BRAND TO WATCH: Meet the British jewellery firm bucking the trend

When it comes to thinking outside the box and taking inspiration from other industries, Astrid & Miyu has nailed it and in turn created a retail concept that has customers coming back in store for more. Discover what brand founder, Connie Nam, is doing to draw a crowd…

Astrid & Miyu is a business to watch.

What started out as a predominantly online-only jewellery brand six years ago has now become a company that has the likes of Selfridges knocking at its door.

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From a small start-up in London to a team of around 40, Astrid & Miyu has grown into a brand that’s not only conquering the world of online sales and driving business through social media, but is also taking a slice of high street spend by showing the industry how jewellery retail doesn’t always have to fit a traditional model.

Today the brand trades from two boutiques, one in Shoreditch, Box Park, and another in St Christopher’s Place, just off Bond Street, and for the lucrative trading period it opened a pop up in Covent Garden which will remain in place until the end of the month.

In a time when many are shying away from expanding their physical retail presence, Astrid & Miyu is actually going from strength to strength with its bricks and mortar offer.

Why? Quite simple it is not afraid to do something different and look to sources outside the industry for inspiration.
2018 was a particularly important year for Astrid & Miyu as it launched two concepts that have completely transformed the physical retail side of the business.

Back in the summer the British brand introduced a new retail concept which capitalises on the multiple earrings trend and the fact consumers want to adorn their ears with lots of different pieces, but often can’t try earrings on in store.

Inspired by beauty bars, where customers can freely pick up skincare and make up products and have a play without needing to ask for assistance, Astrid & Miyu opened an ear styling bar at its flagship in St Christopher’s place.

Recognising the need for customers to play with products, and freely try them on, the brand set up a station in store where earrings are laid outside of a cabinet, alongside a bar complete with stools and light up mirrors.

For those who want to experiment on their own the bar comes complete with inspiration graphics – some photos of bloggers with their earring arrangements, alongside information on the different pieces and where they can be placed – while ‘ear stylists’ are also on hand to show customers how to put on ear cuffs, and offer their specialist advice on stacking and styling.

“Beauty brands do this but jewellery brands never have,” shares Astrid & Miyu founder, Connie Nam. “We simply lay the jewellery out and let people try them on. And that’s our whole ethos — we want people to try on our pieces and not be intimidated by sales people because most jewellery stores put their jewellery under glass and it can be very intimidating to even go in and ask to see something — but we want our customers to be able to touch and play.”

“The ear bars have really been a game changer,” says Nam who reveals each bar comes complete with ear wipes for shoppers who may be conscious about trying earrings on. “It’s been converting so well because people are able to try them on. We also inspire them. We put images around the store and by the bar, and they get inspiration from that, and I think trying things on really helps people make purchasing decisions.”

Earrings have always been a bestselling product category for Astrid & Miyu, which has become known for its ear cuffs that easily allow for stacking and styling at accessible price points.

Because of this, people have often asked the brand if it offers a piercing service, and this year the company decided it was time to respond to that demand. Hence, the second retail concept was born and the St Christopher’s Place flagship boutique welcomed a piercing studio downstairs.

Now, piercing alone may not be innovative, but it has to be said not many (if any) jewellery stores offer this service, and if they do its unlikely to have the same Instagrammable environment Astrid & Miyu offers.

Astrid & Miyu’s piercing studio allows customers to make memories and document the process on social media.

Looks-wise, the piercing studio is very photo friendly, and the space has also been created to encourage customers to host piercing parties.

While the brand was confident consumers were looking for somewhere new to get pierced, the founder never anticipated how successful the piercing studio would be.

Since launching the piercing studio, footfall has tripled, with the brand admitting the flagship is in quite a quiet location, but now Astrid & Miyu is a destination boutique consumers go out of their way to find.

The piercing offer has also increased daily revenue by 400% on piercing days, and 170% on days the studio is closed.

Furthermore, the majority of piercing customers have signed up for Astrid & Miyu’s loyalty program, or are already a member, and around 50% of piercing customers have bought other jewellery items in store.

Needless to say, what started off as a two-days a week initiative has now expanded into almost every day, with the brand also opening a dedicated ear bar and piercing studio in Covent Garden during the busy festive trading period.

“It just went mental,” says Nam. “It was 100% booked, and people were requesting it more and more, so we opened a pop up on Neal Street specifically for piercings and the styling bar and we do piercings every day there.”

She continues: “It’s been a great experience and it’s been really good for our jewellery sales as well. If people get their ears pierced from us, they then want to buy their earrings from us as well — so it’s been really good.”

In a testament to its success, Selfridges approached Astrid & Miyu and asked the brand to host pop up piercing studios in its London and Birmingham stores over Christmas. These have been very successful and helped raised the brand’s profile in the department store.

Nam shares: “In the beginning it was just a test but it’s been so good and we would like to do other pop ups. There’s no competition really. Piercings are having a moment now but there are no piercing studios, just tattoo parlours that are not as accessible. Our studios offer a more friendly, feminine and pleasant environment, and our piercers are all fully trained and do it with a needle in a very specific way.”

“We are just always fully booked,” she tells Professional Jeweller.

While piercings and ear bars have been extremely successful, Astrid & Miyu’s founder and chief executive officer by no means wants to lay all the brand’s eggs in one basket.

Connie Nam explains: “We don’t want our piercing to be what we our known for. We want to be known as a jewellery brand. We are still introducing new products. It’s important not to rely on one product because something can be popular for a moment and then stop being popular. So people can play with all our jewellery in store and we encourage that.”

Alongside the two new retail concepts, Astrid & Miyu also host events that are designed to make customers feel special.

From ticketed meet and greet events, to intimate workshops and manicure offers in-store, Astrid & Miyu strives to gives shoppers a memorable experience that goes the extra mile.

By putting on memorable events and allowing the customer shopping experience to be picture perfect, Astrid & Miyu provides plenty of opportunities for fans of the brand to share their time in-store on digital channels.

This has led to celebrities and influencers popping into store and organically sharing their experiences too —something the brand says has certainly helped bolster business.

While Astrid & Miyu mainly chooses to work with influencers other brands may not have heard of, it also has a natural celebrity following, and one of the UK’s biggest influencer, Lydia Millen, is an ambassador for the brand.

Earlier this year Lydia Millen curated a selection of stacks consumers could buy as a package, most of which were snapped up instantly, and a recent event done with the influencer was a sell-out success as well.

Discussing the role of influencers, Nam says: “We want to work with girls who really love the brand and want to wear it, so we work with a mixture of models and bloggers. We scout out a lot of girls other brands don’t traditionally work with and they are really loyal to us. They love our brand and it feels a lot more genuine. And Lydia is the only big blogger we work with, but she generally loves our products.”

She continues: “I feel like we’ve found a way to build loyalty with influencers that works really well.”

Looking ahead Astrid & Miyu hopes to expand its retail offer, host more piercing pop ups and focus on international trade as well.

When asked what she feels is the secret to Astrid & Miyu’s success, the founder answers: “We just go with the flow and see where the opportunities are. We also really listen to our customers and give them what we want.”

“Also, having a sense of one team is really important and really helps us evolve,” adds Nam. “Everyone in the office goes to the store so we can get real customer feedback.”

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