Strong Yet Feminine Profiles are a series of interviews, showcasing ambitious women who are striving to follow their passion. Many are working full time and pursuing their dream on the side, some have already taken the leap, and share their experiences (the good and the bad!).
Any career decision is difficult, but making a leap into a different field, in order to pursue a true passion, has to be one of the most inspiring stories. I know, for me, hearing stories like these were crucial to bolstering my confidence when considering my own change in direction.
Sally Lane Jewellery is designed for exactly such Strong Yet Feminine women…the fierceness of the edgy triangle jewellery is the perfect accessory to these confident, go get ‘em ladies...all power to you!
Rachel Richards, Director of The Wearer Ltd, shares her story of how walking past a tiny jewellery shop with a ‘for lease’ sign was the spark that ignited the fire, building inside, to finally launch her own business. Plus, we talk candidly about imposter syndrome!
Sally: Tell us a bit about your career history and what lead you to this point
Rachel: I used to be a buyer for the high street for accessories and footwear. I got made redundant, two years ago, and took another role for a large retailer quite quickly and unfortunately didn’t love it. It was very corporate, with so much office politics…so intense and not a great environment. I ended up leaving without anything to go to. I’d always wanted to design my own stuff but didn’t feel I could do that immediately without anything to fall back on.
I started doing some consultancy around the corner [in Islington] for a fashion company and when I was doing that I started working on a concept for an online, London based, independent jewellery store. Then one day I was walking past at lunchtime, and saw this little jewellery shop. It was a total mess. It looked about half the size of what it does now because it was so stacked with stuff, and it had a little card in the window saying it needed someone to take on the rent. I started to think to myself: ‘Okay…I can see the potential here…nice area, already a bit of a jewellery destination, OKAY’. After thinking about it a bit further I just took the plunge and used all my redundancy money to open it which, as you can imagine, is a pretty huge step!
By that point I had already been building the concept, brand and designers for the online version, so it was just a case of putting it into the physical space. I just thought there’s not actually many jewellery shops in London that do this premium fashion jewellery. There’s a lot that do fine jewellery, a lot of the more high-street ones like Monica Vinader and Pandora, but on this level, there’s not much.
Sally: Have your friends and family been supportive?
Rachel: Everyone says: ‘Wow, you’re so brave doing this’. I don’t feel brave, I feel mad sometimes. I’m amazed at how many people think this is so impressive but to me this is not particularly impressive. It’s a tiny little shop but has the potential to be a better business and I have a long way to go.
Sally: Well I do think it is impressive. It is a very scary thing to opt out of a monthly salary and risk failure. Why don’t you give yourself more credit?
Rachel: I find I get imposter syndrome; when you just think: ‘This is rubbish, I’m not good enough to do this, this isn’t going to work’. Like when people asked me what I was going to do after I left my last job, and I’d say: ‘I’m going to open my own business’ [said pulling a very strange face and in a weird voice like she was embarrassed]. I just felt like I didn’t believe I was really going to. Like it was something I couldn’t do, but I’m here doing it. It’s so weird to have that feeling hanging over us.
Sally: Yes, that well documented female thing. I’ve only just become comfortable with answering the: ‘What do you do?’ question with: ‘I’m a Jewellery Designer’. Somewhere inside there is a voice saying: ‘No you’re not’. Why do we do that? Well at least we recognise it and continue despite it!
Rachel: I really don’t know. When I went to all these start-up events, you find all these people that are so confident in their ideas, and it puts doubt in my mind about my ideas because I struggle with confidence.
Sally: We are really very hard on ourselves, but I do think everyone is like that. It’s all a front…no one is ever as confident as they appear. The most confident appearing are usually the least! I do find myself coming back to the cliché ‘fake it until you make it’. But I apply it to my confidence, rather than my skills. Because I’m not faking it, I’m really doing it!
Apart from in real conversations like these which are helpful to others in similar situations, I try and remember that I need to emanate success always from a sales perspective. No one wants to hear that it is difficult or that you haven’t had as many sales as you had hoped.
However, it is so important that we share these emotions with other people in this start-up situation, particularly women, because everyone imagines that you go from nothing to something, and that anything in between is a failure. But the journey is the most rewarding part, and I would want to encourage anyone to take on the challenge, and know that ‘hard’ is completely normal!
Sally: Is there some one you have taken inspiration from, when things get ‘hard’?
Rachel: It’s interesting actually: I’ve made new contacts from doing this, even though I’m in the shop alone, much of the time. I’ve been trying to take advantage of free start up events and been working at Google Campus when I’m not in the shop. I met a reasonably new friend this way who’s just sold her business, doing something totally different from me(it’s a techy business). Her first business totally failed, but she’s just sold her second business which she started at 42 for a lot of money. It just goes to show that just because you fail at something, doesn’t mean that’s the end. Just keep going. She’s been really inspiring to hear from. She’s very experienced and she can say ‘I f**ked up but it’s still okay to keep going’ so knowing her is a good confidence builder.
Sally: I’m so happy you said that. I find it so often that it takes these stories to give us courage, and that is very much the point of this blog.
Sally: How has it been moving from an office to a shop?
Rachel: There are some days quieter than others and that is good because I need to get work done on my computer, but I have found being in here seven days a week, within these four walls, that my focus and drive started to wane.
I worked with a few big retailers, so I have always worked in large teams and buzzy offices. I thought working on my own and being my own boss would be amazing, a revelation, but I actually find it very difficult not having someone to share thoughts with and just bounce ideas off. Which is why Google Campus is great as you get to be around other startups.
There are days when I have had to close to go to trade fairs or to see suppliers but generally I’m just in the shop, so it has been so great to finally be able to hire another sales person to give me the flexibility to be in a work environment to focus on the business properly, especially at the weekends.
Sally: How did you find them?
Rachel: He’s a friend of a friend and he’s amazing at selling, which is a massive help. He started doing two days a week and now he’ll be doing five days a week.
Sally: Did you find you weren’t as good at selling as you imagined? Obviously, it is a very difficult skill to buying!
Rachel: The problem I have is I’m not very pushy. For me, if I’m shopping I want to be left alone because I know what I like, and I want to browse in quiet. Therefore, it doesn’t come naturally to me to tell people coming into the shop what to buy. However, I worked in retail for many years and I know that most people like to be told what suits them and what they should purchase, so he is just better at that, but it’s starting to come more naturally to me as I watch him in action with the customers.
Sally: It’s good to have someone to learn from. I am very conscious of being overly pushy with my customers, but I know that I should be more salesy than I am, sometimes. I hate to think of myself as annoying people when they are just wanting a browse!
Sally: So now you have someone on board, what is your next step?
Rachel: I’d like to focus on producing content for the website to drive SEO. I am very pleased with the look of it considering I’m not at all techy and have built it myself, but I know content is important as well as products on offer.
I’m also possibly thinking about another shop…maybe! I’d like to widen the range to other accessories, since my background is accessories. You can see I’ve snuck in some sunglasses and handbags so it’s not strictly jewellery here, but I’d love to expand that more.
Sally: That’s very cool that you’re thinking about expanding the business!
Rachel: Thinking yes…thinking.
Sally: Thinking is the first step!
Rachel: I’d also love to design my own collection one day…so much to do!