How this GirlBoss started a jewellery business on a small tropical island
Welcome back to the Girl Boss series. Today we have a very special story from yet another island girl on Koh Tao, Thailand. Amy is the founder & designer of Amy Jennifer Jewellery & her pieces are inspired by her life on this tiny tropical island. Let's hear Amy's story & her business journey.
Q - So Amy, tell us more about your business.
Im a self employed one woman show making handmade silver jewellery in a tiny studio here in Thailand. My studio is in my house and I sell my work online and around Koh Tao. The island that I live on is my main source of inspiration for many of my designs. As someone who used to spend as much time under the water as on land I create jewellery that has incorporated my ocean experiences and influences into the designs.
Q - So you live on Koh Tao island at the moment. Have you always intended to live this kind of lifestyle or did it just happen?
Actually yes. I had always dreamed of living in the tropics, even in school I would tell people one day I will live on an tropical island and make jewellery. Back then I couldn't tell you where or how but it was always what I wanted, I adore the warm climate and being so close to the ocean. Coming to Koh Tao as a tourist 4 years ago I had no idea this would be the place that I would live and achieve those things.
Q - Did you have to do a course in jewellery making & how long did it take to complete?
I did a BA Honours degree in Metalwork and Jewellery at Sheffield Hallam University which took 3 years to complete. Prior to that I did an apprenticeship at my dads jewellery shop for 5 years working under a goldsmith who trained me in the basics of metalwork.
Q - I remember you said that the initial investment was quite high, if it's not a secret, what was the investment and what materials/tools did you have to get in order to get started?
I would say that building my workshop from scratch and getting all the equipment and materials I needed cost approximately 250,000B (£5600 roughly) throughout my first year. The tools I use are so specialist it was incredibly difficult to find certain things with the language barrier and almost all of it was extremely expensive to order because of my location. I am lucky enough to work from home so I didn't need to rent a space and its just me so I don’t need to hire staff. The materials from which I make my jewellery as you can imagine are also a huge expense!
Q - Did you launch your brand on Koh Tao & how did you go about getting word out there? We all know that you need customers in order to sell a product, how did you reach out to people?
Yes Amy Jennifer Jewellery was completely created on Koh Tao, I started this business around October time which was building up to Christmas so as Koh Tao is such a small island it didn't take long for people to hear about a new business opening. Looking back I was completely unprepared for that season but I did well with what I had made and once a handful of locals were wearing my jewellery I didn't have to do much. I have a Facebook, Instagram and Etsy account which is followed and shared by a lot of Koh Tao.
Q - How did you get traction? Like for example what did you do in order to start seeing a good response from people?
I found being the face of my own brand was incredibly successful, being present at all sales, responding quickly and taking the time to connect with people. I’ve always been taught the importance of amazing customer service and its true! Also once people started to realise they can get a piece of jewellery designed and custom made just for them it got really exciting. Obviously having jewellery handmade for you isn't something that you get to experience very often but for some girls they became regular customers really quickly!
Q - What are your avenues of selling your jewellery? I know you have an Etsy store which is a platform that sells hand made goods, you also sell on the island right? And do you have a website yet?
I am currently in the process of building a website which should be ready soon but Etsy is my main online store at the moment. It is also possible to order a custom piece that isn't in my online store through email and PayPal. As for offline once a week I do what I call “Pop up shops” in various locations around the island. Its the best way to show my work to those who don’t live here and for locals to meet up and see what new goodies I have made that week. I also take my gemstone collection incase someone would like to order a custom piece.
Q - What would you say has been the most challenging thing about starting up a jewellery business?
Definitely my location, not having access to a lot of stores that I need is tough. I am a full day of travel away from Bangkok where I source a lot of my tools and gemstones, and the language barrier can be too difficult to place orders via phone or email. I usually make a trip up every couple of months to stock up but running out of something or a broken tool can be a nightmare!
Q - Was there ever a point where you thought, DAMN I'm sinking, what shall I do? And how did you get out of that situation? (When I have that sinking feeling I just think to myself, oh well it's just another big wave and I will ride it out once again). Are you of the same mindset?
Ugh yes this was definitely a thought that popped into my head over the first year but I never really faced any serious problems besides lack of confidence. Its hard being the one in charge and can feel like you are alone in a situation but I remember I have an amazing group of people in my life from working at my Dads jewellery shop to my boyfriend and friends here who are always willing to offer advice or give me a little pep talk. I feel so lucky to have people from all walks of life that I can reach out to and I seriously couldn't of done it without them
Q - What are the highlights of working for yourself & owning a jewellery business?
Working in my pyjamas and spending all day with my cat haha pathetic yes but sadly true. Also being able to work to my own schedule, I work so much at night with less distraction so I feel like I can get a full days work in even if the hours are less than conventional. Its also great to treat myself to a little piece of jewellery every now and then.
