Less than a mile away from campus, Juliet's Jewels is a quaint, eccentric creation of a local world market with merchandise brought directly from countries like Nepal, Thailand, and India.
Dawa Juliet Sangmu is a selfless, down-to-earth converted Buddhist who is nothing but kind and generous. She has put in years of hard work and dedication to build what today is one of Denton’s most hidden treasures, the bright blue house known as Juliet’s Jewels. Entering the store and being offered a cup of tea creates a peaceful, positive aura that radiates throughout the converted two-story house. Inside, the downstairs is filled with merchandise ranging from jewelry to gifts including wallets, key chains, incense and more.
The upstairs section of the store is filled with hanging dream catchers, scarves, bedspreads, woolen goods, and tapestries. Below the tapestries are bins full of unique merchandise and clothing that is currently on sale. Upstairs, customers also find foldable backpacks, hats, and home decor items.
The majority of Juliet's Jewels' merchandise is unique. A differentiating factor that Juliet’s Jewels possesses, in comparison to similar shops, is the sourcing process. Every piece of one-of-a-kind merchandise is sourced by Dawa herself at the various markets she travels to. These markets are located in numerous countries including Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, and India, and many of the pieces have inspired mainstream trends today. Unbeknownst to many, the making of these traditional items began hundreds of years ago and carry heavy cultural and spiritual symbolism. The prices offered throughout the store are reasonable, while the interior layout is inviting and vibrant. Overall, the Juliet's Jewels experience is both personable and unique.
What are your best selling items here at Juliet’s Jewels?
Rings. Also clothes. The tie dye shorts and leggings that we have (and the rayon fabric that they’re made from in Thailand) are very popular. We sell a lot of tapestries as well. In India, we used them as bedspreads, but people here prefer to place them on their walls.
A majority of the merchandise is bought directly from markets in these countries and sent directly to Juliet’s Jewels. But, I also make custom hand-made jewelry. Usually closer to Christmas time I hand-make a lot more jewelry because people want to come in and get gifts for their friends or family. Just recently, I went to a market show here in Dallas called The International Gem and Jewelry Show so that I can support locally too. I purchased a large variety of beads and other items that I can use to make new jewelry and pieces that I plan on having available for sale at the upcoming Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, April 29th-May 1st. Also, if someone comes in with an order, I am always fixing or repairing jewelry. We have an order book in case maybe there’s something a customer likes and it doesn't fit right or he or she might like it in a different color. I will write down the customer's contact information, as well as the piece they would like, and I try my best to find those certain items when shopping out of the country.
What countries do you source most from? Are there any particular markets you visit more often than others?
The main countries I travel to for merchandise are India, Nepal, and Thailand. India is my favorite place to visit and source from because my family is there and I have so many friends there. In terms of jewelry, there is a wonderful store in Calcutta, India that I love that has been there for at least fifty years that is owned by Tibetans and they’re always so good to me. They don’t have to be so generous. There’s many markets in Nepal that won’t offer anything no matter how much merchandise I buy from them. But, there are two shops in Nepal that I go to every time because they are good to me and we’ve formed relationships. In India, I usually stop shopping earlier in the day because stores don’t stay open late and in Nepal there is also a scarcity of electricity. When shipping merchandise back from India and Nepal, I do not have to pay extra money usually because they’re third world countries. But, from Thailand, for some reason, I do have to pay a lot of extra taxes to ship back merchandise to the United States.
Are there any motives behind what you purchase? Any particular merchandise you look for while traveling?
Sometimes I look for something specific, but otherwise I’ll just walk and see what catches my eye. Then, I have to try it on because I have to see how the fit is. If I don’t like it, then I won’t buy it. I personally like every kind of merchandise in my store. Of course, I make the wrong decisions sometimes and an item won’t sell. But, then the next month we’ll sell multiple items that didn’t sell before! It all depends. But yes, I usually shop for items that catch my eyes. Though it does get especially hard when shopping in Nepal because the electricity there is off almost sixteen hours of the days. So, in Nepal I have to work around the electricity to make sure I can view the jewelry in good lighting (laughs).
What does your typical Juliet's Jewels customer look like?
You! (laughs) I have a wide and diverse variety of customers. I have many loyal customers that have moved far now and still reply to my email list saying they have fond memories of our store. We also have a lot of young people coming from the two universities, so when I am selecting merchandise I have to consider both young and older people. I have relationships with many of my loyal customers. For instance, a teacher used to come in with her mother and she would always send her upstairs to grab clothing since the mother could not make it upstairs. Years later, her mother passed but the lady still comes in often and we laugh and talk about her mother and how she loved shopping here.
You have been involved with giving back and sponsoring children in India for decades. What made you want to venture out and start involving your business in charity work?
We made an initiative to start sending out money every couple of months to countries that have poor kids and need help. It’s not sent out under the name of “Juliet’s Jewels” or anything; we just send out a small percentage of what we make and people I know in India and also a cousin of a friend from here that I had been introduced to in Africa when I had visited there. We send the money directly to these individuals and with that they’ll buy shoes and necessities such as food, mosquito nets, mattresses, etc. It’s great because I am not sending money to an organization where I may not know exactly where all the money is going to or for what. This way, I can send the money directly to the source of need and my friends will purchase items there to donate. So, it’s also helping those economies by purchasing stuff there instead of sending items over from here. Also, the merchandise is cheaper there which makes the donations go a long way. My friends that do this for me will send me pictures of the children with all of the stuff. To see the pictures of all these unprivileged children smiling and wearing the clothes and items that were given to them with the help of our store’s donations is just amazing.
