I was introduced to Sophie by my friend Kate, our first interviewee on Masters of Many, who runs a rather brilliant chocolate business called The Cocoa Den. Sophie was a little nervous about being featured, because she’s right at the start of her journey of doing something for herself that she feels passionate about, and I suspect felt that she was somewhat of a ‘fraud’ in being featured as a ‘Master’. When I started this project, one of the facets I wanted to introduce was talking to people at all stages of their journey – as they take the leap, as they become more established, and even once they’ve been running a business successfully for years. The interesting thing for me is to see the emotional and life changes they go through as their ideas progress, and hopefully it is for you too.
Sophie runs her own business on the side of her full-time role (now condensed into less days each week to accommodate the business, so she’s a busy girl), designing and producing jewellery. You can find her beautiful necklaces at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/KaleidaJewellery . I caught up with her to find out how her journey is starting out…
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here?
I studied literature at University and since then I’ve been working in the art, heritage and cultural sectors, doing a range of roles. At the moment I work at the University of the Arts, in London. I find the job I do now interesting in lots of ways, but it doesn’t fulfil everything for me – I work really hard, but never really see a tangible output as a result.
I always thought I would do something alongside my job and I got into jewellery because I wanted to make some items for myself. I started sourcing materials and I was really enjoying it, so started making presents for friends and getting really good feedback. I realised I’d inadvertently created this project and after a few months of doing it thought I could try to sell what I’d been making.
At first I was really scared of putting myself out there. I’d had no formal training in art and design and I felt like I was just tinkering around. Eventually I plucked up the courage to give it a go and opened an Etsy shop. Ultimately it was a confidence thing, thinking ‘who I am to put it out there and who’s going to want it?’. It was all ultimately in my head, because I’m getting positive feedback and selling things.
At the same time I asked if I could do flexible hours at work, so now I have every other Friday off and that’s when I work on the jewellery. I’m really lucky, as they were really encouraging, and I’d done my research about the ability to condense my hours into less days to enable me to make it work.
I’m at the beginning stages really, I launched the shop a few months ago, I’m selling at markets (particularly in the lead up to Christmas) and I’ve sold my products at yoga events. I’m planning on setting up my own website as well to sell from. Sales have been slow and steady, it’s not a huge volume at the moment, but I couldn’t handle much more than I’m already producing, so it’s about balance, but I’d like to be doing more.
What made you take the leap to do things differently?
I think it was realising how much I was enjoying it and that if I just made time for it and made some changes in my life I could probably make it work.
Given that you’re just starting out, what are you looking for in terms of confirmation that it’s the right thing to be doing?
I’d like to compress my hours further to enable me to have every Friday to dedicate to the jewellery and I’m really looking forward to doing the markets this Christmas, as it will have been the first time I’ve really been pushing and having a presence. I’ll be looking for feedback there and judging what sales are like, it’s really exciting.
I want it to be a bigger part of my life ultimately and I feel like the only thing holding me back at the moment is not having enough time. What I really enjoy is the making side and the creativity, and I recognise that I need to focus on the business side more. I’d like to do more markets, for example ‘The Crafty Fox Market’ (which takes place in locations like Brixton and Dalston) is a really high standard, and quite difficult to get into, but once you are there’s a lot of support that comes from being involved. You have to get organised in advance to get places at the more competitive markets, sending them a bio about your business and your product and why they should give you a stall.
Have you had any key advisors who have helped you get off the ground?
I have a friend who is a full time maker and has a really vibrant business on Etsy, selling amazing jewellery as her full time job. I’ve spoken to her a lot and she gave me a huge amount of encouragement. I had such a lack of confidence that it really made the difference.
Do you want the business to get to the point where it’s your full-time role, or do you think you’ll always want to do a mix, like you are now?
I actually like the balance of the two. I’ve really enjoyed having this kind of project in my life but I also think that if I gave up my full-time job I’d feel like there was too much pressure on it. It’s something I’ve grown to love, and I worry that that stress would have an impact on what I’m getting out of it.
What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
I don’t find it difficult to transition as such, because what I’m doing creatively is lovely. The hardest thing is wishing that I had more time to do the jewellery and feeling a little resentful. What ends up happening is that it eats into a lot of my own personal time. It’s not that bad because I really like doing it, but sometimes there’s a bit of a strain.
