Jewelry designer Lisa Flannigan answers the call of the ocean

Dig that shark tooth necklace.

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  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photographed by
    Kimber Brown

Even as a very young girl, Lisa Flannigan wanted to go into the beauty business. “I wore red lipstick and my grandmother’s stinky perfume to kindergarten,” she laughs. “I’ve always been fascinated by the transformation that something as simple as lipstick can achieve, and how that makes you feel.”

Lisa is anything but traditional, yet she comes from a family of four, complete with a stay-at-home mom and business-owner dad. Growing up, Lisa’s fondest memories are of the times they spent together on the beach, which would come to inspire so much of her life as well as her aesthetic.

She studied at Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village, New York—widely regarded as one of the most prestigious art and design schools in the world. She went on to create beauty products and launch brands for the likes of Victoria’s Secret, Estée Lauder, Juicy Couture and Bliss during her 15-year stint in Manhattan.

Lisa loved her career and went back to work full-time after her first son was born. She welcomed her second son a short time thereafter, but while she was on maternity leave Hurricane Sandy devastated the area. The event left Lisa and her family, who lived on the Hudson River, in a house surrounded by water and without power.

Her husband ran a hotel company based in Santa Monica at the time, so it made sense to go west for a while. Thirty-six hours later and on the last flight out of NYC, they arrived in L.A. sunshine. Lisa fell in love with the lifestyle right away.

Six months later, they officially made California their home. They lived in her husband’s hotel for more than a month before making the move to nearby Venice Beach. Venice was great, but with two small children in tow she was on the lookout for something a bit more family-friendly.

That’s when she discovered what she calls the “quintessential, idyllic California coastal beach town.” Six months later, she declared Manhattan Beach her happy place.

After the unexpected move from the East Coast, Lisa focused on being fully present for her children. With that decision came an adjustment and a different source of self-identity for her. She dabbled in interior design projects in Montauk, New York, and consulted for beauty and lifestyle brands along the way.

“Those parts of you that have been pushed back a bit by motherhood returned for me, and I felt a calling to do something new.” She started making some jewelry pieces for herself—the types of pieces she wanted but couldn’t find. Her friends loved them and asked her to make some for them too.

From there word-of-mouth spread, and everything started to roll out organically. She found her wheels turning while her children were sleeping or at school—designing in her head during those spare moments.

When her youngest turned 5, Lisa decided to seriously start working on her own brand. Ever since she could remember, she had collected all sorts of items: minerals, crystals, rocks and shells—mostly sourced from living by the water.

“I am so enamored with the ocean and with how much life lives underwater,” she explains. “I need the water. It’s very therapeutic to me. Lisa Marē was born out of my endless obsession with the mysticism, power and beauty of the sea, and precious stones. My pieces are the ultimate talisman—reminding us of the tenuous balance between power and vulnerability.”

“I believe we can learn more from people with special needs than they can learn from us. People should be seen for who they are rather than any perceived limitations.”

Her stunning collection of jewelry is inspired by and made with natural elements such as shells, opals, diamonds and even fossilized shark teeth mixed with gold. Along with the jewelry line, Lisa has created stunning, museum-mounted shark jaws plated in 14k gold.

“The jaws are from my personal collection formed over years of travel. The fossilized teeth found at the ocean’s floor have taken millions of years to form.”

Lisa officially launched her brand, Lisa Marē, in January. Things have progressed nicely, and she sells directly through Instagram and her website. She will continue to focus on products that are one-of-a-kind and expand her reach through new partnerships and channels of distribution. “I have been so lucky,” she says. “The women who find me are very like-minded.”

Lisa feels very empowered by the ocean and wants her pieces to create that same feeling for those who wear them. To help, she supports a nonprofit called A Walk On Water (AWOW)—an organization staffed by an amazing family of watermen who help give children with special needs the feeling of freedom and power that comes from riding a wave. Lisa gives them a portion of all her profits.

The cause is close to Lisa’s heart. “I really wish that people would see others for their abilities rather than for what they can’t do,” she shares. “That’s what AWOW does. They believe everyone has an inner athlete, and I want to help.”

Lisa is deeply involved with this mission in her own community as well. She remains active with a local organization called Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC), which brings together and provides resources to families with special needs in the school district and encourages inclusion and promotes support.

“I believe we can learn more from people with special needs than they can learn from us,” she says. “People should be seen for who they are rather than any perceived limitations.”

For Lisa and her brand, success is defined by more than economics. “I believe success is achieved by being a good person and giving back. I want to make rad, one-of-a-kind pieces that make people feel empowered and beautiful.”