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Wearable, stylish Michigan-made school spirit

News flash: you can manufacture high quality products affordably in Michigan. David Schowalter of the Collegiate Bead Company wasn’t looking to start a “Buy American!” movement. It’s just that when your products celebrate American culture and institutions, it doesn’t totally feel right sailing over to China to get the production done.

In fact, he maintains their success is due largely to the fact that they refuse to outsource overseas. Collegiate Bead Company is your go-to place for Pandora and Chamilia bracelet beads. For those who aren’t familiar, they’re upscale, silver charm bracelets. Patrons pick and choose between different beads so each bracelet is unique. It’s almost like a wearable scrapbook. The issue was that when patrons wanted to include a bracelet with their Greek letters on it, they were nowhere to be found. That’s where Collegiate Bead Company stepped in.

Behind the scenes: jewelry making onsite at Collegiate Bead Company

They used to manufacture their products on site, but when sales picked up and outstripped their production capabilities they had to go searching for someone else to help them out. They looked west to Grand Rapids and found Terryberry. These two Michigan-based companies are now very happy together. With this new collaboration, Collegiate Bead Company is able to carry both Pandora and Chamilia beads with sorority and fraternity letters, Michigan sports teams, and Michigan colleges. And while you wouldn’t believe it now, Schowalter wasn’t always so gung-ho about Michigan.

“I’ve been here in Michigan all my life and I bought into the ‘there’s nothing good here’ notion that was going around.” he admits.  This was around 2008, so between the mayoral scandals, the housing crisis and everything in between… Detroit wasn’t really painted in a pretty light.

Then, Schowalter was diagnosed with brain cancer. He went searching across the country for hospitals. Traveling from Texas to the east coast and back again, he wasn’t finding anything. A friend suggested he go to Henry Ford Hospital, right downtown. “I went down there kicking and screaming,” he admits. “But, within two minutes I knew these were the people who would save my life.”

Fast forward to 2011.  After major surgery and months of relearning how to walk and talk, Schowalter is doing exceedingly well. So what does any of this have to do with beads or Michigan manufacturing? “The reason I tell you this is because it’s what fueled the desire to keep the company, product and manufacturing here in the state,” he explains. “The people here in the state of Michigan helped make my business successful. The people in the state of Michigan saved my life.”

Detroit was once looked upon as a national hub for jewelry. Schowalter hopes that Colligate Bead Company’s success might incite a greater renaissance in jewelry manufacturing in Michigan. This holiday season culiminates a breakout year. “It’s our first full year under belt in terms of experience, new designs, and new products,” Schowalter says. It’s a time of new beginnings too, as Schowalter’s health improves alongside the health of the Michigan economy.  If you want to get a jump on your holiday shopping, stop by and take a gander at the beads. You’ll find them in the Miner’s Den in Royal Oak. You can also shop online at www.schoolbeads.com, and find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train

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