Made in RI: Crowns for Beauty Queens

Apr 10, 2013

We continue an ongoing series we call “Made in Rhode Island.” It’s a look at companies that have persevered in the Ocean State despite what many view as an unfriendly business climate. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Flo Jonic caught up with a Cranston businessman whose products make dreams come true. 

Credit Flo Jonic/RIPR

When 25-year-old Ashley Hooks was named Miss Illinois USA last year the tiara placed on her head came from Dina, Inc. of Cranston.

The company occupies a non-descript gray and blue stucco building on Dyer Avenue.  It has no sign but company owner John Bordieri said they have no trouble finding customers. 

“We do Miss USA. We do all the states,” said Bordieri. “Miss America, we do a lot of the states for the princess program. Miss Universe, we make pins and whatever they need. We go to the pageants also and we sell our jewelry there and whatnot. You know we gear everything for the pageants.”

When you enter Dina your eye is drawn to a wall of tiaras and crowns, from the simple to the most elaborate. They make 200 different styles and also do custom made orders.   Next door is the workroom where employees set rhinestones at well-lit workbenches. It doesn’t look anything like what it was before Bordieri started making crowns here – a restaurant that his wife ran until she got tired of the business in 1972.

He employs four people and does about three-quarters of a million dollars in business annually.

“I always wanted to get into the crowns,” said Bordieri. “And it’s a good thing because the jewelry industry really died in Rhode Island. We still do jewelry but not as much as we did years ago. So now every organization has some kind of a crowning. You know whether it’s a football game. They have the cheerleaders, homecoming.  We do a lot of homecomings. We do bridal and all the pageants. You can’t imagine how many pageants there are. Everybody gets a crown.”

Owner John Bordieri solders at crown at Dina Inc.
Credit Flo Jonic/RIPR

The making of tiaras, crowns and scepters is a labor-intensive business. The brass frames are molded by machine but much of the rest of the process is done by hand.   The Swarovski rhinestones they use -- which come in 500 foot rolls -- have to be cut to length. Then each rhinestone is individually soldered into place. And finally, the tiaras are washed in Tide detergent for about 15 minutes. The work is so labor-intensive the company contracts out some of its soldering.

Dina Inc. has been good to Bordieri. He’s been able to raise four children comfortably and likes to say:

“I tell my wife ‘if I die tomorrow I had a good life’ and I tell her that all the time.”

But his son, Chris, who stands to inherit the business, worries about competition from the Chinese.

“China really did a number on us,” said the younger Bordieri “because a lot of people are sending their stuff to be made over in China because it’s all junk first of all anyway, the stuff from China. It’s not like what we make. We use all Swarovski crystal. But it’s unbelievably cheaper. We can’t even come close to what they’re selling it for.”

But his father, John, reassures him, saying China can’t beat the United States for fast, quality service.

“You know they can make it as well as we can but we can do things -- turn them over pretty quick and whatnot and make them the way they want them.”

Chris Bordieri will have to wait a while to run the business. His father, John, who’s pushing 70,  said he has no plans to retire.

“I’ll probably never retire because it’s really not a difficult job and I’m my own boss so I can come and go as I please. But I work at least 40 to 50 hours a week. I come here every day, whether it’s Christmas, Easter any day. “

John Bordieri gripes about the state corporate taxes he pays. He’s bothered by the $500 a year tax, up from $250 in 2004.  But he said this is home and he’s never seriously considered leaving Rhode Island. 

“I’m too old to leave now. I’ll be 70 in May and where am I going to go? You know? I like Rhode Island. It’s a beautiful state. It’s got everything you need. There’s no congestion with traffic and everything else.”

Dina Inc. is the story of a company that defied the odds – setting up shop at a time when most of the jewelry industry was abandoning Rhode Island. And it’s a gamble that’s paid off.