Mara Lander, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, has been passionate about vintage and antique jewelry from as far back as she can remember. So much that she started Pennyweight Prizefighter as a side gig to her day job in publishing, where she curated estate collections and sold them through retailers. Yet, she never interacted with her customers, fearing that her personal aesthetic didn’t jive with people’s image of fine jewelry. Fast forward to the pandemic, and Mara decided to sell her inventory directly through Instagram, putting a face and her personality stamp on her brand. Taking that leap proved to be just what she needed—Mara was embraced and loved for being her authentic self, and today, her business is thriving thanks to her client interactions through social media. We chatted with this Maplewood mama of two daughters to find out how her pandemic pivot was a game-changer, the one thing she does when she needs to be laser-focused, and the local pizza place with a corn and pepper pie that’s so good she actually dreams about it.
Featured Photo Credit: Alyson Monaghan-Levy
Tell us a bit about your family. My husband, Josh, and I have been married for ten years and have two daughters, Lewli (8) and Tova (5). I loved growing up in Rockaway Beach, in Queens, NY, but we decided to raise our family in Maplewood to give the kids the best of what I had—diversity, culture, and art—without them having to take a subway to school.
What is your background, and how did it lead you to start Pennyweight Prizefighter? Though jewelry has always been a part of my life, my jewelry business wasn’t necessarily part of the plan since I like the stability of having a day job. By day, I work in licensed publishing and have been doing it for around 16 years. And, I love my job—it’s very analytical and also legal, finance, and math-heavy. For me, it’s the perfect balance to doing my jewelry, which allows me to immerse myself in beauty, art, and creativity. The jewelry is therapeutic for me. It calms me, and it never feels like work.
Where did your passion for jewelry come from? Both of my parents were collectors, and I grew up knowing a lot about jewelry. My dad bought and sold gold, so I had a deep understanding of the intrinsic value of fine and precious metals. And my mom was a collector of antique and vintage jewelry and a jewelry lover in general. We’d go to dealers and flea markets and stores my entire childhood and called it “doing jewelry,” even if it was just looking through her jewelry box and talking about the various styles, stones, or metals. I now do the same with my kids, but instead of “doing” jewelry, they ask me to “play” jewelry. They can identify diamond cuts, the Native American tribe style differences in handmade pieces, and tell me they prefer 18k gold because it’s more yellow. I love that I’m saving jewelry from being melted and keeping the history of a piece going. Plus, I look at jewelry like self-care—you wear it on your skin, and it holds memories and emotions that other objects don’t. And when it’s fine jewelry, it outlasts its original owners. It’s a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of shopping since it doesn’t contribute to further consumption.
How did the pandemic affect your business? The pandemic was a huge shift for me. Before it, I sold in brick-and-mortar boutiques and vintage shops in New Jersey and New York City and to other websites. I felt that people’s image of fine jewelry and my personal aesthetic didn’t mesh, so I trusted other stores to be the face of my collection. But during the lockdown, a whole bunch of products came back to me as the stores shuttered. Previously, I only shared images of things on my Instagram page that I loved. Still, because I had all of this inventory returned, I decided to sell it on Instagram, and it’s been a game-changer. I inserted my personality into my brand, and I realized I’d been too hard on myself—I was embraced and loved for being myself, and I believe that when you’re your authentic self, the right customers find you. The best part about it now is that I get to meet them, know their styles and what they’re looking for, and interact by showing how I would style jewelry with a long life and history. The pandemic forced me to do what I should have been doing all along.
Is owning a business different than you expected? I was slow to launch in an official capacity because I was hesitant about dealing with customers and handling the business side of things on my own. Once I got started, I realized I wasn’t in over my head. As a mom, I was used to learning as I went along, and what I didn’t know I realized I could learn.
Would you please share your best time management or organizational tip that helps you juggle your day job, business, and family? I compartmentalize! I’d once read that women aren’t as good at doing this as men, so I took up the challenge and can gladly say I proved that saying wrong. When I’m working at my day job, I’m hyper-focused on that — my kids might be 10 feet away from me, but that’s what I’m doing. When those hours are done, and I’m working on Pennyweight Prizefighter, I shut down my work computer and focus on my business so it gets my undivided attention, too. And when I’m with my kids, I’m 100% with them. I turn my phone off to not get distracted and am laser-focused on my quality time with them.
How supportive are your two daughters, and do they ever help out? Both of my daughters are really into it, and I spend a lot of time teaching them about the different styles and learning to identify different time periods. They love to go through my collection, and whenever I get new inventory in, they sort through it to make a cohesive story for Instagram. I let them do the preliminary sort to divide things into categories, such as combining all the things with hearts, food-related things, or items with the word “mom” in them.
What’s next for your business? I’m working on my first custom design collection, Bad Luck Charms, and am very excited about it. I expect it to launch in early 2022. It’s got a bit of an edge and is a nod to those that don’t necessarily believe they belong in the world of fine jewelry—the truth is we all belong.
Would you please share some of your favorite local NJ businesses and tell us why you love them? Since I grew up in the city, I’m a big pizza snob, and I have to say, without a doubt, Arturo’s has the most incredible pizza. Along with their usual ones, they also have special seasonal pies depending on what’s in season. Corn and pepper pizza is one they have on the menu for about eight weeks every summer—it’s so great that I dream about it. I’m also a big fan of Pure Barre and I usually start my day there. And Meus is a favorite— it smells so good when you walk in, and the owner curates these truly special items you don’t see anywhere else.
What advice do you have for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? If you have a business idea, and it’s already being done, you need to inject your uniqueness into it or don’t bother doing it. When I started, I was trying to fit into the mold of what I thought was expected of me in the industry, but my perception of that isn’t who I am. I had to learn to relax and just be myself. Now, my personality stamp is on everything I do, so it’s a genuine experience for all, and the “right” customers for me find me.
For more information on Mara Lander or Pennyweight Prizefighter, please see her Instagram page.