Lana Bramlette, Columbia Alum, Shapes What’s Next
Lana Bramlette, ’97, founder of Lana Jewelry, turned her Columbia education and passion for fine jewelry into a powerhouse brand. Eighteen years ago, she brought gold back into the spotlight by creating her signature gold hoops worn by A-listers including Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Madonna, and Rihanna.
Fast forward to today, Lana gives back to the institution that helped shape her career. In the early 2000s, she founded the Chicago Fashion Foundation with her husband Rob. The two then enlisted other Chicago-based powerhouse women and men in the fashion industry to be a part of this amazing organization. Through Bramlette’s efforts with the Chicago Fashion Foundation, Columbia received a gift of more than $540,000 to propel future generations of designers and entrepreneurs in fashion. This gift will provide Columbia Fashion Studies students with scholarship funds and access to learning opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach.
Lana shares, “We closed the Chicago Fashion Foundation and decided that we needed to give over all the amazing things that were happening with the organization. In particular, the funding that we received from so many people needed a new home.” When asked why she chose Columbia as the recipient of the gift, Lana said, “I became successful because of the education I received here. I also taught here, and I really love and believe in this institution. So, for me, it felt really natural and organic that we would be giving this gift to the school that really created the path to my success story.” Chicago Fashion Foundation founding board member Fabia Talhame agrees, saying, “CFF has had a longstanding relationship with Columbia and very much believe in and support the talent we've seen coming out of the school for numerous years.”
Chair of Fashion Studies Colbey Reid stated, “Columbia is grateful for Lana’s support and continued belief in our students and faculty. The Chicago Fashion Foundation gift is going to democratize components of the premium fashion education experience Columbia offers. Things like immersive experiences in New York and other major fashion cities, for example, will be available to students who would have missed out on such career-shaping opportunities. The generous gift from the Chicago Fashion Foundation ensures that resources will be available to our Fashion Studies students so they can achieve their dreams.”
As Chicago Fashion Foundation board member Beth Lambert has noted, “CFF always had a strong relationship with the fashion programs in Chicago,” and with many Chicago Fashion Foundation members having studied at Columbia, there was always a special connection between the foundation and the institution. Lambert echoes the sentiments of the board as a whole, saying, “I personally hope that the spirit of CFF to nurture and support fashion’s creative and business talent will continue through our gift to Columbia.”
For Columbia’s students, the impact will be significant- stronger portfolios, real-world experiences, and expanded professional networks- empowering students to shape their careers through the opportunities they’ve been afforded.
Even today, after years of accessorizing celebrities, Bramlette considers her biggest accomplishment to be the team that she’s built. She says, “People always ask me, what is your greatest achievement in your last 18 years of business? It's not being in the stores that we're in. It's not dressing every celebrity. It is literally creating a space for the many people that have worked for me…to become powerful people.”
Lana Shapes the Student Experience
For Bramlette, the work towards building a career starts with mentorship. As an alumna that understands the importance of blending class work with hands-on experience, she hires students to intern at her company. Columbia interns learn the ins and outs of running a business in the competitive fashion market.
On a recent campus visit Bramlette led a master class for Fashion Studies students, providing advice about how to break out in the industry and how to consider styling when marketing their designs. Seniors Anthony Oyer and Milan Jones worked one-on-one with Bramlette as she demonstrated how they can elevate their designs with accessories. It was a rare chance to engage with a self-made designer of a multi-million-dollar collection that has seen the likes of the Superbowl half-time show and Hollywood after-parties.
When asked about her time with Lana, Jones stated, “Since I'm about to graduate and go out in to the field, it's nice to see an industry professional, how she conducts herself, and how she thinks as a business woman.” Jones added, “To hear that she's made such a generous gift…it means the world, honestly.”
Oyer appreciated Lana’s perspective, saying, “It put me in a different head space of thinking about my customer and what she's accessorizing with. It's something I normally don't think of, but now I'll probably think about it for the rest of my process. It can only help me.” He adds, “Students normally don't get to work with this caliber of a designer…it’s definitely a great, great opportunity.”
One thing that Bramlette is clear about is the unique place that Columbia holds in providing both creative and business-related direction. As Bramlette says, “Not everybody wants to be a designer, but they want to live in this space. How do you do that? There's production, there's marketing, there's selling. There's a variety of ways to be around this business. I loved the fact that Columbia had so many classes and so many options to really feel like you can live in a different space everywhere and kind of be a part of it. And not have to be a designer.”
Bramlette has lived this reality. She readily talks about the journey after she graduated- from making her own Carrie Bradshaw-esque nameplate necklace to getting her line in some of the biggest stores across the country. She says, “For us it was always about getting credibility and being legitimate. That started with our retailers. Fred Segal launched my company really and my line in 2002. After that, Neiman Marcus came and then Nordstrom, and Saks, and Bergdorf's. It's been that type of whirlwind.”
Bramlette has good sounding boards- her father, who is her business partner, and her husband Rob, who has been with her since the beginning of the company. Rob states, “What’s important in any business is, how can you stand out?”
For Bramlette testing whether something is sellable or not starts with herself and her vision, and how to translate her vision to her clients. She wants Columbia’s Fashion Studies students to understand how to blend their creative practice with client needs as they launch their careers. Her advice to students going into the business, “You have a voice. How is yours different?” She also emphasizes the importance of the thought process behind design. “The reality of the world is that you have to first manage and understand your market. How does your client live? Is she really going to wear a latex blue bodysuit on a Tuesday at 3:00 PM in Kansas? No.”
When asked if her time with Lana inspires her to give back, Jones answered, “Absolutely.” She added, “For someone who has gone through Columbia, who believes in students and the future of designers, and to invest in that… it's kind of invaluable.”
Lana’s contribution through the Chicago Fashion Foundation will foster generations of Columbia’s Fashion Studies students as they prepare to take their creative voices to the marketplace. Meanwhile, Lana Jewelry continues to expand. As Bramlette says, “In the U.S. we have fulfilled every dream we could possibly have. We’re in the best retailers, we have incredible exposure, and now we’re looking at the world.”