Birmingham-based Chinese-born jeweller on what it means to be British.
The January issue of Professional Jeweller was all about celebrating British jewellery talent and looking at what UK companies can do to take their jewels global. Here jewellery designer Fei Liu, who was born in China but bases his self-titled brand based in Birmingham, talks us through what he believes defines a jewellery house British.
Professional Jeweller: You are a Chinese-born jewellery designer but you have very much become a much treasured part of the British jewellery industry – how do you feel you fit into the British jewellery community?
Fei Liu: I think it’s important to define what we mean by the British jewellery community. In my understanding, the British jewellery industry is very cosmopolitan, and has always observed and learned from different cultures and has presented the world with variety. As a British-based international designer, I see myself as part of a team that is looking to expand what jewellery can be.
PJ: What makes a jewellery brand British? Is it being run by people born in Britain, working in Britain, designing in Britain, manufacturing in Britain? What is your view?
FL: My view is that to be a British brand, you need to include British creativity, British quality of manufacture and British high standards behind every product – as well as the British understanding of how to be inspirational. Regardless of where the manufacturers are, it is maintaining a good standard of quality that will keep a brand British. Brazil, for example, has developed dramatically over the last five years in the quality of its manufacturing and production. I say we should look at this and learn. It is also important to point out that many technologies we use as standard in the UK were originally developed overseas – for example rapid prototyping, which was first developed in Hong Kong. The fact that we have adopted a technology in order to improve our manufacturing shows how a foreign idea can become part of the British industry because of the British attitude towards quality of product.
PJ: You have helped some British-based jewellery designers introduce their work over in China. Why have you felt this is important? What has the reaction been to those designers’ work in China?
FL: As a Chinese student, British culture and the education I have received here has given me so much. I have been lucky enough to be able to adapt myself to this culture. I am very proud of the entirety of Britain’s creative industries and I want to contribute in order to expand and improve exposure and appreciation of the UK. The most important reaction has been that Chinese customers’ eyes have been opened to the true meaning of jewellery.
PJ: In your opinion, what does a British jewellery brand need to succeed abroad?
FL: That is a very good question. I think that brands need to have more understanding of the local market – they need to remember to always show their British spirit, but be prepared to adapt.
PJ: How readily available is funding and support for British jewellers who want to take their work abroad?
FL: In my experience there is not a huge amount, but it is there. Some funding is available from the Chambers of Commerce, along with organisations such as the British Jewellery & Giftware International and the British Jewellers’ Association. All of these provided assistance for our initiative in 2011 to take British-based jewellery designers to China, but my company also funded a large amount of the project.
PJ: We have such a huge wealth of jewellery talent in the UK, but little of it is exported abroad. Many jewellers have the personality, the business acumen and strong designs, but something is holding them back. What is it?
FL: Yes, there is a glass ceiling effect – simply because money has always been an issue for designers and competition is always going to be there. I think in order for more designers to really expand, they need to always be more and more business orientated and adaptable in the current climate. I’m sure that many of our friends and colleagues in the British jewellery industry are already making steps into international markets – something that if they work hard enough for and are prepared to adapt for will surely pay off.
PJ: Do you have your jewellery manufactured in the UK or abroad? And what do you think British jewellery manufacturing could or should do to compete with other countries such as China or India?
FL: We have part of our product range manufactured in China and part manufactured in the UK. I think that as long as we keep doing what we are good at and persevere, that is how we can best compete and how we can succeed as a very unique part of the world’s jewellery industry.
PJ: And finally, what do you believe the future holds for the British jewellery industry?
FL: I really hope that the British jewellery industry could become as recognised as the British fashion industry and show the true creativity that Britain is providing to the world.