You’ve come a long way, baby

You’ve come a long way, baby

'Jewish woman to watch' tells how she succeeded in business

Yanina Fleysher, named by Jewish Women International in December as one of 10 “Jewish Women to Watch,” came to the United States from Moldavia, then in the Soviet Union, when she was 12. Today, at 43, she runs a thriving custom-jewelry business based in Cedar Grove and was recognized in National Jeweler magazine last year as America’s best jeweler in the couture category.

How she got her start is a little bit sad and a little bit funny.

She was just 19, she told The Jewish Standard in a telephone interview on Monday, and on her way to the movies on a Tuesday night, when she saw a sign announcing the imminent opening of a jewelers’ exchange in Wayne. There were going to be 40 booths, and Fleysher, who had designed her own jewelry since high school and had worked at a jewelry booth in a flea market, decided that she wanted to lease one.

Yanina Fleysher courtesy yanina & co.

“I knocked on the door,” she recalled, “and the man who was the owner looked me over and said, ‘Oh honey, we’re opening on Friday.’ I said, ‘I’m interested in a booth,’ and he looked me up and down and said, ‘This is real jewelry.’

“I know,” Fleysher told him. “He was a little bit taken aback, but decided to entertain the idea, and he said, ‘If you’re serious, come back tomorrow morning at 7:30.’ I didn’t go to the movies. I went home very excited and told my parents this is what I want to do.”

She and her father – whom she calls her “life mentor” – met with the owner the next morning and negotiated a lease. She picked out the largest booth on the left, but “the owner wanted to give me the smallest in the back. My father stood there quietly and watched me negotiate.”

Fleysher got what she wanted, and her booth “was fully operational by that Friday.” With jewelry, displays, and receipts, “I was ready for the grand opening.”

Particularly in those early days, she said, “it was difficult to be taken seriously, hard to get funding and backers, and then to deal with the vendors. Every single road I would take, I felt that everyone wanted to take advantage of me because I was a woman – and a young woman.”

Realizing that “men were able to put forth their requirements but the vendors and manufacturers were putting their requirements to me,” she decided that she “had to become a tough businesswoman and start manufacturing [jewelry] myself. I started to design my own pieces so I would not have to depend on others.”

Now Yanina & Co. contains 2500 square feet of jewelry, 80 percent of that made in house, and launched a boutique online just last month.

“Women today,” Fleysher said, “have become extremely successful. It’s almost [turned] upside down…. In many cases I have friends who are extremely successful women with not so successful husbands….

“The power of a woman cannot be stopped anymore. In my children’s generation” – she has a teenage son and daughter – a woman’s ambition “is not even an afterthought.”

Fleysher, who said if she’s invited to speak at “some venue that has to do with women I never hesitate to do that,” has some advice for women who want to succeed in business: “Be ambitious. Have drive. Foresee yourself as who you want to be.”

Also, she said, “I’ve learned that it’s much easier to use the advantage of being a woman and actually go about [getting what you want] in a nicer way – almost to manipulate the system rather than bucking it. When I was younger,” she added, “it took so much stress and energy to buck the system that it would make me angry and make me look bad. People would be almost intimidated and afraid, whereas now … I no longer come off as being a wicked witch and am much more respected – and I always get what I want.”

Also, she said, “I think men are willing to listen, because they realize that women bring a lot to the table today.”

A member of Cong. Agudath Israel in West Caldwell and of JWI, as well as a frequent visitor to Israel, she said that “Jewish is my nationality – I wasn’t allowed to be that where I came from.”

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