Lissa Schuessler and Jennifer Cuniffe started selling stackable crystal bracelets embellished with a small gold bee during the summer of 2013. They hoped to raise money for a young Carmel girl battling neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.
What these longtime friends didn't know is how that act of kindness would change the path of their lives -- less than a year later.
The BraveBEE bracelets were created to raise awareness of 4-year-old Henley Romine (nicknamed Brave Bee) and her fight against cancer.
- Courtesy of 724
Jennifer Cuniffe and Lissa Schuessler (from left to right) are friends and co-owners of 724.
"Jenn made the bracelets, and I just kind of peddled them around to different boutiques, and people loved them," says Schuessler, a friend of the Romine family.
"We donated all of the profits from the bracelet to her family to help pay for medical bills."
When young Henley lost her battle on July 19, 2013, production of the popular BraveBEE bracelet soon ended.
Cuniffe, however, continued making jewelry. It's something she started as a hobby about 15 years ago, creating pieces she wanted to wear -- looks that expressed her personal style.
Made from different metals, gems, beads and stones in an array of colors and styles, her jewelry designs developed an impressive following in short order. Friends admired Cuniffe's work and often asked to buy her pieces.
It wasn't until production of the BraveBEE bracelet ended that Schuessler took a step back, noticing the breadth and skill of her friend's body of work.
"I started looking at Jenn's jewelry, which is beautiful, and said, 'Let's do a product line of stackable bracelets and pairs of earrings,'" says Schuessler.
Five months later, in the winter of 2013, their company 724 took off.
The Indiana-based business has grown to include an affordable, handmade fine jewelry line of bracelets, earrings and necklaces created using semi-precious stones, quartz, druzy and genuine leather with either brass or silver. The jewelry is designed to be worn solo or in a grouping, creating a layered effect.
The women have also ventured into selling clothing.
- Courtesy of 724
Although 724 got its start as a jewelry company, co-owners Lissa Schuessler and Jenn Cuniffe added the clothing line "Canvas" to their lifestyle brand in 2014.
"Jenn and I just sat at the beach one day (in Naples, Florida) and started sketching the clothing that we personally wanted," says Schuessler.
What they created is a 7-piece collection, called Canvas, featuring simple yet versatile clothing (everything from a racer-back tank to a ruched skirt and top) that can be worn individually, together or accentuated in a variety of ways.
"It just kind of came to us that this clothing line is like a blank canvas," says Schuessler.
Today, the 724 brand is sold in more than 20 boutiques in Indianapolis, Carmel and Zionsville, as well as in Florida (from Miami to Naples).
Schuessler and Cuniffe sold their first piece of jewelry to 14 Districts Weekend store and 14 Districts StyleShop in Carmel, and their first pieces from the Canvas line to Profyle Boutique in Indianapolis and Simply Natural in Naples.
- Courtesy of 724
Large natural druzy drop earrings are just one of the many fine jewelry pieces created by Indiana-based company 724. Druzy is tiny crystals over top a colorful mineral, creating a glittery effect. All of the jewelry is hand-crafted by co-owner Jennifer Cuniffe.
"I can't say there's been one time that I've gone in (a boutique) and not sold," says Schuessler.
Not bad for Cuniffe, a stay-at-home mom, and Schuessler, a mother and engineer who worked at General Motors overseeing the quality of the automobile giant's steering gear, and later at an engineering software company.
Like an artist sees the potential in an untouched canvas, Schuessler views fashion as art and hopes that fans of 724 make the connection with their collection.
"I think that (fashion) actually allows people to be who they are," she says, adding that the blank canvas and versatility of their clothing should inspire the wearer to play and explore with their looks.
"They can make it their own," says Schuessler. "It's the concept of everything that we've done. I might wear it a certain way, but art is all in the perspective of the person looking at it. Art to me is in how you build it and how you wear it. The wearer is the artist for the day. We want people to see that this (724) is the palate, these (the jewelry and clothing) are your utensils, and now you do what you want with it."
Schuessler, who's not a big shopper but has always altered clothes she purchased from other companies, says what she and Cuniffe create through 724 are the pieces that they've always been looking for.
In fact, each jewelry design and piece of clothing starts with them as the target audience. Their clothing and jewelry designs are popular among women of all ages, sizes and life stages.
"We do everything from start to finish. We think it, design it and sketch it. The only thing we don't do is sew it ourselves," says Schuessler, who was wearing a 724 racer-back tank and ruched skirt with a pair of flip flops, which she accessorized with the company's Amazonite bracelet featuring round beads and Pave crystal accents.
- Courtesy of 724
Popular for creating stacking jewelry, 724 features layered pieces that can be worn together or individually. From top to bottom: silver crystal choker, silver crystal spike necklace, silver chain with silver quartz nugget, natural pyrite medium length necklace, natural pyrite long necklace.
The ideas for the jewelry and clothing are often created together, with ease and versatility of the pieces always at the forefront for these busy moms and wives.
"We wanted something comfortable and stylish for moms. Even when I go to lunch with my kids, I want to look good but also be able to interact with them," says Schuessler. "First off, we're both moms, so we designed clothing which we thought was cute and comfortable, but could also transition to something more fancy later that day."
She says the fabric used in the clothing -- a cotton blend with a touch of Spandex -- doesn't stretch out after several wears, and can be worn by women of multiples shapes and sizes. The fabric is so forgiving that most women have to go down one size, according to Schuessler.
- Courtesy of 724
Another 724 creation is this natural rough amazonite bracelet set, with pave crystal bar and beads.
Although young, the company has quickly taken off and is now looking to add online retailers to their mix of buyers.
That she and Cuniffe have turned their ideas into reality is a proud moment for Schuessler, who remembers the day that they sold their first piece to a retailer.
"We looked at each other and said, 'Damn it, we did it. We pulled this off,'" recalls Schuessler. "It's not surprising given both of our backgrounds, but it was an 'ah-ha' moment where people get it, people understand what we were thinking and what we wanted to give back."
Still, they pinch themselves from time to time to make sure it isn't all a dream.
"It's like ... owning your own clothing and jewelry line and to see people wearing it. It's amazing," says Schuessler.
Does she miss working as an engineer? Not really, but then design remains a part of her daily life. Instead of automobile steering gear and engineering software, she's designing jewelry and clothes with a friend and partner.
"For me, the transition wasn't difficult. And Jenn has always, always loved jewelry," says Schuessler. "I think for both of us, we're like, this is what we should have been doing in our 20s."