For years, attorney and TU law professor Jill Donovan dreamed of sitting in Oprah’s studio audience. Every single day she’d speed dial the ticket hotline. And for years she wouldn’t get through. Then one day in 2004 while checking Oprah.com these words caught Jill’s attention: “Are you are a regifter? Tell us your story!”
Immediately she knew this was her ticket. As luck would have it Jill was a regifter! Not just a regifter… a chronic regifter. Yes! This would be perfect! She typed up a few funny stories (including one about accidentally regifting her mother-in-law the very purse she’d given Jill the year before) and hit send. Within hours her phone rang. Boom. The next day producers came to Tulsa and filmed Jill and her gift closet. Later that week Jill and her husband, Terry, were on a plane to Chicago. Not only was she finally going to get a seat in the audience, it would be on the front row!
What happened next is what dreams are made of. Shortly after arriving at Harpo, producers told Jill of a small change of plans. Instead of the front row Jill would be seated on the couch. That’s right. Next to Oprah! Jill could hardly contain her excitement. She was dying to share her funny stories with Oprah and the world.
Oprah first showed the funny and charming piece with Jill at home in her “regift” closet. Then as quickly as the dream had begun, it started to unravel. Instead of talking to Jill who was poised and ready to tell some hilarious tales, Oprah unexpectedly cut to a panel of etiquette experts and asked them to weigh in. For the next 15 minutes these “experts” from Canada humiliated Jill, telling her that regifting is rude and tacky and that she should be ashamed of herself. Jill was mortified. She went home and donated everything in the gift closet. And braced herself to watch the episode – which ultimately aired 3 times that year.
Many years later the closet remained empty and served as an awful reminder of her public humiliation. Herself an avid cuff collector, she decided that learning to make cuffs would be her next goal. So night after night, on the floor of her guest bedroom, she slowly began filling her empty gift closet with beautiful bracelets. She gifted them to friends and family. When they begged her to make more and sell them she reluctantly agreed. She was passionate about her hobby but wasn’t sure it could turn into a business.
That was 2011. In that short time Jill’s grassroots beginning has turned into Rustic Cuff, a growing company based out of a showroom in Tulsa, OK. Celebrities such as Miranda Lambert, Giuliana Rancic, Kristin Chenoweth and Gayle King to name a few, wear Jill’s designs. Orders for Rustic Cuffs ship internationally every day. Her bracelets have been featured on a multitude of national talk shows and in magazines including Elle, People, In Style, etc. What Jill has achieved in three years, starting with a staff of one who officed in Jill’s kitchen, to a staff that grew from 18 to 30 last quarter, is almost inconceivable.
A now sought-after motivational speaker who encourages women to pursue their own passions, Jill attributes the brand success to the loyal Rustic Cuff fans, locally and across the country. She especially loves the fact that almost as often as her customers buy cuffs to keep, they buy them to give away. In recent months, she has inadvertently started an epidemic of RC gift-givers. Everyday she hears new stories from women who are moved to gift the cuff off their own wrist. For Jill that is what it’s all about. Not the bracelet, but the connection that is made between two people, often strangers, in that moment. Spontaneous moments. Full of hope, love, tears and laughter. This organic movement was named #RegiftRC and has become part of the company’s mission.
The birth of Rustic Cuff stemmed from regifting gone wrong, but the ripple effect is regifting gone right. In March 2015, a Rustic Cuff bracelet that Jill had given to Gayle King was featured on the cover of Oprah’s O Magazine, worn by Oprah herself. For Jill it was the best full circle moment.
Jill and Rustic Cuff have also held two fashion show fundraisers called Project Cuffway, in memory of her father who passed away from pancreatic cancer. The proceeds from both of these fundraisers have supported the National Pancreas Foundation.