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Articles from EDUCATION / TRAINING (185 Articles), BUYING GROUPS (88 Articles), (PAID ONLY) HANDMADE JEWELLERY (29 Articles)

E.G. Etal
E.G. Etal

Creative, young and hungry

Emerging jewellery designers could give your store a unique point of difference. Naomi Levin finds out how the industry can make better use of these new talents
With store managers choosing to focus more on imports during a retail period that many argue is tougher than ever, the jewellery industry appears to be divided as to how young designers can fit into the established business model of a jewellery shop. One thing almost all retailers agree on, is that including pieces from a talented, young designer is destined to create a point-of-difference in a brand-packed market.

Stroll down to one of the numerous craft markets that are being held in every capital city and you will see a range of jewellery stalls. Manning those stalls are designers who have either spent months crafting the pieces, or have sketched their ideas and had them manufactured overseas. A lot of the time, those stall holders are TAFE- or university-trained jewellers who draw on eclectic inspiration and different materials to construct creative pieces.

It is proof that the talent is there, but it is not finding its way to the shopping strips or centres. Why is that? Especially seeing as, according to Emma Goodsir, director of jewellery gallery e.g. etal, it is not a hard sell.

Despite a notably lacklustre retail environment at the moment, Goodsir says her business is healthy. But it is not by accident; she puts an incredible amount of effort into selecting and then working with local jewellery designers, who she then gives cabinet space in her Melbourne CBD store.

“I go to all the graduate exhibitions and I give an award at all the exhibitions to designers, which means that our name is known in the institutions and we have a strong association with the institution” she says.

The work has paid off, now, 13 years after first opening its doors, most of e.g. etal’s designers find the store – not the other way around.

Sarah Ross, manager of Studio Ingot, which also focuses on handmade jewellery, says her studio concentrates on the niche market. “Maybe it doesn’t belong on the high street,” she says, arguing that many Australian jewellery store owners have become “de-skilled and are competing with cheap labour”, so don’t have the expertise to trade in cutting-edge, hand-made design.

“Someone who has a shop full of mass-produced produce cannot just fill it with new designs,” Ross says. “If it’s not the philosophy of your business, people are not going to come looking for it and the staff don’t know how to sell it.

“It is patronising to imagine you can stock your shop with arty stuff and it will just walk out the door – it is hard work,” she adds.

The hard work part of running a gallery-style jewellery store is something Goodsir can attest to. As part of her job, she spends a lot of time developing her talent. The e.g. etal director invites designers for a meeting, sometimes even before they are ready to present their first collection. “I’m happy to give feedback,” she says. “I will give them advice, really practical stuff, taking into consideration technicalities, pricing, marketing and selling. They might have a lot of meetings before coming back and presenting.

“Being a jeweller myself really helps because I know the whole process back to front and I can advise them every step of the way. I’m also a jeweller that is represented at e.g. etal, so I’m in the same boat as them.”

Once a month, e.g. etal also hosts a coffee morning inviting independent jewellery designers, including those who don’t supply the store. “Any jeweller can come because a lot of these jewellers are working in isolation in their own studio so there is an opportunity to trade tips and information about suppliers and the best way to source materials,” Goodsir says.

Asked how she manages to dedicate so much time to the designers, Goodsir says she sees it as part of her role. “I don’t just do it for everyone; there are lots of people that do present who I write back ‘no’ to,” she says. While she gives the designers her time and expertise, in return Goodsir says she expects “extreme professionalism”. She gives her most recently added suppliers leeway “to a degree, but I definitely see it as a learning process”. She notes, “There are times when I’ve had to say ‘pull your socks up’.”

If it works for Goodsir, why doesn’t it work for other jewellery retailers? Jewellers Association of Australia chief executive Ian Hadassin says he cannot think of any JAA members supporting young, home-grown talent. “I’m not aware of it happening,” he says, adding that in his time in retail, “I never received one pitch from one designer”.

But Melissa Harris, of Sydney’s Melissa Harris Jewellery, says designers approach her once every couple of months. “I have always been open to stocking emerging designers. It is simply a matter of readiness of the designer, and the refinement of their work,” she says. “Our shop has always been about something unusual, particular to our store and not widely available, and new designers are able to often present a unique perspective.”

Like Goodsir, Harris gives a degree of leeway to emerging designers, but not at the expense of running a successful business. “We can often be a little forgiving on delivery, however designers must appreciate that sometimes PR works on advanced lead times and if promotion is done or events are organised, deadlines must be met,” she says.

Harris also provides feedback to young designers on how to make a product sell better or ways to enhance its wearability, for example by making the piece lighter or using stronger fittings.