If people want to donate they can come in and say that they want to make a donation. We don’t have any special box or anything to drop stuff off in. I don’t want to open any non-profit organization. So, if someone would like to make a donation I would say the best way to do that is to just come in and buy stuff or make a cash donation. We take a percentage of what we make a month and set that aside until after a couple of months we’ll have a few hundred dollars saved for donations that month and that goes along way with helping these individuals in these countries.
Most of your merchandise has significant cultural, spiritual/religious, and historical meanings associated with them and their countries of origin. In recent years, Western society has adopted these items (i.e. the Ohm, the Hamsa, & Buddha) as fashion trends. For which items have you seen an increase in demand because of this?
Yes, it’s because of the yoga that people are doing. They have learned how to meditate or see a banner with chakras that they think look nice and recognize. Those who do yoga become more open-minded. So they’re free and don’t mind expanding their wardrobe and trying new merchandise that they may not have tried on before... like free flowing pants. They may not even know the fashions or that these clothes are being replicated now at some places. They are just more open-minded and love the new stuff that they learn about and try on. It’s not like you can go to Dillard’s and find these free-flowing pants. So [their rarity is] what makes them come in to find these items. Same goes with college students. [Their buying habits have] to do with the same concept. They’re also getting into yoga and meditation, making them more open-minded.
In regards to Western adoption of cultural trends, what is your opinion on the manufacturing of these ancient cultural items versus purchasing the original, handmade versions from the native countries?
It’s not only “trendy” due to the look and aesthetics of these styles and symbols. More people are spiritually searching and are lost. When [kids] are pushed to learn something and follow without reasoning, without questioning, that doesn’t go too well with [them]. Kid are too smart these days. The trend is coming from within. So it is a psychological thing, just like all other fashions and why people wear what they wear. It’s dictated by what they’re thinking and I think the [fact that the] population becoming more open-minded is the reason for the “hippy,” “bohemian,” “spiritual” trends. It’s so wonderful to be just a colorful store. [Our store] cheers people up and it’s just so different.
What would you say are the main reasons your products differ from others on the market?
We are going to Tibet and China this year, but I am going to mainly try and buy mostly from Tibetans. There is no middle-man shipping [the goods] to different countries or going through a whole supply chain, naturally taking the rich meaning from [them as they go] from one place to the next. So I know who I am buying from and where the goods are coming from. It’s not like these things are coming from China. We are helping the people that are [living in the countries we're buying from]. In China, there’s Walmart and other big companies helping the economy. It’s just a mass production. And the people there suffer, but we don’t know what those people are going through. Here I can see the families I buy from and the product I order from them. [For instance, when I visit] the family in Thailand that I buy tie dye from, I see kids come running into the shop and over the years I’ve seen them grow. It’s just so nice to be helping the families there. There is a big difference in the products that come from people who have been making them for many years as a way of life. [They have so much more] experience and knowledge of how to make the products versus the companies that are trying to replicate and mass-produce some of the same products.
What is most special about the merchandise you sell at Juliet's Jewels?
If a woman has a store, then I try to buy from women. We also specialize in products for followers of Buddhism and Hinduism, so it really helps the people. They need certain things for their spiritual or higher practice that they may not be able to get anywhere else close by or that I don't even carry, so I make sure to get those items for those individuals when shopping. I [also] keep their budget in mind because some of the things they may need are very expensive. For example, Thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting that is done on canvas with crushed minerals and 24kt gold that can be easily over $100, but it serves as an important learning tool for Buddhists. So, as people advance in their practices and need certain things I go and bring [those items] back for them. So, [those products offer a] different kind of importance, and things that are written in the order book [are special] as well.
Lastly, how would you describe the customer experience to someone who has never been to Juliet's Jewels before?
[I'll share] one story. There was a lady that came by and she said her friend was feeling suicidal. [She] asked if I had anything that could make her friend feel better, like a stone or rock. I said “I don’t have anything that you can buy to make her feel better. A stone, a rock, that won’t make her feel better.” I said, "But I’ll give you something if she’s open-minded." I gave her a red protection cord from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and said to give it to her friend to wear or to keep it with her. And she did. Three days, [the lady] came back and purchased over $300 worth of stuff and said that her friend wasn’t suicidal anymore. Her friend came in two weeks later herself to thank me. She said, "you never tried to sell me anything," and I said, "yeah I don’t have anything you can buy for that. Just completely honest!"
[Secondly], we are the only store that offers something to drink. No other stores do that. You know, how much does it cost for a store to offer lemonade? That’s why I’m glad I didn't open a restaurant because I’d be broke from giving away free stuff to people! (Laughs) So that’s a big thing; having the tea, lemonade, and water for people when they come in and just want to relax. The idea came because that is what we do in India. It’s just a form of saying “Welcome” and “take your time,"... here’s something to drink while you look around. They do that in Nepal all the time as well, and by then end of the day I’m all tea’d out!
To see more types of merchandise being sold at Juliet’s Jewels, or if you're seeking further information regarding the travels, projects, or even the Dawa Dolma Meditation Center located in the building behind the store, please visit www.julietsjewels.com.
If you're interested in purchasing any of the merchandise, please stop in explore this gem of a store yourself at:
315 W. Sycamore St. Denton, TX 76201
Store Hours: Monday-Saturday 10AM to 6PM
Phone Number: (940) 566-5005
Dawa would also like to mention that she believes “people will come to her store if they feel the need to just come in or are meant to come stop by”, meaning that the store’s ambiance is consistently inviting and wonderful. The rule of her store - seen on the signage to the right of the front door - reads “Shoplifters will be prosecuted under the laws of KARMA!”
Copy: Jacqui Simses, Fashion Writer
Taylar Gomez, Fashion Editor
Photography: Ashley Nudge, Careers Editor & Editor-In-Chief