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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Monica Vinader on becoming a multi-million pound business

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Monica Vinader has always been creative and even before her business began she recognised the value in producing personalised pieces, a trend which now dominates the jewellery and giftware industries.

That’s where it all started for the eponymous brand founder — making bespoke jewels for private clients. But it was really the response from those early recipients that highlighted a gap in the market for pieces that bridged the gap between fine and fashion jewellery —something Monica Vinader is now renowned for.

Partnering with her sister, Gabriela Vinader, the sister act launched the business in 2008 against the backdrop of a global recession.

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This obviously presented challenges, notably the duo struggled to raise funds amid the financial crisis, but determination saw them successfully launch the iconic

‘Fiji’ bracelet, which became an instant sell-out, and, after taking out a loan against the family house, enjoy a successful first Christmas in business.

The brand’s founding story gives you an insight into the determination of the two business women behind it, and should also inspire companies weathering the storm of trading during the current political and economic uncertainties.

When everything pointed to the fact that the sisters would be taking a huge gamble if they launched a jewellery brand, they did it anyway, and today they can boast of a multi-million pound global business.

To date Monica Vinader has multiple stores in London, alongside concessions inside the country’s leading luxury department stores, and concept boutiques around the world.

Furthermore, the 200-strong company has offices in London, Norfolk, New York and Hong Kong, and delivers to 72 countries from a growing e-commerce site.

Here, eponymous brand founder, Monica Vinader, provides Professional Jeweller with a glimpse into the success story, and reveals what the trade can expect from the firm in the future…

Last year marked 10 years of Monica Vinader, when you launched did you ever imagine the success you would have in the first decade?
When my sister Gaby and I set up the business we definitely had big ambitions, but I don’t think you can ever predict the years ahead. We knew there was a gap in the market for high quality, responsibly-made jewellery that was affordable — somewhere between fashion and fine jewellery. We wanted to empower women to buy pieces for themselves and were just delighted that there was such an appetite for that. It’s been an amazing (and busy!) ten years for sure.
 
What first attracted you to the jewellery industry?
I actually fell into jewellery making when I was offered a job by a jewellery designer when I came out of art college. That was where it all began, I guess. Then I remember meeting a local jeweller, when I was living in New Mexico, who used wire to create these beautiful tribal pieces. I was so inspired that I started making my own little creations from objects I’d find and pieces of jade I’d come across in markets. I’ve always been creative, loved gemstones and had the experience I needed by then, but it was when those little creations started looking like a collection that it started to come to life. It all evolved quite naturally.

The Monica Vinader flagship in London

Why did you decide to start your own business?
I was always inspired by my parents. Gaby and I watched them build a successful antiques business when we were growing up, so I guess you could say we have entrepreneurial genes. I started out in a small studio making jewellery in whatever spare time I could find, alongside working, and I started building a small customer base that gave me such positive feedback that I realised there was a market for the pieces I was creating. Women were looking for unique, versatile designs that could be worn every day and styled in their own way. So I turned to Gaby to help me map out a business plan and we soon launched our Fiji bracelets that were a sell-out success almost instantly. This was even more proof that we’d found a space in the market so we made plans to expand.

What was your vision when you launched the brand, and does it still remain the same today?
People appreciate great design and I really believe it should be available to everyone. We wanted to create a brand that empowered women so our pieces needed to be affordable enough to purchase for yourself, but of a high enough quality that you feel like you’re treating yourself. It was very much a, ‘Why wait to be bought a diamond? You can buy one for yourself — you deserve it!’ kind of attitude. Alongside that, we wanted every piece to be the best quality it could be. The handcrafting element was really important and remains so. From the very beginning we’ve partnered with family-run workshops to make sure we can keep that craft at the heart of everything we do and, as we’ve grown over the years, we’ve gone on a journey of sustainability and improvement together. These things are really important to me and will always stay high on my agenda as we continue to grow.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement in the last ten years?
Personally, I would have to say having my daughter, Scarlett, and watching her grow up. Professionally, there are lots of milestones! I’d say convincing Gaby to join the business is up there. She was on her own career path at the time but I knew I needed her and luckily she eventually agreed. The recent launch of our Madison Avenue Store in New York was a proud moment for us. This was a long-term dream of both of ours, so to see it realised, with the support and hard work of the team, was really incredible, I think keeping a brand’s integrity intact as you grow is also a huge achievement — it’s not easy but our dedication to that also makes me really proud.

What challenges have you had to overcome and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge was that we were setting a business up in the midst of a global recession. With hindsight, it feels crazy.  But we knew we had a market with a substantial appetite. That said, it was tough to convince investors at such an uncertain time so, eventually, we decided to remortgage our family home and use the money to get us started. It was a big risk but it fuelled our motivation to succeed all the more. And, in the end, being in a recession meant that people were looking for more affordable jewellery that felt luxurious. Our first Christmas was an absolute success because of that. There are also many daily challenges that come with big ambitions. But I’m so lucky to have an amazing team that turns so many of our ideas into realities.
 

Monica Vinader has collaborated with Caroline Issa on a colourful collection.

In the jewellery industry you are considered one of the most inspiring women in business today, what advice would you give women looking to build a career in jewellery?
That’s very kind. I think the advice I’d give to a woman trying to build a career or business in any field would be to believe in yourself and your work —confidence is essential to success. Also surround yourself with people who will lift you up. Being an entrepreneur is not easy and setting up your own business is of course not without risk. I knew I needed a good partner to do this with and managed to convince my sister to join me, as we have very complementary skill sets. I would definitely advise anyone wanting to set up on their own to find a good partner they can trust and work closely with. Last but not least, focus relentlessly on your idea — you’ll get a lot of advice along the way but it’s important to focus on what you feel is the right thing to do at all times.

How do you personally manage a work/life balance?
I’m much better about creating a balance now than I was at the beginning. I try to be very pragmatic about what I can and cannot do. Fortunately the studio in Norfolk isn’t too far from home for me, so when I’m not busy working I make sure I’m present in my home life with family and friends. We’re lucky enough to live by the coast so we have lots of long walks along the beach and make time for family holidays too.

The brand knows how to create an experience for consumers.

You’re latest financial results reveal significant growth, how has this been achieved?
The pace of growth has been incredible and not something we ever take for granted. I’d say it’s a mixture of hard work, committing to great quality and keeping the customer and our values at the heart of everything we do.

In your opinion, what kind of customer experience is today’s modern woman looking for when buying jewellery?
As I said before, we wanted to empower women to self-gift. We wanted to create a brand that reflected the strength and independence of women. I also think our customers are more and more conscious of the social responsibility of the brands they buy from, which is why we work alongside charities like Women for Women International, and commit to responsibly sourcing our materials.

What’s next for Monica Vinader over the next 12 months?
We’ve got a really exciting year ahead — lots of new pieces launching that we think our customers are going to love. We’re opening a new boutique in Marylebone, London, which is super exciting and we’ve also got our first collaboration launching later this month on September 9 alongside Caroline Issa. The pieces really unlock the natural beauty of gemstones so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that — it’s really something special!

Tags : caroline issafashion jewelleryMonica Vinader
Stacey Hailes

The author Stacey Hailes

Editor, Professional Jeweller

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