The Sheffield designer on taking the UK market by storm.
Jessica Flinn went from a budding graduate to designing a collection for Argos in less than a year, launching her own stainless steel jewellery brand in the process. She has since exhibited at UK trade shows, won a growing fan base and plans to move into fine and kid’s jewellery. She was named a NexGem in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with The Company of Master Jewellers and IJL.
Professional Jeweller: Tell us about the past 12 months – what have been the highlights?
Jessica Flinn: A definite highlight was launching products at my first International Jewellery London in 2011, when I was still just a design newcomer with no customers. The customers found me and supported me though and to then follow that up with an order from a company like Argos in May this year was incredible. I’d been invited to a Meet the Buyers Day, arranged through the British Jewellers’ Association, back in January and the order was a direct result of that, increasing production seven fold. The Argos order is just one part of what I’m about though and I’m very excited to be launching two new brands, Rare By Jessica and Little Flinn, this autumn. All this activity means I’ve been able to take on full time staff and that’s something I’m extremely proud of. On top of all that, me and my partner Ollie had an offer accepted on a beautiful old church on the outskirts of Sheffield, which we are now about to convert into our dream home.
PJ: How have you overcome the challenges of launching a brand in a recession?
JF: My Dad, who’s been a big inspiration to me over the years, once said: “A business succeeds because the person running it wants it to.” I’m always battling the latest business crisis, but I want my business to succeed so I just keep working at it. I think anyone running his or her own business will agree that there are good days and there are bad – but in the end I aim to succeed. Does this make me sound scary? I do hope not! When I took the plunge to develop my business I wasn’t earning enough to sustain a wage so without good business investors who believed in my products and designs and the future of my company I may have been forced to take a full time job and leave the industry.
PJ: What inspires you as a designer and how do you feel your work has evolved over the years?
JF: I am fiercely proud of my signature style that takes the ideas of traditional Sheffield industry and allies them to the latest jewellery design concepts. For me, the emphasis is always on buying local, employing local and keeping the business at the heart of Sheffield, the city that I now think of as home. My designs evolve as I discover new techniques and start experimenting with them – I like to introduce techniques and methods that aren’t normally used in jewellery manufacturing, steal them from other industries and fuse them with traditional metalwork skills. My approach to design has changed over the last few years but I hope my signature style is consistently shining through and giving my work a unique identity.
PJ: Do you think you will always be based in Sheffield?
JF: Yes – there’s absolutely no way I’ll leave this beautiful city. It has the best of both worlds, all the big city amenities and then you can drive for 20 minutes and be in the middle of the Peak District National Park. I practically live in London for a few months of the year when it’s London Jewellery Week and when I’m doing trade fairs – and don’t get me wrong I love London – but I’m always so happy to go home. When you think of jewellery in the UK people think of Birmingham and London but Sheffield has a lot going for it too. It’s still home to silversmithing firms, platers and engravers. I love the messy workshops of these wise men that you find scattered across this city.
PJ: Tell us a bit about what it was like to work with Argos?
JF: It is great to work with Argos. It’s truly fantastic that they’re supporting British manufacturing and designers like me and I’m honoured to be working with the UK’s largest jewellery retailer just a few years after graduating.
PJ: How did exhibiting at The Jewellery Show London last summer work out for you?
JF: I really enjoyed the Jewellery Show London as part of my packed schedule at London Jewellery Week this June. The show was in a gorgeous setting and it’s definitely very exciting to promote and sell jewellery in the glamorous backdrop of historic Somerset House, which is so far removed from the other trade fairs in enormous exhibition centres.
PJ: How would you describe your approach to work?
JF: To be a success as a jewellery designer and manufacturer I have to be very determined and motivated. I have a clear vision of where I want to be and what I have to achieve and I dedicate all my energies to creating exciting products that will help me to achieve that vision. I have to say though that I also have a team who are excited as I am by the things we are achieving and we are all more than 100% committed to a successful future, both creatively and commercially.
PJ: With a busy work schedule and a new house, how do you relax off the job?
JF: I’ve been skydiving with my brother, which makes me sound like everything I do has to be a major challenge – but that’s not the case at all. I have to admit though that I do like to push myself – either in the workplace or by leaping out of a plane at high altitude! Finding time for myself is very important professionally and creatively though. Last summer I got completely away from the pressure of business by driving through France with my partner. We’re also working on the conversion of the property we have just bought, transforming it from a church into our dream home; somewhere we will both be able to escape the pressures of our very busy lives.
PJ: What are your plans for the year ahead?
JF: I plan to launch two new brands; there’s so much to look forward to. I will have pieces created under the Rare By Jessica brand will be crafted in sterling silver, 9ct gold and even platinum and is aimed specifically at a more exclusive market. But then in complete contrast Little Flinn will be colourful, casual and great for anybody who wants to have fun with their jewellery. I like to think of it as jewellery for the young – and the young at heart. Following last year’s success – and especially after my debut on Argos TV, which was great fun – I want to start knocking on the doors of the shopping channels which is a huge market to tap into. But at the other end of the scale I also have my eye on some lovely independent boutiques for the limited collections I’ll be working on under the Rare By Jessica brand. There are so many potential markets out there – and I want to see success in as many as possible.