows to earn a living. The company, however, pays up to 18 percent in additional commission to stylists who train and manage a team of representatives.
Sigler coaches 50 people, including Karen Curtis, a licensed counselor based in the District. Curtis stumbled across a Stella & Dot stylist, while attending a Shecky’s Girls Night Out event in November.
“It was the one vendor that stood out to me. I was like ‘I could wear everything on this table.’ That was a good sign,” she said. “I did my research, but waited until I had a purpose, or goal, in mind before signing up.”
Curtis joined the network in January, with the set goal of earning enough money to take a $12,000 leadership coaching program at Georgetown University. She has earned 25 percent, or $3,000, of the money she needs.
Direct sales companies such as Stella & Dot, Avon or Mary Kay Cosmetics see a surge in interest during economic slumps as people look for ways to earn supplemental income, said Amy Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Direct Selling Association, a trade group.
The number of direct sellers climbed 6.2 percent to 16.1 million people at the height of the recession in 2009, leveling off as the economy grew stronger. Direct sales averaged $29.4 billion from 2001 to 2010, with marginal increase or decline.