Talented jewellery designer and Kernowcraft customer, Sheila Kerr of Sheila Kerr Jewellery has recently been shortlisted by the National Association of Jewellers for the exciting award of Designer Of The Year.
Sheila has been on an interesting and inspiring journey, going from a business lecturer 5 years ago to starting a full time jewellery business after attending her local college on a silversmithing course.
We spoke to Sheila about her journey, how she got this far in the NAJ awards and her best tips and advice for fellow jewellers.
Firstly, we asked Sheila how her jewellery making journey started:
“My jewellery making journey began as a result of a restructuring of my job 10 years ago. Formerly a promoted lecturer in Business Management and IT with a counselling role, I found myself with the choice of demotion or redundancy. I couldn't afford to resign so I stayed. I enrolled on a silversmithing course at my local college and what started as a hobby became my full time occupation (and passion). I gave up my position as a lecturer 5 years ago and that's when I could fully commit to Sheila Kerr Jewellery.”
There are so many areas of jewellery making and every individual jeweller finds their speciality at some point on their journey. We asked Sheila about finding her speciality:
“At this point my area of speciality is bespoke design both for private individuals and trade customers. When I was learning how to work with precious metals I was told by my tutor that I had a real talent for design (unbeknown to me!). I find that I can work with my customer and design something unique just for them. Some will bring an idea to me while others leave it to me to offer suggestions."
Working to a brief with a specific source of inspiration - whether from yourself or from a customer, is a great way to take your designs to a new level.
For example Sheila used Scottish poet Robert Burns as her source of inspiration for her 'Ae Fond Kiss' collection (pictured above) . She then approached the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (National Trust for Scotland) with her designs and secured herself an outlet.
Developing unique ideas and being able to adapt them to your customer is really valuable.
“Ensure that you receive training on your practice - enrol on a course in jewellery making/silver/goldsmithing. Despite many jewellers being self-taught, I find that I learned so much from my tutor as well as other jewellers."
"I would also recommend learning about customer care. My background in business management has prepared me for the business aspect of jewellery design. It is essential that you provide excellent customer care from the initial design concept through to the finished piece. Enrol on any courses that are available - from the free one day courses offered through Business Gateway to an online course in business management. Of course you can amend the advice to your own situation. Whatever you do try to do it to the best of your ability - word of mouth really works.”
We couldn't agree more with Sheila, customer care is pivotal to a loyal customer base and whether it's a new technique or just inspiration, we are also a big believer in being social with your craft and sharing information - this helps to build trust and get your brand into new places.
To market her jewellery, Sheila first introduced herself to the local market at craft fairs and charity fairs, she went on to do talks and give donations to local groups, building work relations that have proved valuable and long-lasting to her. Even going as far as offering home visits to her customers, just to build a name for herself rather than for profit.
"I offered jewellery parties at my customer's home and I even did a 50th jewellery making workshop in a local hotel. I designed and ran jewellery making courses in my local community centre (10 week beading courses). My teaching background helped me to provide a professional but enjoyable course for my learners."
Later, when she had expanded, she began to advertise in publications, most recently Scottish Field Magazine, one of the most established magazines in Scotland. For digital marketing, she began by creating a website for herself but later employed a specialist designer and manager to run it, alongside running intensive social media strategies to grow her brand in the last 2 years.
We asked Sheila about what being a part of the NAJ awards means to her and her jewellery:
“I am delighted to have been shortlisted to the final stage from across the UK. This alone increases the awareness of my brand. Should I win the award I feel that this is the ultimate accolade and approval of my work from the Trade Body itself - The National Association of Jewellers. This is a prestigious award and whoever wins it should be very proud. This will definitely springboard a designer's work and brand to a worldwide audience.
“I would say that going full time in my jewellery business 5 years ago gave me the time to focus on creating my collections and also seeking outlets. This in turn increased my private commission work. I also concentrated on developing relationships with my customers via social media and al lof this got me where I am today" .
We're certainly very excited for her! It's a huge achievement for anyone to be shortlisted for an award of this scale.
Many hobbyist Jewellery makers would love to turn their hobby into a profitable and expandable business. We asked Sheila if she had any tips for fellow jewellery makers wishing to make jewellery full time. She had some great advice to give:
“Remember that a business is not a hobby - that seems quite obvious but a business means that you must make profit."
"Sales are good but it is profit that puts food on your table."
"Passion is essential and if you love what you do you then you will succeed."
"Know your numbers - remember to cost your work and sell at the right price. Many hobbyists undersell their work."
"Work hard - you'll need to work very hard with little reward until later."
"Don't give up employment until you are sure you can make a living from your hobby. This might mean working extremely long hours. However, time to reflect and look at your business needs to be built into your busy schedule."
"Look after yourself. Think of yourself as an employee of the business - regular health checks, eye tests, occasional pamper sessions, massage etc. take some time for yourself even just an hour a day."
And Finally "Be happy and enjoy the bumpy ride!"
Thank you very much to Sheila for taking the time for this interview, and to give such great advice and insight for our readers. All of us at Kernowcraft wish her the best of luck in the upcoming nomination at the NAJ.