The Hip Mom Delves into the Legend of the Rustic Cuff

I know, I know. If you haven’t heard of Rustic Cuff you probably live in a remote village off  Mozambique. Or are a male. Of course I have heard the now-legendary story about how Tulsan Jill Donovan, Rustic Cuff’s founder, got humiliated by etiquette “experts” on Oprah (live!) for being a “re-gifter.”  For 15 minutes these “experts” told Jill what a rude practice this was and, for 15 long minutes, Jill tried very hard not to cry in front of millions of people. And then, so the story goes, Jill came home to Tulsa, cleared out her closet of regifting gifts and gave all of its contents away. She subsequently started making bracelets, or “cuffs,” to give to her friends after she watched a few YouTube tutorials. Discovering that she had a talent for making bracelets, friends started suggesting she sell them.

I have also heard about how wildly popular the cuffs are with some women, but since I am not really a big jewelry person (I always seem to have a baby who will tear off or teethe on anything dangly!), I didn’t pay much attention. Until, that is, Jill opened up a Rustic Cuff boutique out by me in the Vineyard at 106th and Memorial. The lines to get into the store at 10 a.m. snake around the building!

And then Jill just opened a third, temporary, location on Cherry Street (near Quaker Avenue) – also to throngs and lines. A new store location will be disclosed later this year.

What is going on here? World domination via…bracelets? And then I hear some moms on the bleachers (that is always where the good information is) talk about a “secret” Facebook group called “Addicted to Cuffs.” I decide I have to find out what is going on with these bewitching bracelets.

My friend Kappa Kappa Karen adds me to the “Addicted to Cuffs” Facebook group, and I am drawn in: thousands of women showing pictures of their arms halfway-obscured by piles of colorful, blingy baubles. But there’s more: stories of people swapping cuffs, “cuffversaries,” (yes, there is a whole new Rustic Cuff vocabulary! Have you heard of “mothercuffer,” “cuffaholic,” or “cufflebrity”?), and all sorts of Cuff-centric activity.

I pose this question to the group: “Can you share what you like so much about Rustic Cuffs?”  There is a light little titter from several members, and then a friend says, “Prepare to get inundated.” Kaedi W. warns, “Hope you have a lot of tissue and reading time… the impact she’s made on all of us could already be a huge thick diverse book… almost more chicken soup than a soul can handle.”

Oh boy….and WHOOSH! For the next 24 hours or so I am buried in emails, stories and pictures.  I even get an original poem! Women share all sorts of anecdotes. One woman’s daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, had emailed Jill to send her free cuffs – and Jill did! There are “cuff sisters” who might gift a retired design (sometimes valued over $300) to a stranger who couldn’t otherwise afford it. One woman who reports her mom “never felt beautiful” now puts on Rustic Cuffs and suddenly feels gorgeous and sparkly. Letha H. reports, “My favorite description of this phenomenon is that it’s like a sorority on crack! Bigger and better than you could imagine, yet intimate, personal relationships with women that in some cases will last a lifetime. And all this from a bracelet and its creator who knows relationship and reaching outside yourself is the greatest gift we can give.” Kyanna L. says, “I have Rheumatoid arthritis A and I’m a stay-at-home mom…there are many days when I don’t feel or look so pretty or I feel like I’m totally disconnected from the outside world…but my cuffs make me feel pretty and happy! I catch myself rolling my sleeves up or holding my hands a little higher on the steering wheel so everyone can see and admire my cuffs!”

Kyanna continues:   “I feel like I’m a part of a sisterhood, an incredible sisterhood with so many great women! I feel like I belong, like I’m a part of something spectacular! And I have the opportunity to make another woman feel spectacular because I know many, many women feel not so spectacular, just by giving one little cuff… That’s why I love Rustic Cuff and Jill for making this all happen for so many of us!”

