Founder, Super Smalls
Maria Dueñas Jacobs
What do you get when you combine nearly a decade and a half as a fashion editor with leadership experience at a unicorn data-first fashion technology platform? In short, you get Maria Dueñas Jacob’s resume. Now, as the founder of Super Smalls, a brand that creates realistic looking jewelry for children (no plastic hearts here!), Dueñas Jacobs has combined her aesthetic intelligence with entrepreneurial know-how to create a jewelry line for children that is squeal worthy. We’re honored to feature her as this month’s Mujer. Read the story of how she seized an opportunity in the children’s market after becoming a mother and how she is spending time with family these days.
Tell us a bit about your career and how you started your career to become a fashion accessories editor. Were you always drawn to accessories and fashion at a young age?
I loved fashion since I was a kid and used to study magazines like they were textbooks! I was that weird kid that knew exactly what they wanted to do “when they grow up.” I wanted to be a magazine fashion editor! I set off for New York City (from Miami) at 17 and interned for Proenza Schouler, PR Consulting, and Vogue while studying at FIT. After that, I landed my dream job as the assistant to the Fashion Director at Glamour Magazine after graduating and climbed the masthead over eight years there. I then moved over to ELLE magazine as the Accessories and Jewelry Director for five years until I was given the amazing opportunity to join Stitch Fix. While at Stitch Fix I had the idea for Super Smalls and made it my “side hustle” to test the waters. After seeing its early success and the market appetite, I took the leap of faith to double down on this small but mighty venture, follow my heart, cast fear aside and focus full time on Super Smalls!
How has your style evolved since having children (if at all)? Do you find yourself gravitating towards different types of things today versus a decade ago?
Definitely more flats and more overall comfortable clothes. I still love tailored and statement pieces but the two questions I always ask myself are: Is this comfortable and does it make me feel confident.
Super Smalls is such an amazing concept (I remember taking my mom’s more “everyday” jewelry to play with as a kid because it just made me feel like a princess). How did you start? What were the first pieces that you created?
Super Smalls was created exactly for that reason! My girls, especially my oldest at the time would always try to snatch my jewels. I would explain that they weren’t toys and she should play with her beads and other accessories I had bought for her over time. She would always respond “But yours are prettier and shinier and more beautiful”. That comment felt like a fun challenge so I set out to attempt to create mini play versions of some of my favorite high jewelry pieces inspired by giants like Harry Winston and Tiffany. The result is Super Smalls!
What is the most challenging part of your business? And what surprises have you encountered along the way?
The most challenging part of the business for me personally is not getting in the weeds on a daily basis. I tend to sweat the small stuff a bit too much, and I’m working on zooming out so that I can see the bigger picture and work towards our goals in a more efficient way.
How was it transitioning from fashion journalism to working at Stitch Fix? What did you take from those experiences that you’ve leveraged now with Super Smalls?
I feel so lucky to have had both those amazing opportunities. My transition to Stitch Fix came at a time when the fashion industry itself was changing and the move felt very organic and fortuitous. As an Editor, I was trained to problem solve and find whatever was needed out in the market. My style and eye really developed, as did my circle of friends and network of collaborators. All of these tremendous aspects of my career in fashion continue to be rewarding blessings for me. At Stitch Fix, I dove into the world of data head-first. I was able to work with incredible cross functional teams to drive measurable results, which is a departure from Editorial. l also learned about the value of leadership and culture in a new world. Katrina’s grit and (the way the company operates) was inspirational.
How have you managed all three kids in the middle of COVID? Any parenting hacks you can share?
I was pretty overwhelmed with the multi-tasking and home schooling at first. I had to really recalibrate my own expectations of what I could do, give, and get, in this situation. Rather than try to be the best teacher out there, I decided I’d take a more low-key approach that wasn’t success oriented, but rather just positive. I went super old school and bought all of the board games that I had in my childhood. I tried to make it fun for all of us, including myself. Some games were especially useful for learning like Number Bingo, Uno, and flash cards. We also crafted a bunch which I love, and we created our own events to make the days pass faster - Talent Show days and Fancy Tea Parties wearing tons of Super Smalls of course!
What are 3 must-haves in your closet right now?
It’s summer, so for this weather: Levis vintage cut offs, one piece swimsuits by Solid & Stripe or Eres, and my collection of button downs in different patterns and colors.
Describe the cadence of a typical day these days (ie what time do you wake, how/where you work, etc.)
We’ve tried to establish a routine as much as possible but in general, I try to remain flexible as we are not currently living in the city…
We wake up around 6/6:30 (my daughers are 4,4,and 6 and thus can only play so quietly in the morning) and do the morning routine before heading out to my sister’s house for “Camp Casa.” We have been in a family “bubble” since June and my sister’s two kids and my girls play together while my sister and I work on Super Smalls for the bulk of the day. I try to get away around 4 to spend more undivided QT with the kids (weirdly the trampoline has become a very liberating and effective gear change, you can’t read an email while you jump - believe me!) before finishing off the day on calls and zoom. The evening bath and PJ time is my favorite. It signals an unwinding for our whole house that feels joyful and productive and allows me to spend the rest of the evening in a robe!
Have you developed any new family rituals or traditions with everyone hunkered down at home?
I have to admit there’s a little more TV than there used to be, but I make sure it’s in Spanish so I feel like they are at least working on their vocabulary! That doesn’t sound like a ritual but the girls have come to love and respect that quiet time and the shows we watch get woven into our conversations regularly. The ritual of watching Spirit in Spanish and then talking about horses for 30 minutes - its a real thing.
Where do you draw the most inspiration?
From high fashion and high jewelry. I really loved the CAMP exhibit at the Met and take a lot of inspiration from anything extravagant because kids love major sparkle (and so do I)!
Favorite NYC restaurant (and what you order there!)
Shuko. The most delicious Omakase
Häagen-Dazs Pistachio Ice cream
How do you spend a typical Friday night?
Either alone with my husband ordering in or over at my sisters (keeping it in the “Bubble”)
Which is more you: classic navy blazer or a frilly feminine dress?
Equal! Blazers in the fall all the time and dresses in the summer/Spring!
What are your daughters’ favorite pieces from Super Smalls?
They really love them all. They are so proud of Super Smalls and pile on everything they see. Their favorite set right now is probably the Mermaid Pool Party because they think it has magical powers (I will not confirm or deny this) ;)