S. Carter's Natural Beauty

An eye for fashion and a love of statement pieces led this Atlanta-based mother-daughter team into combining precious metals and natural materials into keepsake treasures.

Story by Cara Clark

When two fashion-forward females combine an eye for “what works” with inspiration from their extensive travels and the natural world, the result will be memorable — even enviable — which is why S. Carter Designs pieces resonate with a growing audience. 

Sarah Carter Hovis Olsen remembers precisely when and how
she was inspired to design jewelry with her mother, Sally Carter Evans Hovis. It all began with a necklace by designer Kenneth Jay Lane, whose high-end fake jewelry line began in the 1960s and makes such a dramatic statement, icons and college kids alike felt like trendsetters when wearing his styles.

Sarah’s friend owned one of his designs, a tusk piece, crafted from resin and hanging oh-so stylishly on a plated gold-tone chain. While Sarah was working in retail at the time, she kept abreast of the latest fashion trends, but this piece felt eternal, and it became Sarah’s favorite thing.


It turns out, she was in good company. After all Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lady Gaga have worn the designer’s styles — even Princess Diana is said to have been a fan of the high-impact jewelry.

Like the iconic figures who wore Lane’s styles, Sarah paired
that loaner tusk piece with outfits from casual to black-tie — it was the sort of style that made her feel “pulled together,” no matter the occasion.

“I loved wearing it,” she says. “I wore it so often, I finally became allergic, and my neck would break out like crazy. I thought, I still love it and want to wear it, so I got the materials and made my own using
leather instead. We used to wrap the tusks and put them on long braided leather, and that was our first piece.”

Those necklaces had the desired effect, admirers would approach Sarah and ask to buy the adornment from around her neck. That’s when she knew she had a product that virtually sold itself.

And Sarah and Sally went to work fashioning the leather tusk jewelry — eliminating the faux gold allergy element and making the pieces in
different lengths, colors, and styles.

“In the beginning, we were braiding leather and knotting beads,” Sarah says. “Since then, we’ve changed the direction of the line a lot, but my mother was with me every single day doing the manual labor part.”

As mother and daughter began determining how to set up shop,
Sarah began working at Rebecca Boutique in Atlanta, where she was asked if she wanted to begin selling her jewelry.

“So that was our first store, but the whole business idea started because I was allergic to my friend’s necklace that I loved to wear,” Sarah says with a hint of nostalgia for the piece and for the 2009 start of their business.

As an international business and Spanish double major, Sarah’s was an unexpected foray into entrepreneurship, and as she describes it, an organic path. The natural evolution of her style led to using the most organic elements — feathers, shells, gemstones, tusks — pairing unexpected elemental pieces with the purest metals and pristine diamonds. A shark’s shed tooth or baby conch, enhanced with a gemstone and 14-karat gold, becomes a treasure that elevates an outfit to next level with a quick snap of the clasp.

Now that the business has expanded with manufacturers in India and Turkey, the internal business background has definitely come into play. And Sally’s sense of timelessness, willingness to go bold, and knowledge of the evolution of fashion makes each piece a lasting treasure.

While the S. Carter line accents elements such as turquoise, sliced diamonds, and Tahitian pearls, most recently, Sarah says her designs have been trending with seashells.

“I think that’s probably because I’ve been at the beach with my family a lot,” Sarah says. “The last two years we've just started collecting our own and adding diamonds and gold with all different kinds of gold chains. I love all of the natural pieces, and then we mix in the diamonds with them to try to elevate those natural pieces.”

With a list of shops across the country and a website filled with beautiful pieces, it’s not difficult to find S. Carter Designs. The mother-daughter team has learned their pieces are especially popular in stores in vacation destinations such as Vail, Telluride, and Aspen. As tried-and-true travelers, the owners understand that such breaks from the norm are perfect shopping times for their customers, just as some of their best finds have been discovered on their own journeys.

Mom and daughter still travel together to gem shows and work together on ideas, though Sally is less involved on the day-to-day operations.

“We are very close, and it is really special to have got to do this with her because we've spent so much time together over the past 12 years, going to shows and being on the same page about things, or maybe she sees something one way, and I see it differently. Then her way sells, and I know that we both have our vision, and both work.

Sarah says it’s difficult to believe how much the line has grown, from streamlining ordering to inventory systems. It wasn’t so long ago that they were jotting down notes and shipping items to stores without a system of checks and balances.

“We’ve evolved so much with our products, but also on the back-end of the business side,” Sarah says. “We’ve changed so much in six

But the designer, combing the beaches with her children for
shells and sharks’ teeth, doesn’t want to grow much more.

“I want to keep things small,” she explains. “I get to have my passion, and it’s fun for me to do. I love my work, but I also get to be focused on my kids. I like that balance. I love being in the stores we are in because we have some really strong partners.”

It’s also rewarding for Sarah and Sally to know that even when designs are similar, no two pieces will ever be identical. The turquoise, larimar, opal, bone, feather, tusks, and colored gems, each have differing characteristics from hues to shape and size.

“Once those stones are gone, they’re gone, but there will be another piece just as special with a different stone,” she says.

With pieces such as enamel feather earrings and cowrie shell earrings and necklaces constantly selling out, it’s often difficult to keep up with demand.

“We went away from some designs, but we’ve come back to them,” Sarah says. “The horn collars are one of our biggest sellers, and each one is different. We’ll have customers who ask for the very lightest or want the creamier color or want one with more variation. And even though it's one product, there's so much variety.”

Looking back on the many styles from mother of pearl Native
American headdress necklaces to feather and mesh chain collars, Sarah remembers each piece and style with fondness that makes it impossible to choose a favorite.

“It’s like not having a favorite child,” she says. “I know I should pick one, but right now, I really love our gold squash blossoms. I look at what I take on vacation with me, and I feel like I tend to pick my favorites.”

On a trip from Atlanta to New York with her in-laws, Sarah saw someone wearing one of her necklaces—a moment that is exciting and affirming. Maybe that necklace was for her fellow passenger what the old Kenneth Jay Lane piece was to her — a bit of an obsession and something that just makes a girl feel like she’s dressed to impress.

Shop the collection of pieces that areas BOLD, UNIQUE, & REFINED as the women wearing them at scarterdesigns.com.