I get really excited when I buy all of these new materials, and have loads of new ideas, and then I think “when am I going to have time to do all of this?”. In the run up to Christmas I decided that I’d really focus on getting a lot of stock together from my current designs, so that I could do the markets, and then in the New Year I’ve bought leather and rope to do some much bigger pieces, which I’m really excited about. In the New Year I’m going to give it a real push, gain some new skills and bring in some new design elements.
How have you found flexible working so far? Have work colleagues been resentful at all?
My work was great about it from the start. I think I’m someone who works more efficiently if I have to focus myself. On the weeks that I’m in 4 days a week I work in a different way, I’m much more focused (even though I’m doing 10 hour days now).
In terms of people I work with, there are people who didn’t know about the flexible working policy, who I can see are now thinking about it because of what I’m doing. There are others who are just inflexible in their way of working who are questioning it. They just can’t get it into their heads that I’m not going to be there full-time.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I tend to talk to people about it, as once I start talking about it I remember why I’m doing it, and it re-ignites my confidence. Sometimes just spending some time actually making the jewellery helps too. I forget it all, try not to think about where it’s going, and usually by the end of doing that, I’m back!
What or who do you find intimidating?
I feel intimidated by how flooded the market is by really talented people. There’s a real resurgence in hand made, DIY culture, although that’s actually inspiring and motivating as well. But it does mean that there are huge talents to compare your-self to all of the time, many of whom do have a design background, whilst I feel like a fraud! You’re putting yourself out there amongst a pool of really talented people.
It’s funny that fraudulent feeling, I wonder where that really comes from? Because if you’re doing it then why does it make you any different?
I think it’s got something to do with the way that we’re educated about creativity. At school I wasn’t good at drawing or painting in any traditional sense, so I went into life feeling like I wasn’t a creative person. Even though I’ve always been passionate about design, and I think I’ve got a good eye, I don’t have that foundation of feeling that I’m qualified.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
I think actually it wasn’t a comment about something I make, but more about what I’m doing and that I’ve taken the bull by the horns and that I’m doing it, which was really nice as that’s probably the part I’ve found most challenging.
I think most people I know are looking for something a little bit more meaningful, whether it’s just to complement what they’re doing or move into it totally.
The first time a friend told me that she really liked the necklaces I'd made also sticks with me. The idea for the business was borne out of that single compliment.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
It’s definitely about the moment. I’ve never really ascribed to ideas about traditional careers and a career in a corporate environment has never really attracted me. I’m not driven by money, I’m not really competitive and I think ultimately I know that I’m not going to get a great deal of joy out of a career with a very structured progression path. For me it’s definitely about what I enjoy and finding the right life balance.
Having said that, there is something really lovely about the idea that you've put something positive out into the world, even if in a tiny way. It's really motivating to imagine that something you've created is out there, bringing a little bit of joy to a stranger's life.
How do you define success now?
I think for me it’s about being happy, finding joy in life and finding the right combination of the things that will bring you what you need – being happy, intellectually stimulated and all of those kind of things. It’s not about money or accolade. It’s about how you feel.
I’ve definitely learnt in my life so far that by focusing on things that make you happy, it opens you up to other opportunities. Having done the jewellery project, it’s made me think about the main part of my career as well and the potential of doing something different there too. I’m looking into the potential of re-training as a therapist! I’ve always been interested in working with people, and it’s that aspect of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most. I want to do something that feels like it has a really positive value or impact in some way.
It’s just an idea at the moment that I’m starting to research, but it feels like a possibility. A year ago I would have felt less confident about the idea of making such a big change.
Where would you like the business to get to?
I’m not really focused on the financial side at the moment. It’s more about being established – I’d like it to grow, I’d like to have an online presence for orders, I’d like to be at the markets more regularly, to be selling in a couple of independent retailers and to introduce a couple of new lines in the new year. Through all of that the sales will hopefully grow. I think I’ll feel more confident about approaching new people when I have a couple of ranges under my belt.
How do you start your day?
I have a pretty standard routine. If I’m at my normal job, I do yoga before work. I use the journey before the work to catch up on the business, checking my Etsy sales and dealing with any emails I need to.
If I have a day at home doing jewellery I still do something like yoga before I start. I have a little studio I’ve created for my jewellery making. I use the headspace app sometimes if I feel that I’ve still got some thinking hanging over from working in my other role, as it makes the transition easier.
How do you organise yourself? Any useful tools / tips?
