Q&A with UniqueLee Creations, a Fort Wayne-based bling artist helping others shine

In a world of mass-produced products, you might say that Jillian Lee's unique fashion creations "shine."

Lee is the owner and CEO of UniqueLee Creations (@uniqueleecreations), a Fort Wayne-based business that specializes in rhinestone appliques and customizing basic Converse sneakers with blinged out flair. 

"I love the freedom that comes with turning nothing into something so beautiful," Lee writes on Instagram, where she has grown her audience to more than 4,400 followers.

Jillian Lee, owner of UniqueLee Creations, a Fort Wayne-based business that specializes in rhinestone appliques and customizing basic Converse sneakers with blinged out flair.

In October 2021, she turned her fashion business into a way to help others launch their own ventures by becoming a rhinestone supplier.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Lee to learn more about her journey to becoming a "bling" artist and how she’s using her knowledge to support others on their own journeys into creativity and entrepreneurship. 

IFW: What inspired you to start your business?

JL:  I knew when I was in middle school. I have always just wanted to be my own business owner. I wasn't sure why. I always wanted to do something just for me. Working for other people just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I am a bling artist and a rhinestone supplier. I love blinged out phone cases and anything glam. I was always shopping from large retailers like Amazon or Walmart or Target and buying multiple phone cases. Then, one day, I got curious. I wondered if I could create these myself. So I started getting into Youtube. I joined some Facebook craft groups, and I saw other women creating cases, so I decided to try it for myself!

I created my first phone case and posted it on social media. My cousin wanted me to make her one, too, and that’s kind of how I got started. That was in 2018.

A customized cup made by UniqueLee Creations.

IFW: What is the significance behind the name, UniqueLee Creations?

JL: The things that I make, they are very unique, but to me, uniquely was too cliche. I wanted a name that would just go with me, so I had been trying to figure out a way to make it different. UniqueLee literally came to me while I was sleeping, and I woke up and wrote it down because I didn’t want to forget it! At the time, I didn’t have a niche. I was making multiple custom blinged items from keychains to license plates, to shoes, so I chose Creations to encompass the diversity of items I was making, and that’s how I came up with my business name.

Rhinestones sold by UniqueLee Creations.

IFW: What services do you currently offer, and how do you want to grow from here?

JL: In 2021, I did decrease a lot of the things that I created because I thought that having so many items was becoming overwhelming---not only for me having to produce them, but also for my audience. I didn’t want to confuse my audience, and I wanted to be known for doing something in particular. 

My main focus now is customizing and blinging Converse (sneakers) and selling rhinestones. I’m also in the works of creating a bling Converse class for beginners and a mentorship group this year. 

I would love to eventually have a storefront or even a warehouse here in Fort Wayne to grow the supplier side of my business. I feel like with Michaels and the other craft retailers, they don’t have really good quality rhinestones that people need for their projects. Aside from blinged products, my rhinestones can also be used by nail and makeup artists. I’d like to provide a facility where all artists can just come and pick up what they need without having to wait.

Rhinestones sold by UniqueLee Creations.

IFW: What was your entrepreneurial experience prior to participating in the Build Institute Entrepreneur Education program?

JL: Before the Build program, I actually participated in the Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center’s Launch Women Business Builder Program in 2019. I learned a lot during that time being able to network with so many different women and making those connections. I even received the Mirro Business Builder Award and was given an additional cash award to help me grow my business. 

IFW: So what then made you decide to participate in the SEED program after having gained that experience with the NIIC?

JL: I actually had been seeing other people I knew in the community go through the program, and after graduating, their businesses just started taking off! I was really intrigued to do it myself and was also encouraging some friends to do it with me, but they wanted to wait. After that, I was questioning whether I should hold off, too, but I was like: "No, I’m not waiting; I’m doing this!"

The SEED program really helped me when it came to the actual business aspect. When I enrolled, I didn’t have a business plan. They helped me understand my business behind the scenes. There was a point when I thought I was profiting, and I actually wasn't. When we took the time to break down the numbers and went through everything I had a headache! There are so many things as small business owners we don’t know, or we might be first-time entrepreneurs in our family, so they can’t help us either. Now, I have this knowledge and am able to use those materials to build myself up and help others.

I believe in a community-over-competition philosophy. If I am doing well and there are other people wanting to get into the same field as me, I want to make sure that I give them the tools that I have and not hold them back. When I see other people succeeding, I feel like I have been able to do what God has called me to do with my business.

Jillian Lee, owner of UniqueLee Creations, a Fort Wayne-based business that specializes in rhinestone appliques and customizing basic Converse sneakers with blinged out flair.

IFW: What were some of the struggles you faced along the way that you think others can learn from?

JL: One of my biggest struggles was self doubt. I’m the type of person who, I could be giving it 100 percent, but I have to give it 150 percent, so I always feel like I’m not doing enough. A friend of mine pointed it out to me. She said, "Look what you have accomplished in only a month." 

At that time, I had just launched my business, which was something I had been wanting to do for two or three years, but I let fear push me back. I also created an ebook to help other people start their own rhinestone businesses. She told me I need to give myself credit for the things I have accomplished. 

IFW: What advice would you give other new business owners, particularly women or People of Color?

JL: If I could pass advice on to other women or People of Color looking to start their business, it would be, not to always depend on family and friends to support your business. I think we often let not receiving that immediate support stop us from doing the things we are supposed to do. We get upset, but sometimes people just want to see you accomplish your feats first. Don’t take it as an insult if they’re purchasing from someone else. I don’t get a lot of business out of Fort Wayne, but that doesn’t stop me from doing pop-ups or making connections. 

There are going to be days where you want to quit, and you’re going to be questioning if you’re doing it right. Most days, I don’t know if I am doing it right, but you just keep going and keep pushing, because if this is something you really want and you’re passionate about it, it’s going to happen.

Learn more

For more information about Uniquelee Creations, follow Lee on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook, or visit her website.

This story is part of an Entrepreneurship series made possible by funding from SEED Fort Wayne. To learn more about SEED, visit its website at www.seedfw.org.

Read more articles by Desaray Bradley.

Desaray is expecting to graduate from Purdue University Fort Wayne in the spring of 2021 with a bachelor's degree in Communication: Media and Culture and a minor in Public Relations. She enjoys traveling, photography, and short story writing in her free time.