While studying at BAJ, Jewellery Fundamentals student Yvonne Oshodi runs her own jewellery brand Maeve Hardware, a Nigerian-British brand with bold pieces that aim to embody female power with a hint of masculinity. Recently, Maeve Hardware was featured in Vogue Arabia and showcased as part of Elle magazine’s “60 New Black Businesses to Follow.” In this interview, Yvonne shares what it’s like to run – and find success with – an independent jewellery brand while studying at BAJ.
BAJ: Why did you choose to study at BAJ?
Yvonne: I chose to study at BAJ because it was a step up in my career. I’d already launched my business and I’ve been designing jewellery for about two years now but I wanted to take it a step further and be part of the process in terms of the making of the items. I used to make jewellery, little handmade pieces that I was selling, but I didn’t quite have the skillset I needed to manufacture real quality pieces that would last through time.
So, I decided to attend BAJ to get the skills I needed to take control of the whole manufacturing process for myself including polishing and soldering, all of those things to create a finished piece. It was about improving my skills to provide better quality pieces, working with precious metals, and really knowing the right techniques to be able to do that.
BAJ: How would you describe the learning environment at BAJ?
Yvonne: It’s great, we’re mainly in the workshop all day so it’s great to be able to be in an official workshop space and continuously practice and improve your skills over and over again. It’s great to have a guiding tutor there with you that can help you through any mistakes or let you know if the quality of your work is improving.
It’s nice to actually be in the environment of the workshop and know how that actually feels as it’s what you’re going to be doing in the future. It’s nice to be around other creative people and hear their ideas. Hearing where people want to take this qualification and what they’re aspiring to gets your creativity flowing, it inspires you a lot more when you have people around you with a similar mind-set.
BAJ: How have you found studying this term with the extra Covid-19 health and safety measures in place?
Yvonne: It’s actually been good. Other than having to be in a [student] bubble and wearing a mask and stuff, it doesn’t feel much different to normal studying. The college has taken proper precautions to make sure that everybody is ok, wearing face shields and wearing face masks. Honestly it’s been great. It does make you feel a lot safer.
BAJ: How did you start your jewellery brand Maeve Hardware?
Yvonne: I started a few years ago while I was working in retail. I would make earrings and necklaces for myself because I really got tired of seeing the generic stuff that was out there. Working in retail I saw so many people buying the same pieces and I just didn’t like it, mainly because I was, and still am, a collector of vintage jewellery and I liked the fact that I owned one of a kind pieces that nobody else had. So, I decided to start making some pieces for myself. Being in the retail environment I would always get questions about my pieces from customers or other members of staff, so that’s when I decided that it was something I could put some time into and actually sell.
Once I started to sell my pieces, I realised how much I loved doing it and that’s when I decided that I need to up my game and provide something that was more durable, something that would last through time. I decided to really put more thought and imagination into my designs because if this is something that is attached to my name, I want it to be the best it could be. From there, I took myself out of the manufacturing side of things and stuck to designing and started to work in silver, casting and making moulds. For a short time I had someone that was making my pieces for me which of course came out to be much better quality than the little handcrafted DIY pieces.
BAJ: What is it like to run a brand at the same time as studying?
Yvonne: It’s actually really good! I know a lot of people might think that it’s a lot to do all at once but I think it’s great because I’m able to implement things that I learn along the way. The most beneficial thing has been terminology. There’s a lot of terminology in jewellery manufacturing that is confusing if you’re not aware of it. It has given me a bit more confidence when I go to my casters. It’s nice to be able to know what they’re actually doing and being able to correct mistakes.
I’m more vigilant now about how my pieces are being made, I’m able to notice mistakes that I probably would have said is ok before but now the course has opened me up to be able to realise that I need a certain quality and that I shouldn’t settle until that standard has been met. It’s been great, I’ve managed to study and run the business at the same time.
It’s also helped having tutors, like my tutor Vicky, who looks over my pieces and gives me advice. It’s nice to have the opinion of a jeweller as well and get constructive feedback. It’s working hand in hand.
BAJ: Your brand has recently been in a number of publications, could you share a little about that?
Yvonne: The most publications for my brand came this year. I had Elle magazine feature me in the summer which was really great. It was to highlight the 60 new Black businesses to follow so it was really great to have my brand be a part of that. It came as a bit of a shock as well as I wasn’t aware that people knew about what I do, so that’s probably my proudest one because I had no idea that it was going to happen.
Most recently, it was a photoshoot with Vogue Arabia. A stylist reached out to me and said I’ve got a photoshoot and I’d really love for your brand to be a part of it. I sent her the pieces and, before you know it, I get some pictures and I see them in Vogue! It was a full circle moment as I grew up reading these magazines, to see your pieces and see that this particular person is wearing Maeve Hardware, I still can’t believe it, especially when it’s there in print forever, so it was a great, great moment.
It was so nice for me to be a part of an article that was bringing awareness to such an important issue as it was about a group in the UK called the Muslim Sisterhood so it was great to be a part of such a strong female movement. I’m really proud to have my pieces worn by such strong, vocal women.
BAJ: What are your plans for the future?
Yvonne: I just want to keep creating, I never want to stop. I’ll increase my collection and my skills that I have acquired along the way. I want to give people the same feeling I have when I wear jewellery, it just brings me so much joy. I put on pieces and they automatically make me feel more confident. I have pieces that I remember a particular time whenever I wear them and that’s what I want to provide for other people as well. I just want people to wear one of my pieces and feel more confident and know that it’s going to be with them for a long time. I hope people do feel that way and wear it with a sense of pride.
I’m releasing some limited pieces in November so people can have their orders made by Christmas as I have a three-week turnaround. I’m also bringing out some gold pieces which I’ve never done before!
BAJ: What is your advice for anyone who is thinking of studying jewellery and launching a brand?
Yvonne: There are really so many jewellery brands out there, you don’t know until you’ve actually started yourself. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to do what everyone else is doing so that you can be successful too but you need to remember to stay truthful to your creativity because, if you don’t, you’ll lose your passion for it.
Jewellery is a lot of hard work, especially if you’re planning on making pieces by yourself. It’s a lot of dedication and focus. You need to learn about safety, you need to learn techniques which take the time to perfect, and you need patience. To stay true to yourself you have to remember why you decided to do this in the first place and stick to your creativity. Don’t worry what other brands are doing, just focus on yourself and be true to your designs. It might look like a lot of work, but when you’re passionate about it and when you know what the end goal is, it’s never going to feel like a lot of work, it’s going to feel ecstatic.