Like all budding graduates, Alex Monroe was ready to change the world when he finished studying and launched his very first jewellery collection. 30 years later the British designer is doing exactly what he set out to do and his business has blossomed from one man’s dream to a globally recognised brand. Here, he discusses the journey so far and opening a new production facility during a significant year.
When Alex Monroe finished training at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London, the designer had a very clear vision for the type of jewellery he wanted to create.
Not one to follow suit, Monroe found a specific jewellery market he wanted to work in — one which fell in between all the major categories available at the time.
Whilst his course mates were choosing between art jewellery, Bond Street designs, and high street pieces which would be placed at the check out counters of Marks and Spencer, Monroe had a vision to create jewels crafted beautifully by hand in the best materials, but designed for fashion purposes.
“In between all of those different worlds, I thought, why don’t I go right in the middle,” Alex Monroe explains. “You wouldn’t just pick it up on your way to the check out, you would buy it like you buy a fashion item. I use the term fashion because it is like jewellery made to be worn.”
He continues: “So right from the start I said I am making fashion jewellery. I didn’t mean like high fashion, or disposable fashion, I meant jewellery that is made to be worn by people who want to look good at that point, when they are wearing it.”
Monroe goes on to explain that he wanted his jewellery to also be affordable. He wanted women to be able to save up and buy a piece for themselves or as a gift no matter what they earned.
With this in mind he made a business plan stating his vision to produce “fashion jewellery which is beautifully handmade”. In 1987 Monroe’s dream became reality when he created his first collection crafted from sterling silver, but handmade with the same techniques used for crafting gold jewellery.
30 years later the Alex Monroe brand is doing exactly what the founder’s original business plan set out to do. But did he ever envision his jewellery would become a global sensation?
“When you graduate from university, you have an attitude that you are going to change the world, but I don’t really think you possibly imagine yourself being this old and still doing it,” shares Monroe. “I probably didn’t think this far ahead but I knew that was what I was going to do. Once you are a jewellery maker, you are a jewellery maker and that’s it. The industry changes so much and there are never ending challenges, there is so much to do and you are always rushing around, but there is so much more I would like to do and the years keep going by.”
The business has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Alex Monroe’s distinct and delicate designs are now stocked in retailer outlets all around the world, and the brand’s accolades include, but are by no means limited to, featuring on the cover of Vogue, collaborating with the likes of Nike, Anthropologie and Buckingham Palace, and opening an award-winning flagship in London Bridge.
Now the brand, in its 30th anniversary year, has opened a brand new workshop and production facility in South London.
Teaming up once again with architect DSDHA (the same firm that designed the brand’s Snowfield Studio), Alex Monroe has opened the doors to a new and larger production facility on Tower Bridge road.
The new-built, 2,153sq ft, four storey workshop, has been developed to fit the brand’s exact needs. Monroe explains: “It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of businesses would build a space to house the business. You build the building to specifically fit your needs, whereas now almost absolutely nobody does that. Big companies will now rent spaces, so it has gone from one end to the other. We are one of the few people that have designed and built from start to finish a space exactly right for us to manufacture in.”
“That’s exactly what the architects were interested in,” Monroe continues. “It is a very professional environment. It makes people behave in a more professional way. Good architecture and design can increase productivity and the whole way the business is done and even the type of jewellery you make.”
While Monroe insists the space has not lost any of the brand’s traditionalism, the workshop has been designed to be incredibly light, modern and clean, with excellent equipment and machinery for staff to use. The facility also comprises great acoustics, natural lighting and good ventilation.
The ground floor offers a really big manufacturing capability, complete with a communal bench, which has been created to allow staff to work facing each other. The new facility also has a meeting and admin room, a large design studio, a sound proof machine room, and the company’s web department has moved to the premises.
Monroe says the new workshop will help step up the volume that the brand can produce. But, he explains this is purely based on providing a facility built around encouraging productivity, rather than by the hiring of new staff.
He shares: “I am not so keen on taking on more staff because we have been growing, but what I was trying to do was make the environment so much better that we could be much more productive. I think we are able to step up the productivity without getting in many more people.”
He gives the example of designers now having more space to lay everything out properly, and facing each other instead of the wall to aid team work.
Other features include a ‘social staircase’, which connects the different floors, and a roof terrace that provides a refuge from the hustle and bustle of London and intricate jewellery making.
Monroe says he hopes to also use the facility to put on events, with plans for a grand opening and anniversary party in the pipeline.
In addition to officially opening the new workshop, Alex Monroe has new collections in the pipeline, including an exclusive Disney collaboration for the launch of the greatly anticipated Beauty and the Beast film.
Looking ahead to the next 30 years, Monroe has plenty of ideas for the brand. “We’ve got masses of big plans ahead,” he reveals. “There is so much room for development and there is a great deal of scoop for developing our design language into other disciplines. So being better known as a design brand rather than just for jewellery.”
Monroe also says there is lots of room to grow the brand’s 18ct jewellery work, which has increasingly been becoming more popular, and masses that can be done on the bridal side to nationally become a ‘go-to’ wedding destination. He explains that eventually the brand could end up having a bridal department, a home decor department and a jewellery department, although these are just ideas rather than concrete plans.
One thing the designer is sure on though is that his jewellery will always be made in Britain as his heart is in the making of the pieces.
“I love being in the workshop. I love sitting there and having 20 necklaces you are making, but each one is being made by hand and each time you are doing something you remember someone is saving up really hard to be able to afford it.”