An interview with Maria Allen
What inspired you to start your business?
I have always liked jewellery and accessories but, when I couldn’t find unique and original pieces that I liked available in the shops, I decided to have a go at making my own. It started whilst I was in my first year of university – I began teaching myself how to assemble the components to make items of jewellery. My friends took an interest in them and I started selling at small local fairs and, eventually, online. I grew the business whilst I finished my degree, which meant I was able to commit to it full-time when I graduated.
Describe your product range and what makes it unique
We take pride in producing original and beautiful gifts from reclaimed and sustainable wood sources. The wood used for our cufflinks is reclaimed copper beech wood from Chartwell in Kent. It is from a tree that is over 200 years old and stood in Sir Winston Churchill’s family estate. I really love that there is a history behind the materials we’re using.
We also offer a range of personalised products – I think our customers really like the fact that they can have a piece of jewellery made especially for them with their own messages, nicknames, special dates, words or initials. It makes it truly unique and special to them. We try to keep the prices affordable and the buying process simple. Each item is designed and handmade in our studio in Hove, East Sussex. This enables us to offer fast turnaround times for when a gift is needed urgently, including next day delivery of personalised products.
Where did you start your company and where do you work now?
I started it from my parents’ kitchen in my spare time whilst studying for my degree. At that time I was doing everything myself, looking after every aspect of the business. We moved into a studio a year ago and that was a huge milestone, but we’ve already outgrown it and are waiting to move into a newer, bigger one next month.
What kind of support have you received along the way?
My family have been, and continue to be, a huge support. I was also part of an enterprise network at my university called Beepurple – they helped me with so many aspects of my business. Through them, I won an innovation award which helped me with my cash flow at the very beginning when I needed to buy a lot of stock to fulfil the orders I was receiving.
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in running your business?
There have been many challenges over the last few years and they have changed as the business has grown. The biggest problem has been time management and trying to fit everything into 24 hours each day!
Describe where you live
I live in Hove which is great as it’s right by the sea. I love being so close to the brilliant independent shops in the Laines in Brighton, they always provide great inspiration. It’s only an hour away from London which means I can quickly and easily get there for meetings when I need to. I reclaimed a lot of the space in my house after I moved the business into a separate studio, so it’s nice to actually have space to eat our dinner at the table now!
What are the benefits / disadvantages of being a designer-maker?
Being your own boss and the creativity is definitely the best part – I love the freedom of being able to choose what I do, when I do it and what direction I want the business to go in. One of my favourite quotes is: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ I really enjoy what I do – the most difficult part for me has been time management and trying to work on every aspect of the business myself. I’ve had to wear many hats – especially in the beginning. I’m now starting to build a team around me to work on specific aspects of the business which frees up my time to focus on the creative side – the bit I love.
Do you have a good work / life balance?
I didn’t for quite a while when I was first building up the business, but it’s getting better now. I have just booked my first holiday in a long time and it’s lovely knowing I can leave for a week and everything will still be running here while I’m away.
Has notonthehighstreet.com had a positive impact on your business?
Without a doubt, yes, it’s been fantastic – notonthehighstreet.com has played a large part in the growth of my business from the kitchen table to business premises with staff to help fulfil orders. My business has grown beyond what I could ever have imagined which I’m very happy about. I have received a lot of support from my account manager and other notonthehighstreet.com sellers along the way.
See Maria’s full range of jewellery here.