I decided to take a little break from creating today, to tell you my story as a jewellery designer and online store owner. So often, people look at my life on the outside and marvel at how "lucky" I am to be able to do this - to work from home, create all day, and have all the resources to acquire exquisite gemstones.
It is true that I get to do what I love, but the secret to doing it comfortably lies within years and years of hard work.
Before jewellery-making came into my life, I was working at the hospital laboratory. I wished to engage in something different other than my lab work, and played around with the idea of selling at retail pushcarts. That was when a colleague encouraged me to venture into jewellery-making. I took up a few courses, and it was then that I encountered gemstones for the first time. It was love at first sight for me.
I totally enjoyed the creative process of jewellery making, and felt the inner prompting to try starting my own little business, with the support of my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband (and still my #1 fan).
Early initiatives included me selling jewellery in pushcarts with a few of my jewellery course classmates. However, that stint was short-lived and I ventured off on my own at bigger shopping malls and hotel fairs.
Pushcart days came to a close when I had my first child in 2008. That was when I started my Etsy store. I also consigned my products to two boutiques owned by friends. Eventually, I decided to focus my energy to selling on Etsy, and focusing paid off. It was the feeling of solace and peace that I found in my workshop, surrounded by gemstones, that made me realise how much I love doing this. And so, I persevered.
It has not been smooth sailing. Between the last decade or so, I’ve had a total of 3 pregnancies and took 3-4 months off each time. Motherhood and a business on the side can make life quite the adventure! Between making jewellery and responding frequently to the dozens of enquiries I get in a day, I am also ensuring my children grow up well, and taking care of the home. Phew! It truly is a 24 hour job.
Furthermore, you can imagine that I did not get things absolutely right from the very beginning. Learning to find the right suppliers for the best gemstones definitely took discernment and experience. Acquiring authentic gemstones that are clear and without blemish can cost a lot of money up front, and every purchase I make is a step of faith that I can design amazing jewellery that my customers want to buy.
Also, my business helps to support the family in that revenue pays off the household expenses. It is not like holding a regular office job, where you are assured of a sum of money to take home for the family each month. In the past, there have been months where I’ve wondered if I’ve earned enough, or whether I should take up another job on the side.
Running a business like this in Singapore can be sometimes stressful, because not everyone understands. You will have onlookers who wonder if you’re being selfish for choosing your passion over a ‘responsible career’. It’s also really easy to look at my brand from the outside (especially on Instagram) and conclude that I have a fun and colourful life, making designs on a whim, with a large repository of gemstones at my disposal. That is far from the truth, but I’ve discovered that there’s no pleasing everyone.
What makes it worthwhile
Instead, I’ve learned to count my blessings by looking at the support of friends who have been with me from the beginning. In fact, some of these friends were actually supporters and customers from my pushcart days. They are the one who have seen the struggle and achievements through the years. I don’t think I would be able to push through if not for the ongoing support that they gave me - both in buying my work, and also giving me verbal encouragement every now and then.
What gives me the greatest joy is seeing my art, and a little piece of my heart, travel to places around the world in the form of gemstone jewellery. My heart flutters when customers take photos of themselves with my jewellery. It is the most rewarding feeling!
Advice for the next generation of women business owners and jewellery designers
Today’s culture gives more space for women like myself to venture into their own businesses. I am so glad to see a rise of other jewellery designers and online retailers all around the world, and even in Singapore. If I were to offer up advice to a new business owner, this is what I would say:
1. You do you. I really believe that every individual has something unique to offer in this world. We are quite similar to gemstones; even though they seem to ‘look’ alike from far, the real stones actually carry unique qualities from each other, and no stone is the same. We are very much like that. Don’t feel like you need to copy another designer or retailer in order to succeed. Find what’s different and awesome about you, and sell it shamelessly.
For me, I am all about one-of-a-kind extravagant designs inspired by nature, taking risks with unique gemstones, and being hospitable and generous towards my customers. This works for me and brings me joy. It may not be for everyone, and that is okay. There are many who support me simply for these qualities.
2. Don’t give up! I don’t believe you should throw in the towel just because no one is paying attention to you or buying your work. It took me 10 years on Etsy to actually establish a decent online presence, and regular flow of income each month. I only started employing a few marketing practices in the past two years or so, but for the most part, it is my hard work that shows for it.
There’re no shortcuts to making it. Don’t believe the hype out there. You just have to put in the work.
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