Harriet Kelsall started her bespoke jewellery business from humble beginnings - her kitchen table. Fast forward 18 years and she’s taken the jewellery design world by storm.
With a wonderful team of over 30 people (including talented graduate designers and master goldsmith) she’s racked up an incredible 20 national and international awards.
It’s not hard to see why, her ethos is to create individual pieces for each customer that tell their unique story. With each design created as a symbol of a special relationship (no design is ever repeated) you begin to understand why she’s been so successful.
To top it all off, in 2011 she launched certified Fairtrade gold with 19 other jewellers and was certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Now that Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery has been shortlisted for our Retail Business of the Year Award (London and The South), we wanted to catch up with her and see what pearls of wisdom she can share with us.
Forward Ladies: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
HK: I’d always made jewellery in my spare time - since being a little girl - and had sold bits at school to my classmates, through a Covent Garden market stall of a family friend and then on the side to friends and people they knew.
When I was first thinking about setting up my business, I was worried because I knew jewellery was particularly competitive industry and I needed to find something that could pay my rent if I stopped my ‘day job’.
However, I’ve always felt a pull to jewellery, despite the fact it was possibly the most challenging path.
I decided to take the jewellery I was already making in my spare time a bit more seriously to see if I could do more with this hobby whilst still remaining at my ‘day job’. I asked my dad to teach me some more advanced techniques and learned others from books and from teaching myself. I spent a few years improving my skills.
My day job was demanding and I worked long hours, but in my spare time I was making jewellery in my shed for myself and my friends. It was a hobby with a view to something more. I’d go out there at 9:30 in the evening and work for a couple of hours before bed.
I started taking on commissions for friends, then friends of friends, and then one day (about 6 months later) I had a waiting list of 33 people - none of whom I actually knew, they were all friends of friends. It was at this point I thought I could make this work as a business.
Forward Ladies: What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
HK: One challenge was defining what success meant to me. Success means lots of different things to many people. I think that one of the most important stages when starting a business is to decide how you are going to define success.
For some this might be running a huge global brand, for others it might be supporting themselves whilst working a few days a week around kids or a not-for-profit vision.
For me, success was about being able to creatively do what I loved whilst fulfilling the dreams of my customers and also trying to improve the ethics of my industry.
There have been countless challenges along the way and I’ve made mistakes. I made sure I learned a lot from those mistakes, so now I’m not afraid of getting it wrong.
Ultimately believing in your business vision is key. Over the years there have been hard times when I’ve been let down and could very easily have given up. But I didn’t. And I’m glad as I look around me now.
Perhaps all that separates successful entrepreneurs from the others is that we never give up but just keep trying until we forge our own version of success.
Forward Ladies: How did you fund your business?
HK: With £450 left from selling my first flat.
Forward Ladies: What is your top tip for growing your business?
HK: The thing that separates successful entrepreneurs from others is that we never give up.
When something goes wrong, just keep trying, responding and changing things until it works.
Things go wrong all the time when you are starting and growing a business and you need to embrace the challenge of problem-solving and see this as part of your journey rather than letting it get you down or giving up.
Things still go wrong when you have an established business so the same advice still holds.
Forward Ladies: Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?
HK: The people you meet will give you answers to questions you haven’t even thought of yet in the most amazing way - meaning you can grow your business much more efficiently and quickly.
Remember, people will always help you along your journey but you need to help others too.
Forward Ladies: How do you maintain a work/life balance?
HK: This is always a challenge but when you love what you do, it doesn’t really feel like work.
I realised that it’s alright for me to work on my business well into the night because I enjoy it, and not worry about other people expecting me to just sit and watch TV, which I don’t want to do!
Now that I have kids, I make sure that I give them really solid time regularly. I see some people falling into the trap of trying to work whilst caring for kids, which is too much of a compromise.
I think when you’re a mum you feel guilty whatever your work situation, so you just need to accept you’re going to feel guilty and have confidence that you’re doing your best for yourself and your family.
Forward Ladies: How has mentorship made a difference in your business?
HK: I was mentored in my first couple of years of business which helped improve my confidence. One mentor suggested that I enter a business award (I never would have done this otherwise) and it really brought a lot of PR.
I think entering business awards is amazing and helps you meet new people. You might even be lucky enough to win!
I mentor other creative business start-ups now which inspires me. It reminds me what’s different and special about my own business and to keep things moving and fresh.
It’s also inspired me to write a book (which I’ve nearly finished) about how to start a successful creative business as I hope to inspire more start-ups if I can.
Forward Ladies: Thank you for your time Harriet, it’s been great to learn more about you!
Would you like your business and hard work to be recognised, just like Harriet’s has been? Then apply for one of our prestigious National Women in Business awards, so we can celebrate your success and inspire other women to do the same. There’s nothing we love more than promoting incredible women in business!