Jill Stewart, designer and maker
After teaching herself the skills she needed, Jill set up Stone Rose Jewellery. Her business has been featured in Vogue magazine.
I’m from Hetton originally. I'm now based in Sunderland.
What job do you do?
I run Stone Rose Jewellery. I design, make and sell jewellery.
I work mainly with Swarovski crystals, pearls, beading, and wire-wrapping. For my 'burnt paper' collection, I used sheet silver and shaped it with tools.
I also work with metal clay – I shape it, then heat it in a kiln. When heated, it turns back into pure silver.
How did you get started in jewellery?
I have no formal training in jewellery. I just picked it up one day as a hobby and discovered that I was good at it.
It was a bit depressing and interesting story – my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and I used jewellery making as a coping mechanism. I could bead things for a few hours and keep myself occupied.
The worse he got, the more I made things, and the better I got at making jewellery. As I tried to keep my mind active, I built my skills up more and more.
When my dad died, I realised I wanted to really do this properly. I was working for the government's Business Link scheme as an advisor, and I ended up taking redundancy.
"I have no formal training. I picked up jewellery as a hobby and discovered I was good at it."
That job taught me that it's actually relatively simple to set up a business if you just want to be a self-employed sole trader. It's not as complex as the tax office can make it seem!
After six months, things began to click into place. Just as I was thinking, 'It’s time to give up and get a job', word of mouth began to take off.
Vogue magazine approached me via email and asked if I wanted to be part of an advertorial – they'd come across my website on Google and liked it.
Recently I was also asked to sponsor the Miss Newcastle beauty contest. In return I got the use of a model for my website.
They really liked my pieces, and they gave me a lot of publicity. They also asked to use my collections on the runway for future contests.
What previous jobs have you done?
Apart from Business Link, I worked in a bank. Those jobs definitely gave me an understanding of how business can work.
Stone Rose is the first jewellery work I've done.
What qualifications do you have?
Very few as I'm mainly self-taught. I’ve used books to get a lot of skills.
I did a GCSE in Graphic Design at school, which I did enjoy, and the basic skills it taught me have been helpful.
What do you do at work?
I make rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and hair decorations. The growth of 'prom season' in the UK has made tiaras much more popular. I also have a wedding collection.
I do all the design work by hand. My drawing work is quite minimal. I like to make mockups to show customers if I can, using a cheaper material than I'll use for the final version.
There's never a typical day. It depends what orders I've had in. I might get a phone call in the morning with an order. I make everything to order, so it depends on what happens and who calls.
"Press releases are a good way to promote yourself. Keep hammering away – be persistent!"
I try to book out one day a week to do my accounts.
I do all my jewellery-making from home. I don't have a workshop, but I've got a room that I’ve commandeered in my house. I’ve set up a white tent for photographing my work.
I’ve done a few craft shows and fairs. They're fun, but expensive to take part in – I have to sell enough to cover what I've spent on the ticket price before I start making a profit.
However, at cheaper fairs I don’t sell as well, because I work with crystals, which do put the price up.
What's the best thing about your job?
Getting to meet people when they want to order bespoke designs. There's always a nerve-wracking moment when I'm presenting them with the final piece, but that's all part of what makes it great.
And the worst thing about the job?
Not knowing what will happen next – it’s not a secure job.
In terms of managing your own personal finance, you have to be careful. You also have to get used to not knowing what's around the corner.
How do I get into jewellery?
Here's my advice:
- Believe in yourself
Don’t be put off by the big players in the industry. It's a saturated market. You just have to keep going.
The best thing you can do is come up with that little idea that hasn’t been done yet.
- Network your way through difficulties
Because I sponsored Miss Newcastle, I got the modelling on my website done for free. See if you can get a friend who is good with a camera to help you take some good pictures of your jewellery. See who can do you a favour.
- Use the internet to promote yourself
When you're starting out, remember that marketing doesn't have to cost the earth. As well as asking any friends or contacts to help you, use social networking to promote yourself. I find Facebook and Twitter really useful.
You can also build a website using a low-cost online platform. Make sure it looks good and is accessible – this is how Vogue found me.
- Budget sensibly
Don't get sucked in by the idea that you should pay hundreds of pounds for an advert in the back of a magazine. The return can be really minimal.
Press releases are a better way to promote yourself. Send them to magazines and websites, and keep hammering away – be persistent!