It was a few months after 9/11 and Kendra Scott had just given birth to her first child. She remembers strapping her son to her chest in a Baby Björn and going store to store trying to sell the jewelry she’d made in the extra bedroom of her Austin, Texas, home.
“I don’t know if they loved the jewelry or if they felt sorry for me,” she jokes of the boutiques that placed her very first orders.
At the time she was searching for jewelry with gemstones — that she could afford. Finding nothing in her price range, she decided to make the pieces herself.
Fast forward to 2017 and the 42-year old mother of three now runs a billion-dollar business with more than 54 boutiques in 21 states.
“This is the American Dream, I can’t even get my head around it,” she tells PEOPLE.
She still smiles at the memory of her first store opening. There was a line around the block and people were all there to support her because she’d once supported them.
“I decided early on that if somebody ever asked for anything, for a donation, I would never say no, I would always have something to give,” she says.
Many of her first customers were people she’d helped.
Scott calls herself the CEO, founder and chief designer and says that outlook continues today. Instead of focusing on marketing, each of her stores has an events coordinator who is tasked with finding ways to get involved in the community, and bring the community into the store.
Last year, the company donated more than $3 million in gifts to charity functions and in-store fundraising events.
The people who work in the stores are even told they can gift anyone, at any time if they see someone is having a bad day.
“I truly believe our secret sauce is giving,” Scott says.
They also recently launched programs in hospitals where breast cancer patients and caregivers for kids in children’s hospitals can design and make Kendra Scott pieces of their own.
“We’re proving you can be a fiscally responsible company and you can do good and make a difference and I’m hopeful we can be a beacon of light for big and small companies that if you start out with a giving heart, good things will happen. We have 15 years of proof,” she says.
Scott lost her stepfather to brain cancer when he was just 47 years old and says it was something he said just before he died that inspired her business philosophy.
“At the end of his life, he had a hard time speaking and he said, ‘You do good,’ and those words have stuck with me and have been the foundation for everything I’ve done going forward,” she says.
Clearly it’s working. Twenty new stores are expected to open this year and Scott is gearing up to launch a line of home accessories.
“I don’t ever forget what the struggle was like and that’s why I’m so appreciative that the American Dream is still alive,” she says. “It can happen!”