Our NJMOMpreneur of the week, Sue Erneta, spent 20 years killing it in the New York City magazine industry as a big-time fashion editor at famous publications like Elle, GQ and Ladies’ Home Journal. Even though she spent a lot of her career dressing others in stylish clothes and accessories, she always got lots of compliments about her own homemade tassel earrings. So when the magazine industry turned upside down and Sue found herself out of a job, she began creating and selling those same earrings to local stores around her home in Westfield while she interviewed for jobs— until business took off so much that she didn’t even need to keep interviewing.
featured image via Shannon Greer
Founder of Libby & Smee and NJMOMpreneur, Sue Erneta
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Sue: Libby & Smee offers handmade, affordable, always-fun, always-lightweight jewelry that’s perfect for everyday or special occasions. Because each piece is made by hand, I’m able to offer completely custom designs and I love collaborating with clients to make just the right thing! From hand-tied tassel earrings available in 23 colors to genuine gemstone beaded gold-filled hoops, there is always a perfect gift available from Libby & Smee.
Being your own boss is the best feeling! You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before but when it’s on your own terms and your own time, you won’t mind at all because every single small victory is your doing.” – NJMOMpreneur Sue Erneta
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Sue: I was a magazine fashion editor in NYC for 20 years working at publications like Elle, GQ and Ladies’ Home Journal but a downturn in the magazine industry left me out of work. People had always complimented me when I wore my homemade DIY tassel earrings, so I decided to sell to a local store and open an Etsy shop to keep me busy while I interviewed for jobs. I soon came to realize that Libby & Smee is the most rewarding job I’d ever have.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Sue: Being my own boss! I love taking an afternoon off to volunteer at one of my daughters’ schools or to run an errand without having to get approval from anyone. But of course, like most entrepreneurs, I’m the toughest boss I’ve ever had; I’m often working through the weekend and late into the evening.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Sue: Twenty years in the magazine business taught me skills that I use every day at Libby & Smee. From the creation of the designs to the photography, styling, marketing, social media, writing, PR, sourcing and sales—I do it all myself.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Sue: I was always proud of my magazine career because it’s such a hard business to break into and I made it without an “in”—just hard work and perseverance. But creating and sustaining a successful small business on my own has usurped my magazine career. I love that my daughters, Sophia,14 and Lily,11, get to see me growing my business. They’re learning that hard work pays off.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Sue: People are shocked when they hear that Libby & Smee is run by one person. I guess I give off a different impression. Side note: my business name comes from nicknames I gave my daughters when they were babies based on their initials, LBE And SME.
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year, personally and professionally?
Sue: I love hosting pop-ups at stores around the state like J Crew in Chester and West Elm in Summit, so I’m looking forward to doing more of them in the coming year. It’s always great to meet local clients and get a better idea of what they’re looking for. On a personal note, my girls will each be starting new schools in the fall—middle school for Lily and high school for Sophia—so I’m sure that’ll add a new level of excitement (and stress) to our lives.
NJMOM: What charitable cause are you most passionate about?
Sue: My father had a quadruple bypass in his 50s and my husband lost his father to a heart attack when he was very young so raising funds for heart disease research is very important to me. I’m also passionate about LGBTQ rights and women’s equality.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Sue: My mom has always been my superhero. She worked all kinds of odd jobs when I was growing up but without a college education, her options were limited. When I was in high school, she got her real estate license and quickly became one of the top sales producers in New England. I learned how to hustle from her and it was so rewarding to watch her succeed.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom (or parent/role model) ever gave to you?
Sue: Kill ‘em with kindness! No doubt, that was the key to her success. Even if she had to deliver bad news she always did it in her sweet voice and with kind words. Even when you’re unhappy about something, you can often get what you want and need if you ask in the right way.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Sue: In the fall, we love taking trips to pick apples or pumpkins. My friend’s parents own Hensler Farms in Belvidere, and we go out every fall with a bunch of local friends and their families. It’s a day that I always look forward to.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Sue: I love watching my girls go after something they want and succeeding. They’re both singers and actresses. Being able to see them on stage doing what they love is one of the greatest joys of my life.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Sue: I’m very lucky to live in the great town of Westfield and our downtown is the best. We eat dinner almost every Friday night at Fiamma on Quimby Street (with wine from Trader Joe’s). We love Bovella’s for sweets and Boxwood for coffee. And you can’t beat Salad House or Orgreen Poke for lunch. We often swing by Yestercades to play a game of air hockey or Ms Pac-Man after dinner in town. I also love all of the wholesale accounts across the state that have supported Libby & Smee. Over the years, my line has been carried at three different Westfield stores that are all owned and run by fellow Westfield moms: The French Martini (who gave me my start!), Mimi & Hill and AR Workshop Westfield. You can also find us in Soul Sisters in Basking Ridge, The General Store at Cornerstone in Montclair, Just Jersey in Morristown, AR Workshop Ridgewood and AR Workshop Red Bank.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Sue: As I mentioned, we live in Westfield where we’ve been for 9 years and we couldn’t love it any more. That’s why my logo says “Libby & Smee handmade in Westfield, NJ!”. Because of our jobs, we don’t often have time for long vacations but it’s amazing how one night in Atlantic City can recharge our batteries. Pablo and I will meet friends at the Borgata, have a delicious dinner at Bobby Flay Steak, gamble a little and sometimes get a spa treatment at The Water Club. I love A.C. for a girls’ trip, too! Spa time, great food and cocktails by the pool? What’s not to love?
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Sue: It sounds so cliche, but just do it! I’m not sure I ever would have started Libby & Smee if I didn’t need to but I wish that I had started it sooner. Being your own boss is the best feeling! You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before but when it’s on your own terms and your own time, you won’t mind at all because every single small victory is your doing.
NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Sue: Libby & Smee is a great resource for locally-made, affordable, fun jewelry. You can shop Libby & Smee in my Etsy shop where there’s always free domestic shipping and I always ship on the next business day. #Shoplocal