In the new-year I want to start connecting more with other makers. Etsy has some amazing tools online (how to brand yourself, how to maximise sales, how to tailor the look and feel of your shop, and there are mentor events they do for their members) and I’m sure that there is lots more that I could be using and understanding.
I’m hoping to sort an extension of my flexible working in January. I also want to be more organised about how I’m using my weekend time. Ultimately I’m going to be focused on creating more time and space. At that time of year I always feel like it’s a fresh start, so I’m going to use that to push me forward as much as possible.
Where do you most like working?
I have my studio at home, and I really like the set-up, but I’d love to get my own little studio. I have a lot of friends who have taken on spaces and they don’t have to be that expensive. It also means you’re working alongside lots of other makers with really inspiring work, and there’s a lovely atmosphere.
I don’t find working on my own lonely though, I almost go into a little bubble, dis-engaged from the world, and time just disappears. It’s a sanctuary for me, but maybe that’s also because I’m not doing it every day?
What’s the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
I think it’s made me more confident about what I can achieve. It’s proven to me that a lot of the fears that I had haven’t held me back at all.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I think the thing I’ve noticed is that I’m someone who really needs time to feel inspired. Some people find that their creativity thrives on chaos and gives them this energy, but I find that if I try to slot the jewellery in around the rest of work and life I get really frustrated and find it hard to come up with new ideas. So the really important thing I’ve found is that I need to set time aside to be creative.
In terms of what actually inspires me, I find a lot of inspiration from living in a city. My initial inspiration for the jewellery I make is clean, contemporary design and geometry. In a geeky way I find geometry really fascinating – the angles, the precision and the symmetry.
I also find that inspiration can come in a back to front way. I buy things before I have any idea what I’m going to do with them, and then I work it out. It’s less design driven and more about textures and colours.
What idea do you wish you’d come up with?
Definitely Headspace (the app). Attitudes toward mental health are really shifting. Obviously people have been practicing and teaching mindfulness and meditation forever, but apps like Headspace seem to have made these tools and techniques accessible to a much broader spectrum of people who might previously not have considered trying meditation. I know so many people who have benefited hugely from using Headspace, people who might have laughed at the concept of meditation just a few years ago, dismissing it for being 'hippy dippy'. Apps like Headspace are one way that we can teach ourselves to slow down, breathe and disengage from the chaos of our lives. Its such a simple idea but one with so much potential to help people.
I also love a project called 'Humans of New York' and there is now a 'Humans of London' too, it’s really interesting. HONY started as a photography project by a lone photographer in New York, setting out to capture the character of the city through portraits of its people. He started interviewing the people he photographed and it's become a really fascinating window into this incredibly vibrant, gritty, ever-shifting city and the diversity of its inhabitants. It's such a simple idea but it's so powerful because it gives voice to the histories and every day experiences of normal people. I did a PG-Dip in Life History Research and have previously worked on oral history projects, so anything to do with people and their personal stories always really fascinates me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer! Like a lot of people I grew up only really understanding about jobs that were professions. It’s funny if I think about that now, as that’s not me at all! Oh, and I also watched Twister and wanted to be a storm chaser! Highly unrealistic!
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
I would tell them to try lots of things. I really regret when I was at university not getting myself out there and trying more. I really hid in a way at university, and I didn’t think about how that would affect my transition into the real world. I would try and get my kids to think more broadly about work and their careers; I think it’s about exposing yourself to as much as you can. My understanding was really narrow, and that’s a bit of a regret of mine.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I’d probably be a travel writer I think. I love the idea of being able to be remote and travel and write about it.
I had a really interesting conversation with someone recently about the fact that there are always lots of things I want to be doing. She made me re-frame the fact that I’ve seen it as a shortcoming previously. She said ‘it just means that you’re really engaged in life and have ideas and are inspired, so why are you turning that into a negative’? It’s a really good point….
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Expect to feel rubbish at points and lose interest, but know that you’ll come out of it. In the very early stages, I think that happens to you a lot. You question what you’re doing and whether it’s a waste of time. A few friends said to me that it’s human nature to not feel confident 100% of the time and it’s really true.
Check out Sophie's stock at Etsy https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/KaleidaJewellery
Follow Sophie at www.facebook.com/kaleidajewellery or @kaleida_jewellery on Instagram
For more pieces like this, follow @mastersofmany on Instagram