The stories continue. The “Addicted to Cuffs” group generously gifted a member seven purple cuffs to give to a friend who had lost her 6-year-old son. Her son’s 7th birthday would have been January 8th and his favorite color was purple.

Kristina R. says, “I love RC, because it promotes what is missing in this world of ours, giving and kindness! Not just kindness to people we know, but kindness to complete strangers. And Jill embodies that! Today she gifted about 60 Emmes to #teamokieelsa so that Okie Elsa could give them to kids when she visits hospitals. That’s over $1200 of product…Who does that?!?”

And Anita F. goes so far to say that “In a world filled with so much hate, violence, and unhappiness, Rustic Cuff and its effect on everyone is truly a bright light and blessing.”

Well OK then! So it seems the crux of the phenomenon goes back to the dynamic, articulate and obviously generous and warm-hearted owner, Jill Donovan.

On a whim, I send Jill a Facebook message asking if she’d like to talk to me. And to my surprise – because how could such a busy woman have time for moi? – she answers within a few hours. She’d love to meet with me! We set up a date at the “SS” – that’s Southside, or the new store in the Vineyard – in just a few days.

When my mom, who is visiting from Seattle, and I are on our way to the store, Jill’s assistant calls me to give the doorman/ guard instructions that I have an appointment and I don’t need to “wait in line.” Well, the store was opened November 30, and there is STILL a line on this cold January day. So we spring to the front of the line (feeling a bit guilty) to tell the guard we have an appointment with Jill. While he goes to the back of the store to find Jill, a few people leave the store – so my mom feels justified in letting in a few young moms with their babies. I’m sure Jill would approve! We snake our way to the back of the very crowded store, are let through a door into a back room, and there is Jill herself. And she is as approachable, effusive and dynamic as she is purported to be.

What I am concerned about is Jill’s cortisol levels: she has a husband, two daughters, a gangbusters business, and a feverish following. Does this wild life stress her out at all? “No!” she says. On the contrary, the crazy busy-ness of her life inspires her right now, if anything.  She is one of those lucky people who thrive on activity. We discuss all the frenzy. When the South store opened, for example, Jill kept the store open for 35 hours straight: a “cuff-a-thon.”  For that entire period, there was a four-hour wait to get into the store! The devotion is intense.  There are over 70 Facebook groups devoted to Rustic Cuff. And, Jill employs about 40 full-time and 175 part-time employees. So when, in the throes of this nutty life she is living, does her creative inspiration come? “In the middle of the night!” laughs Jill. It’s the only time there is any peace.

So what is Jill’s plan for Rustic Cuff? She really has no firm five-year plan, she confesses. “As long as I spend each day in God’s favor and fully love what I am doing, I will keep doing it.” It’s like building Noah’s Ark, one plank at a time; she doesn’t know what the ending structure will be – in fact, the thought can be overwhelming where this is all going – but Jill is having a fabulous time.

And then my mom and I are the lucky recipients of Jill’s legendary generosity. As we are leaving, Jill asks us our favorite colors. I shriek “Pink and Green!” Jill disappears for a bit, and comes back with three sleeves of assorted gorgeous bracelets. The packaging is part of the appeal: all these show-stopping bracelets piled along a slim, elegant black pillow, which is lovingly placed in a pretty rectangular box. And she also gives me darling little baggies with bracelets for each of my four daughters. Wow! We are just giddy with our loot as we leave.

It should be noted that Jill will also do fundraisers; she will work with you to design a bracelet for whatever cause you are spearheading, and help decide on the price. A recent fundraiser for Monte Cassino’s 90th Anniversary was a roaring success. The school earned tons of money, and many happy moms have snazzy, wearable mementos of their children’s school.

So stop by the “Mothership,” “Sistership,” or “Babyship.”  (I think I’ve got that right!) Hopefully the lines won’t be too long for you, and you will find yourself some lovely new treasures. And you will know that your money is supporting not only a local Tulsa business, but a movement of love, generosity and caring.

Categories: Hip Mom