Time for another burst of creativity on a Friday! One thing I’ve always wanted to do more of, is interviewing small-business owners in their own studios. There’s something about seeing all of that inspiration, mixed with random knick-knacks and past collections that is so exciting to me and gives a real sense of what a person is like. After spotting some of her wares at #EtsyMadeLocal, I knew that I wanted to interview Lucie Ellen, a jewellery and homewares designer who works out of her garden studio in East London. With two cats for company and a unique way of making, I thought her story would be useful for any of you who are thinking about signing up to the Etsy Resolution programme, wondering how this business malarkey all works or just in need of a new necklace to buy.
I did an art foundation when I was 18, which was the best year of education ever. If I could do it again, I would. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, so I went to Anglia Polytechnic in Cambridge, did a year there and left early. I then attended LCP (now LCC) for a little while, but then realised after a lot of thought that University and graphic design weren’t for me, so I took some time off and started working in a vintage shop. I’ve always been making things my whole life. I remember badgering my Granddad at the age of eight, saying that I wanted to cut things out of wood and make them into badges. I found some of my attempts recently and it was so surreal! I started making jewellery properly in around 2007. It was only when a friend complimented it and told me I should get a market stall, that I seriously considered making it into something more.
My style was completely different at the time, it was literally Early Learning Centre animals with brooch pins stuck on the back. It wasn’t particularly technical. I mostly used found things, like buttons, components, toys, even tiddlywinks and glued them together. I then started working in a workshop and got into woodwork. It’s only in the past 2 years that I’ve found an aesthetic and way of working that I’m finally happy with. Admittedly it’s been a lot of trial and error, trying different kinds of wood, paint and varnishes. I don’t think anyone else really works the way I do and I’ve had to be really inventive. Now I’ve figured it out, I can focus more on the design. It seems to be working, I’m doing really well at the moment, *touches wood* and I’m making the things that I want to make, rather than the things that I think people want.
I started selling on Etsy back in March 2010. It was a really exciting thing and not many people had heard of it. It had come over from America and the aesthetic there was just so incredible and different to what was going on with the handmade scene in Britain. I just knew I wanted to be part of it and see if anyone wanted to buy anything. It’s been hard work. Photography has been a huge learning curve and product descriptions too. I’m not a writer. On some days it can come really easily but on others I can just about remember how to speak! There’s always been the Etsy seller handbook and the blog, which has been handy. At that time it was fairly easy to get found, there were fewer people and some tricks that would let you get right to the top of the search results. Through that I had a lot of people saving my items and buying things. Etsy UK also really got behind me and gave me a lot of promotion so I was really lucky.
Due to family commitments, I needed a flexible job. At one point I was working in the vintage shop that sold my jewellery four days a week, doing a market every Saturday and Sunday and spending my ‘day off’ making stock for the market. I knew I couldn’t carry on like this. I had a chat with my Granny and she was great, she basically said ‘I think you should start taking your jewellery making a lot more seriously and think about leaving your job.’ In addition my Mum was really ill and I decided to move back home to Suffolk for three years along with my wife Sarah. My Mum passed away in 2010. It was a difficult time, but I was able to build up my business enough to sustain myself and move back to London. I think my mum would have been thrilled, she was an incredibly creative person and my main inspiration.
I’m still learning about marketing and social media. Marketing is probably the hardest part of the job but it’s something I’ve got on my agenda for this year. I know my stuff sells, it’s just getting it out there. Instagram has been the best tool for me, my sales have gone up since I started using it, even though I’ve got just over 3k followers and still don’t really understand hashtags. I feel comfortable using it though, I’m not one for self-promotion but it’s a really creative way of getting your product out there. One of the downsides is that it’s difficult to not compare yourself to people. I’m at home on my own and all I ever see of everybody else is what they want me to see, which tends to be positive. Then you see them in real life and they say ‘Oh, I’ve been so awful!’ Comparison and jealousy can be a debilitating thing, but fortunately there’s been a lot of posts written about it.