Not long ago, Vasiliki “Vicki” Gkarmiri, was a family physician in Greece. She readily admits that if you had told her 10 years ago she would be running a jewelry business in Plano, she would have rolled her eyes and laughed.
But marriage, kids and current events have a way of changing things. Today, she’s an American entrepreneur running her own jewelry business known as Next Door Goddess.
“At 45, I had lived my dream to become a physician beyond my wildest expectations,” Gkarmiri says. “But there was this little voice inside calling me to what had been my creative outlet for more than 30 years: designing and making jewelry to help women express on the outside the vivacious goddess they have on the inside.”
The name Next Door Goddess comes from a nickname colleagues used to tease her with. She was a member of an online group of doctors who would discuss cases they were having difficulty dealing with. Some jokingly called her “The Greek Goddess.” At first, it seemed like an awkward nickname. Soon, she came to embrace it as something of a compliment.
Of course, “Greek Goddess” was already taken by the time she began planning her business. She recalls a late night talking with her mother-in-law about what to name her endeavor. Around 2 a.m. that evening, she grew tired and decided to take a bath when the thought of being a goddess next door came to her.
When she attempted to register the domain name, she discovered that it was taken as well. As luck would have it, around two weeks later she received an email informing her that it had become available.
The Road to a Dream
Starting a new business in a foreign land is no easy task. Gkarmiri’s husband, Dimitris, was born in the States but grew up in Greece. When he finished high school, he attended college at MIT and later started his own American consulting business. However, after having his life threatened in New York, he decided to return to his native land.
Not long after, he met Vicki. Before they married, she made him promise that they would make Greece their home. Unfortunately, things were not great there at the time. Worried about what the future held, he maintained his business in the U.S., which meant he was often away from his family.
The couple eventually had three kids. They would often cry when dad had to leave on another long business trip. Gkarmiri came to realize that living for months apart was not the married life had envisioned. She began looking into the immigration process, but there was just one problem.
“I was the problem,” she recalls. “He was an American, and the kids got passports because their dad he one, but I did not.”
After two years of working through the immigration process, the family was able to move to the U.S. in 2019. At first, Vicki and Dimitris came on their own in search of a home. They considered Seattle initially before a friend suggested Plano.
“The moment I set foot in Plano, I had a feeling this is the American movie,” she says. “We don’t have that kind of setting in Greece.”
Back there, most families live in block flats. Here, there are homes with yards, and everything seemed to be neat and in place. The people they met were friendly and welcoming so they figured they would give it a shot. They found a home in record time and were on their way to a happy new adventure.
Adjusting to a new home proved challenging. For one thing, she no longer had the help of her in-laws with their three kids. Nannies are much more expensive here than back in Greece. Her kids, two of which did not know English, also needed help adjusting.
Gkarmiri says she was torn about how to proceed. She loved being a doctor but was also passionate about her art. Dimitris said he would support her whichever direction she chose. The lightbulb moment came when she asked herself the question, “if you die tomorrow, what was the one thing you never had a chance to bring to life? What would she regret not doing?”
And Then the Pandemic
As she was gearing up to start the business, it seemed as if the entire world shut down. They found themselves isolated in their home. Close family members died in Greece, and they couldn’t even visit.
The family persevered, and last year Gkarmiri was able to finally able to start selling jewelry. She says that one of the most important things she learned through the experience was learning to accept where you are and trust in the process.
Through her jewelry, Gkarmiri hopes to help women feel better about themselves. While she is a big believer that what’s inside the person is most important, there’s also nothing wrong with making them feel good on the outside too.
“The philosophy behind the whole brand is that there is a goddess inside every woman,” she says. “ All we have to do is find her, tap into her and bring her out.”
The pieces that she makes in her studio are intended to be colorful artisanal statement jewelry inspired by Greece and the Mediterranean terrain. She hopes they will bring “elevated bohemian spice to women’s outfits.” Due to the pandemic, her business has come almost exclusively through online orders. However, she is looking forward to soon going to shows and pop-up events. If things keep expanding at the rate they are now, she may soon need a new studio space too.
A portion of all sales goes to support new mothers and their babies. As a mom and a physician, she understands how challenging postpartum time can be.
“When you bring a new baby into the world sometimes it feels like you don’t matter,” she says. “Before, everybody is touching your belly, taking care of you. Then suddenly you may feel inside that you want to give everything to the baby, even when you still need to mother yourself.”
She’s also created special pieces to raise money to help those affected by the war in Ukraine. While she may no longer be a practicing family physician, Gkarmiri hopes to continue to give back in as many ways as she can to be a part of the bigger story.