Why isn’t it cool to be commercial?

Rachael Taylor discusses a hot topic from PJ & QVC’s round table event

Making money used to be cool. There was a time when everybody was an aspiring entrepreneur and the best thing about being a rock star was being absolutely disgustingly loaded.

Bling was king and everybody wanted to appear as though they were wearing luxury brands. Slogans were everywhere and you were nobody unless you were carting about what appeared to be a Louis Vuitton bag, even if you were only carting it around a council estate in Coventry.

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But now, making money isn’t as cool as it used to be. Perhaps it’s a revolt against the pre-recession excesses; perhaps people are just bored of flashing their cash. Forget the rich kid accessories, now it’s all about unsigned bands, handmade scarves and advertising on the cheap through social networking.

This was one of the topics discussed at Professional Jeweller’s first round table event held in association with QVC in London this week: the uncoolness of commerciality.

Jewellery students are constantly being pushed to create increasingly conceptual designs and commerciality is almost a dirty word at some of the best colleges.
In fact, former Links of London creative director Elizabeth Galton told the table that a student had approached her for help after being told her designs weren’t conceptual enough.

While anti-commercialism is fiercely trendy, it’s not the best quality to build a business on. Students often leave college with a portfolio of fantastic designs that nobody in their right mind will buy. And when they enter the market they are more often than not in for a shock.

In college, design has been put on a pedestal and business acumen is never even mentioned, so when buyers start demanding to know about cost prices and margins it can be very stressful. It was generally agreed round the table that colleges have a responsibility to better educate young jewellery designers on the, shall we say, business side of the business.

Judy Deuchar, Gemma Savage and Mary Bradley shared with the group QVC’s plans for working with up-and-coming designers and brands. The TV retailer has already worked with cutting edge jewellers such as Ana De Costa, Tomasz Donocik and SHO Fine Jewellery on creating more commercial collections that retain the creative essence that each brand was founded with.

QVC will work with designers on a line of jewellery that will be sold exclusively at the TV retailer. The price points are lowered as the designs are made by a commercially minded team, and best of all QVC foots the manufacturing bill. Designers have no initial outlay to make for materials, get full sign off on the range and receive a commission on pieces sold to QVC’s vast audience. Not to mention the exposure from appearing on one of the UK’s biggest TV shopping networks.

I’ve been acquainted with QVC’s process for some time, following a visit to the studio a few years ago and have often championed it as a good commercial idea to designers. Obviously this suggestion has been met with reservation more than once.

The biggest concern that designers seem to have is that by selling on QVC it will damage their brand. My answer is always the same. If it is going to damage your brand because your typical customers aren’t watching QVC then they’re not going to know about it are they?

To be brutally honest, QVC is certainly not a Holy Grail retail destination that designers leave college dreaming about. It is however, a great way to extend the life of a brand by creating a commercially viable arm.

Fresh, innovative jewellery is what keeps this industry exciting, but being a jeweller is an expensive hobby. So if as a designer you want your brand to be more than a hobby it’s time to start thinking commercially.

Take a business course, design for a bigger brand, find ways to lower your price points; anything that allows you to keep doing what you love. Because without creative designers this industry would be a lot duller but without a clear commercial plan a brand won’t get beyond the bedroom workshop stage. And that certainly isn’t cool.


For more from the Professional Jeweller discussions in association with QVC read the December issue of Professional Jeweller, out next month.



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