BAJ Insight: Five important takeaways from my talk at Graduation

BAJ Insight: Five important takeaways from my talk at Graduation

Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.

First let me start by offering my congratulations to all the 2017 graduates who picked up their diplomas on Friday night at the British Academy of Jewellery graduation ceremony. It was a huge honour to be among you all on such a special evening.

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And what a night it was. I joked at the beginning of my talk that the BAJ Graduation far outstripped my own due to the flowing booze and canapés, as well as Sofie Boons’ poignant but hilarious speech (I still have the image of Golum reaching for his ‘precioussssss’ on loop in my mind). But in all seriousness, it has to be the best graduation I’ve ever attended.

Head of Academy – Sofie Boons

Inspirational speech

For those of you who didn’t join us at the Royal Institution in Mayfair (what a fabulous venue!), I was asked to join the celebrations and host a live discussion with some professionals who have already made it in the jewellery industry. I was delighted to be joined on stage by: jewellery designer of the moment and BAJ alumnus Anissa Kermiche, whose debut collections have been snapped up by retailers including Net-a-Porter and who won the prestigious EC One Unsigned Award 2017; Anna Loucah, a pioneering ethical jewellery designer-maker and co-founder of ethical jewellery conference Flux; Jessica Miller and Amy Thomas, founders of jewellery PR firm JA PR and jewellery sales agent The Jewellery Showroom, which hosts buyer events in London, Paris and New York; and Sarah Burton, senior fashion buyer at iconic London department store Fortnum & Mason, who has worked for high-profile brands including Ralph Lauren and Anthropologie and is now responsible for Fortnum’s diverse jewellery offer.

Guest Panel Discussion

It was a lively panel, brimming with sparkling discussion. We talked through each of the panellists’ journeys into the jewellery industry and spoke of the hurdles that new graduates might face as they set out on their own careers. The talk was both entertaining (Anissa’s make-it-until-you-fake it story won the most laughs) and informative, with each industry expert dishing out great advice to the audience. So for those who missed it, or just want a recap, here are some of the most important points that rose from the evening.

Guest Panel Discussion

Social media is a powerful tool

Anissa Kermiche built her brand on Instagram after a famous fashion influencer friend wore her jewels and they were spotted by her first stockist Matches Fashion. It is also one of Sarah Burton’s key hunting grounds when looking for new brands. Another interesting point to come out of the discussion is that the panel now put less faith in trade shows, preferring to use social media and find/showcase brands at boutique events like The Jewellery Showroom. So take social media seriously, and as Amy Thomas and Jessica Miller reminded us – it is an extension of everything you do, so make it fit with the ethos of your business. Also, decide whether you want to be a brand or a designer-maker, and adjust your communication accordingly (designer-makers can be more conversational and personal, while brands should be slick).

Anissa Kermiche

The Jewellery Showroom

Fake it until you make it

One of the funniest stories of the evening was Anissa Kermiche’s tale of securing her first stockist. Whilst nursing a broken heart on a beach holiday, she spotted an email from a buyer at Matches Fashion who wanted to meet with her at her showroom and look at her line sheet. Not only did she have neither of these things, she wasn’t even sure what they were. But, a quick Google search later, she decided to blag it and agreed. From the beach, she ordered cabinets and furniture from Ikea and once home transformed her spare room into a showroom just in time for the buyer arriving. She still had no idea what a line sheet was, but her honesty with the buyer about this won her some kudos.

Work for someone else

Apart from Anna Loucah, who went straight into self-employed life as a designer-maker after studying and travelling (and has had a really successful career doing so, including designing jewels for Livia Firth’s Green Carpet initiative), all of the panellists advised going to work for someone else before setting up your own business. Everyone starting out makes mistakes, they advised, and it’s much better to do so with someone else’s money. This raised a few giggles from the audience, but the message rings true. Absorb all you can from an established business, make mistakes with the security blanket of a wage, and then set out on your own. Because running a jewellery business is not just about making jewellery: there’s running a team, balancing the books, negotiating with suppliers and buyers, PR strategies… the list goes on, and on.

Guest Panel Discussion

Don’t get a PR straight away

One of the questions from the audience was at what point a designer or brand should take on a PR. Though I had expected JA PR to jump in and shout ‘immediately!’, they actually shared that they often turn brands away they can tell are not ready for PR. Anissa Kermiche also advised to do it yourself until you can no longer handle the workload. Not only does it save money in the short term, she advised, it also helps you to understand how that world works, and so what to expect from a PR company.

JAPR – Amy Thomas and Jessica O’ Dowd

Network, network, network

A message that came clear and loud from all of the panellists was that networking is key to building any kind of a career in the jewellery industry, whether you find yourself working in manufacturing, retail or design, for yourself or for someone else. Opportunities are so often only discovered over a glass of something bubbly at a networking event, and connections often best made whilst sharing a canapé. This was something BAJ 2017 graduates could try out immediately at the packed reception in the library after our talk.