Yanina Fleysher was only 19 years old when she decided to start her own jewelry business. When she walked into the Jewelry Exchange, a New Jersey-based complex housing dozens of jewelers, she was prepared to sign a lease on her own stall. The man in charge “looked me up and down and said, ‘Oh no, honey, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is real jewelry,’” she recalls.
Several months after she opened for business, Yanina grossed $250,000 in sales. Six years later, she moved out of her booth at the Jewelry Exchange and into her own store. Today, the 42-year-old owner of Yanina & Co. has become one of New Jersey’s top jewelers, known for her exquisite taste, excellent customer service and, of course, her collections of custom-designed bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings.
Yanina explains her key to success by saying, “My clients can wear something they bought from me 20 years ago, and it still looks good.”
Though she’s involved in all aspects of her business, including designing jewelry, marketing and day-to-day operations, Yanina loves nothing more than “being on the showroom floor and talking to clients. They receive the ‘Yanina experience,’ which means I’ll spend three hours working with someone to give them exactly what they want. Many of my clients have been with me from the beginning, and I know their children and grandchildren.”
Equally passionate about philanthropy, Yanina never turns away charities that approach her. An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she remains forever grateful to the UJA-Federation for assisting her family with starting a new life in New Jersey. “If not for that, my family and so many other Russian Jews wouldn’t be here today, so I give as much as I can to those in need.”
Raised in Russia until the age of 12, Yanina will never forget how she was forced to stand up at a school assembly so the principal could denounce her as a traitor for emigrating. “I always knew I was Jewish, but it was very dangerous for us to practice Judaism,” she says, describing herself today as “very Jewish and spiritual.”
Two years after resettling in New Jersey, Yanina discovered her calling at a flea market when she accepted an offer to work at a jewelry booth for the Christmas season. “Working with people, I could observe their personalities and know what kind of jewelry looked best on them,” she describes. “I found myself constantly thinking about jewelry, even in bed at night.”
While still in high school, Yanina started designing her own jewelry and did most of the purchasing for the booth at the flea market. Recognizing her talent, her father took out a loan against their house so she could start her own business while her mother eventually became her bookkeeper. Though she always had the support of her family, she still spent years proving herself to competitors and customers who wanted to know whether “my husband put me in business. I learned to be strong early on.”
Today, Yanina feels that both her daughter and son, ages 13 and 16, “appreciate the strong role model I am. They know my stories about how hard I’ve worked, that nothing falls from the sky.”
Hoping to eventually open stores in Miami and Los Angeles, Yanina intends to stay home with her kids a little longer. “My kids come first,” she says. “I have huge plans, and once they’re on their own, I’ll take things to a new level.”