Whether Elena Castaneda is flaunting thigh-high boots, long lashes, and a French beret as she tugs her beloved bulldog down New York City’s 73rd Street, or sitting at her desk, pointedly quizzing businessmen on the other end of the line, the question she’s often asked is—who are you?
Her response is the same today as it was a decade ago. "I'm the end-all, be-all. I'm the king, the queen, the floor sweeper. I'm it. I do it all."
Castaneda, founder and CEO of Bling Jewelry and Ayllu, grew a small, sterling silver jewelry business based in her one-window, one-room apartment on 84th Street into a multi-million dollar online global company.
“I’m nobody special. I just had a dream and worked hard. If you put the energy out there and you work hard, you can make it happen, too.”
“We sell all over the U.S., Canada, Japan, China. We sell in Australia. We sell all over Europe. You name it, we’re shipping there,” said Castaneda, who’s been an entrepreneur most of her life.
She was influenced by her Peruvian father and her mother of German heritage who encouraged her to blaze her own path. Before success elevated her to a penthouse apartment with sweeping views of Central Park, Castaneda endured the perils of being a small business owner. She started a clothing business with her brother and sold it; sold gingerbread houses online; she followed a hunch and built the bakery where she was ultimately held up at gunpoint, an experience that left her shaken and broken and trying to get out of her lease.
“I got out by the skin of my teeth.”
“I was trying to reinvent myself,” Castaneda said. “I thought, what do I know well? I would go and pick up jewelry locally from my suppliers, take pictures, put it on the web, and I would start to get orders.”
A few years later, in 2008, Elena began selling the jewelry on Amazon which gave her access to customers around the world.
“It’s just automatic, instant business. Boom. It's like you're going to get sales right away. It's just amazing because I could not enter the international marketplace without Amazon,” she said.
At Bling headquarters, a room with stacks of white jewelry boxes on the 10th floor of warehouse near Penn Station, Castaneda introduces her team of packers, inventory specialists, customer service representatives, and others. A young man closes the lid on a jewelry box and knots the pink bow before dropping it into a shipping envelope. Another person closes a customer call with “Have a blingy day.” A young couple explains that their income from Bling Jewelry allows them to remain in New York City. They are a few of the more-than 45 Bling Jewelry employees.
“My business has created jobs that wouldn’t have existed,” Castaneda said. “Watching them grow within my company is the most rewarding part of selling the jewelry.”
This month, Bling Jewelry will move to New Jersey and quadruple in size to 15,000 square feet.
“It’s sometimes hard to believe. It’s a lot to take in,” Castaneda said while navigating the construction zone that will become her new headquarters.
“Without Amazon, I wouldn't be where I am today,” she added. “I’m nobody special. I just had a dream and worked hard. If you put the energy out there and you work hard, you can make it happen, too.”