Q - Do you ever get those proud moments where you think, HELL YESS I'm actually doing this? Do you have a proud moment that just stayed with you? (One of my proud moments is scrolling through Instagram & seeing photos of my leggings in random places, or when I meet people who have heard of my brand).
For sure! I have recently received a wonderful email from a lady in America who had seen my work through a friend of a friend on Facebook and contacted me to tell me how much she loved my designs and wanted to order a handful of custom pieces. It was an overwhelming feeling that a complete stranger on the other side of the world had seen my work and went out of her way to send such a kind email. In a world where there is so much competition and millions of products it was magical to hear that someone wanted my jewellery.
Q - What are the logistics of shipping like from such a remote island? Is it a nightmare, or is it actually pretty good?
Honestly amazing! It was one of my biggest fears when I started out because if I couldn't reliably ship out then I would be in serious trouble. To test the system I sent a small box of rocks to my parents house to see if it would make it and how long it would take haha .
The postal system here is brilliant, I offer free shipping worldwide because its so affordable. For approx $5 you can ship a small parcel anywhere in the world with a tracking number. The average time for a parcel to reach the UK is 8 days and the USA 3 weeks.
Q - What happens when you want to travel somewhere? Are you working hard & stocking up in advance? Or do you just make an announcement that you're on holiday?
This actually happens a lot I usually leave Thailand at least 3 times a year for various trips. For long trips I will temporary close my Etsy store and leave a notice informing customers of my absence and for short trips I will extend the shipping times to accommodate my time away. I will always remain active online wherever I go and continue to post on Instagram and Facebook and I will explain the extended ordering process via email if necessary.
Q - Where do you find inspiration for your creations & do you sometimes have blockages?
Living on a tropical island leaves me no excuse not to find inspiration, as most of my designs are based around nature and the ocean I don’t have to go far to get what I need. Usually just taking a step away from the workshop and enjoying where I live can reset my brain and get some creative excitement running through me. Loving what I do can sometimes mean I don’t leave my house for days on end but a day at the beach or hike up the mountain will usually do the trick to spark new ideas.
Q - How long roughly does one piece of jewellery take to make?
It really depends on what type of jewellery and I never make one piece at a time. To be time efficient I start between 5-12 pieces at once, this can range from 1 to 3 days to finish depending on other things that come up thought the day. The times it takes me to make a piece of jewellery has decreased significantly since starting my business.
Q - Where do you get all the materials for your jewellery?
Unfortunately I still have to purchase all of my silver from the UK, I never quite figured out a solid supplier here in Thailand that had the specific gauges of wire that I use. Its not ideal but it works for me on the scale that I buy silver. As for my gemstones I buy from all over, Bangkok has a great area to buy all kinds of gems as well as the Gems and Jewellery Fair which is held annually in the city. I also order online from Etsy and even Instagram!
Q - I know you do a lot of pop ups on the island. Do you find this being a great way to promote yourself?
Absolutely! I use Koh Tao’s online forums to advertise when and where I will hold the pop up shop so all of the locals know when to go. Its so convenient to be mobile with the shop I can get a feel of where does well and the busiest spots. The businesses are kind enough to host me are amazing, I use the space at Living Juices on Sundays when they are closed or take up a table at Maya Beach Bar or Sairee Cottage Pool Bar.
Q - What would you say has been your most successful marketing strategy?
Probably utilising the main social media platforms as much as possible, when something is free and has such a powerful reach it is crazy not to take full advantage. It seems obvious but there are many business who do not make the most of such direct access to customers ready to engage with you. I have got pretty far without spending hardly anything on advertising.
Since starting my jewellery business I have had to teach myself photography, this has been a slow process but I am not getting to a point where I know what imagery represents my brand. I have built up my online presence by using carefully selected strong images and posting them regularly on Facebook and Instagram.
Q - What kind of advice would you give to someone who'd like to start a jewellery business?
I would say spend the time before your start anything to do as much research as possible! Decide before hand what type of brand you are and what you want to achieve through your jewellery. Be prepared to do everything, even though I set out to run my business alone I had no idea how many little things there are to do that are nothing to do with making jewellery. You will have to know or learn photograph, photo editing, the many social medias, marketing and basic accounting. All of these things take up so much time be ready to work late into the night to make the actual jewellery!
Q - And one of my most frequently asked questions. Let's say I want to start a business, I love the idea of working for myself & being a GirlBoss, but I just have no clue what to do. What would your advice be to someone like that?
Start small, find something that you truly love and focus on your favourite part of it, focus on what makes it so important to you, focus on what you need to make it a part of your life. Play to your strengths and identify your weaknesses.
Be prepared to work for your business like you have never worked in your life! And when its not working straight away don’t give up that doesn't mean your doing it wrong, quality take time.
Are you a Female in business? Do you have an exciting story to tell? Email us your story at email@example.com for a chance to be featured on our GirlBoss series - every single Monday.
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