Victoria Mathews is a young designer stocked by boutiques including e.g. etal and Studio Ingot. She has also appeared in numerous exhibitions. She says she does not even try to pitch to the more mainstream jewellery shops because all she sees in those outlets are things that “are quite cheap and mass produced”. “It is a bit frustrating considering there are so many jewellers,” she says. “A gallery like Studio Ingot is used to handmade jewellery and they are used to selling that,” she says.

Mathews, whose collection includes ranges inspired by nature and 1950s suburbia, is surprised more jewellers don’t support her and her peers. “Customers like handmade things and they like things that are unique,” she says. “It would mean shops can be ahead of the trends and getting new work in. People have put a lot of time and effort into their collections.”

Hadassin does not disagree that creative pieces attract customer attention, however he notes an industry trend that is preventing this type of product from being offered in most stores. “Unfortunately our industry is price-driven and has been for the past 15 years,” he says. “All the marketing is [based around] discounts. I think that is the complete wrong way to go. It is a completely negative way to market and puts you on a downward spiral.”

One strategy he would be keen to see tried is more work being pitched by consignment and designers focusing on making their work creative and commercially attractive to mainstream customers.

“You think designers design out of passion, but then it might not be what people want to buy,” he says. “Really way-out designs don’t sell.”

From a retailer’s point of view, he says they could encourage customers to buy the emerging designers’ work by thinking more carefully about price. “Retailers, if they’re getting it on consignment, might be able to give it a smaller mark-up because they are not having to make big orders.”

David Brown from The Edge Retail Academy agrees with Hadassin that the key to integrating new designers into an existing store offer is to ensure its commercial viability.

“The qualifier [of promoting emerging talent] is that it still has to sell or help other products sell,” he says. “Statistically, 60 per cent of what a jewellery store buys doesn’t sell in 18 months. Statistically, these [new designs] have less of a chance because they are not mainstream.”

However, he says, stocking work by creative designers can have its benefits beyond direct sales. “They [retailers] could do marketing or events around it, or have the designer in the store to talk about the products,” he suggests. “Ultimately it should lead to sales – there should be sales of and sales from.”

The price of handmade or creative designs is also an issue for Joshua Zarb, managing director of Leading Edge buying group. “The price has got to be realistic and it has to be in the realm of mainstream pricing,” he says. “It can’t not be commercial.”

Designers would also have to provide a service to the storeholder that would not eat too much into the managers’ time and that would be good enough to showcase. “Retailers are busier and busier. Unless you make it easy for them, they don’t have the time,” says Zarb, adding, “at the end of the day, the retailer has limited window space and they’re looking for something to stand out against international competition”.

And Zarb, who oversees 83 Leading Edge jewellers, is being listened to. Lynley Traeger, who teaches jewellery courses at Melbourne’s NMIT, says the TAFE teaches students both technical skills and business skills.

“In the first year the students do handskills and it is very prescribed,” Traeger explains. “In the second year, it is a big leap to much bigger projects.”

At the end of the second year, the students hold a showcase, which is open to the public, retailers and buyers. This year, it will be held at Northcote Town Hall on November 17, and students are already preparing. The showcase gives students “ a platform to leave from” once they complete the course. “We encourage them to think of where to go to next year,” she says.

Asked whether she could see her students preparing collections for mainstream jewellers, she says graduates come from a very broad base and some of them could certainly do that. “I wouldn’t say all shops that sell jewellery would be suitable,” she says. “But I think customers now are educated – some are very educated and only buy contemporary.”

Retailers have to put time into their talent if they want home-grown designs to sell, the teacher argues. While she understands why retailers prefer to take collections by consignment, it can create significant cash flow issues for the designer if the pieces take a while to sell and can prevent them from developing new collections. Creative thinking is needed to confront this issue, she says.

Similarly, retailers need to think hard before putting restrictions on young designers.

“If a shop only allow you to sell to them, how do you survive?” Traeger says. “If a shop wants to act as an agent they need to be doing things to promote you,” she says. “That’s why you end up finding artists at markets; they promote themselves and get direct feedback. I can appreciate the exclusive factor from the retailers’ point of view, but not from the makers’ point of view. She concludes: “There needs to be more compromise.”

As Jeweller found out when doing the young jeweller call out, there are a lot of views and opinion, but it seems that compromise is the key to encouraging more emerging, young talent. That compromise needs to come from the designers themselves, who need to meld creativity with commercial viability. It also needs to come from the retailers, who would do well to take a chance on a young designer or two and help them along to produce a unique line that will sell.

Image Gallery (7 Images)

Naomi Levin
Contributor •

Naomi Levin is a journalist who knows a little bit about a lot of things. She has worked as a sports journalist and is currently a political and general news reporter, in addition to writing for Jeweller.
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