Creating jewelry—and helping others make memories—has been a lifelong passion for Kutztown resident Lisa Oswald, the owner, founder and head designer of Sorrelli.
Founded in 1983, Sorrelli is a family-owned jewelry company that specializes in handcrafted artisanal fashion jewelry. It has two flagship stores in Kutztown and Allentown and is also sold in local businesses and retailers throughout the country.
Oswald began learning about the jewelry business through her grandmother, who had a small business selling crocheted rings.
“That was the first time that I thought, ‘Hey, this is something that I could do.’ I always had an interest in creating jewelry,” she says.
Oswald’s first forays into the jewelry business would start as a young girl, when she made clay beads from the clay in a local riverbank and sold them to friends and neighbors.
“When I was a young teenager, I would work in my mom’s basement. She bought me a little torch and I would make things,” she says, noting
that she took silversmithing in high school.
“I worked at that, thinking that someday I could make some money on the side while I raised a family. These things are technically difficult to produce, but once you know how to do it, it’s something you can do in a small studio.”
By the time she graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Oswald had acquired a love of “adornment” and secured an internship with a jeweler in New York City. She would eventually become an employee at this store, while also turning a small part of her Brooklyn loft into studio space for her own jewelry design. Her then future husband, Kermit Oswald, was also an artist and shared the space with her.
The Joy of Jewelry
While Oswald has always enjoyed wearing her own designs, she also finds great joy in seeing others wear and enjoy her jewelry. It’s a rewarding business for everyone involved.
“I enjoy the jewelry business. It’s a real celebratory business. A lot of people come to us for birthdays and holidays and anniversaries. It’s a lot of fun to celebrate life with our customers,” she says.
Oswald is offering multiple holiday collections this season, including Gold Vermeil, a metallic-
inspired collection with gold and silver tones set in antique silver; and Pearl Luster, a line featuring crisp whites and brass in an antique-
“I love all of the neutrals. It doesn’t matter what season or what you wear with it, because it can go with anything,” she says. “I just want women to feel pretty and to feel good about themselves. A little bit of sparkle helps with that.”
She noted that her inspiration comes from a variety of places, including her own takes on trends, colors and designs seen in nature and what she and her designers are currently in the mood to wear. Customers have a wide variety of settings and styles to choose from, including “everyday” jewelry such as the Essentials and Soft Silhouette lines, and a mixture of both semi-precious and synthetic gems that meet every style need and price range.
“When you go out, you want to be noticed, to wear some bold pieces. It’s a conversation piece. But I’m a big proponent of never being a fashion victim. When you wear something every day, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. I want women to be a little embellished, but not to be too over the top,” she says. “I do love, for an everyday look, the semi-precious. I think that’s a really great look all year long. A lot of the semi-precious styles have grown in popularity, but our signature crystal pieces continue to be popular with our customers.”
While Oswald enjoys witnessing customers’ reactions when they see a finished piece, she also finds tremendous fun and satisfaction in the creative process.
“It’s really awesome to see it transform from bench to marketplace. People have no idea what something is going to look like when you start a new piece. It’s fun to see it transform and come into fruition,” she says. “You might start with a pretty chain that you like, or a shape that you like. It just builds on itself. You keep reworking these things until you’re confident it’s a piece that customers will appreciate wearing and showing.”
A Family Business: Sorrelli is for “Sisters”
When Oswald first began producing her own pieces, she quickly realized that building the business would take more than her own talent and efforts. She launched the business with just $400 left over from her student loans and used this money to buy materials and hand tools. Oswald initially sold directly to friends and family, and some friends would take her pieces to their own offices to sell to co-workers. But it wasn’t until her twin sisters came to New York to help launch the business that it began to truly grow.
“They were the ones who helped to create the name Sorrelli, which is somewhat synonymous with ‘sister’ in Italian,” says Oswald, who notes that working together was important for the Italian family. “I have a really supportive family. You start your own business and you have to wear a lot of hats. Extra hands were always helpful.”
The three sisters worked together for three years in the 1980s, until Oswald’s sisters branched off into their own careers.
Oswald remained in New York City for several years longer, getting married and having her first child while still living in New York. When she was pregnant with her second child, Oswald and her husband, Kermit, decided to move back to Pennsylvania.
“It became a little cumbersome to have children with no yard to play in. The city is also a little hectic for me. I wanted to move back to the country where I could enjoy the peace and quiet, and the birds and flowers,” she says.
The couple moved to Kermit’s hometown of Kutztown, where they bought a small farm and converted a barn into studio space. They worked out of the barn for 17 years until 2000, when the business needed to move its studio overseas.
Though her sisters no longer play a role in the business, Sorrelli continues to be family-driven. Her husband helped to set up the overseas factory and has been a main player behind the business’s growth. Her son, Colin, manages the main factory’s day-to-day operations, and her daughter, Avery, is a design administrator.
From Pennsylvania to Shanghai
Sorrelli had been growing steadily from the 1980s until 2000, when the business ran into growing pains. Demand was increasing faster than Oswald’s current staff could accommodate, and she was having trouble finding local workers with the necessary skills (and space in her studio) to complete the delicate, labor-intensive work.
When a large client approached her looking for additional products, Oswald knew it was time to explore her options. They eventually opened a factory in Shanghai, China, initially training six workers but growing to 20 workers in just the first month. The factory’s employee base peaked at roughly 175 workers.
“That really turned the business around, having the ability to manufacture more,” says Oswald. She notes that Sorrelli also grew in the Lehigh Valley, increasing its administrative staff from four to 55 employees.
While Sorrelli no longer produces all of its products in Kutztown (pieces are still designed in the Lehigh Valley), Oswald strives to maintain the same consistently high quality and uses the same materials, including Swarovski crystals. All raw materials are shipped to Sorrelli’s Shanghai factory, where they are assembled.
“It’s still all made by hand. We do manipulate base metal stampings, but all of the pieces are still put together by hand,” she says. “As far as the assembly and the soldering, each little component is put into place and soldered by hand.”
As the business has grown, Sorrelli pieces have been seen throughout the country and on women of all ages and lifestyles. Most recently, country singer Kelsea Ballerini was photographed wearing Sorrelli jewelry.
One of their largest national retailers is Anthropologie, which has exposed Sorrelli to an entirely new demographic, says Oswald.
“It’s a big nationwide chain, so they can get everywhere. We only have two flagship stores locally and we’re also in Bloomingdale’s, but it gets you out to the public and gets you much more exposure. More people are learning about us through them,” she says. “They have a pretty diverse group of women who shop there, from young girls to older women. That’s the same for us, what we see in our stores. It goes from granddaughters to grandmoms, and people celebrating their first or 50th wedding anniversary. It’s a large span of age groups that can enjoy our product.”
220 W. Main St., Kutztown | 610.894.9857645 Hamilton St., Suite 104, Allentown 610.295.5995 | sorrelli.com