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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Business Advice from Jewellery Designer and Entrepreneur Gia Belloni

In another of our regular interviews with designers that are making their mark, we talked to Gia Belloni Founder and Creative Director of  British luxury jewellery brand Gina Belloni.

Before completing her degree in Fashion Jewellery from the Sir John Cass in 2010, Gia gained experience in interior designer and photography. ‘I have always enjoyed creativity. Since leaving university, I have been constantly absorbing new skills’ . This includes being qualified in CAD level 1,2 and advanced.
Today, Gia runs her own label, Gia Belloni, and is stocked at numerous high end fashion online stores such as LUXX LAB and Not Just a Label.

Here Gia tells us her story, and the different aspects of running a creative business in the fashion industry.

When did you decide to start your own jewellery brand and how did you come to that decision?
My jewellery brand grew from my initial interest in making unique, one off pieces of hand fabricated jewellery incorporating gemstones. I then realised that learning goldsmithing & design professionally  would suite me in so many more ways.  After finishing the degree at university, I began to realise this could be the career path I wanted to take.  I later attended The Goldsmiths ‘Getting Started’ course, where I formulated a more cohesive plan to begin this journey.  Research and commitment are key ingredients in starting your own business, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and realising what you enjoy doing most. My ideas for the future are numerous, but one step at a time is the way forward.

How did you get to the point you are at now?
This question really makes me realize how much I’ve been doing! I began by looking at my design process and researching the market.  Starting any new business means taking on many roles which you are not necessarily familiar with. Jewellery is no exception. A lot of research, a lot of contact growing and a huge amount of learning about materials and production, manufacturing, marketing and PR all have an important role. I’m naturally a worrier, so for me, the journey so far, has been fraught with worry and concerns. I knew certain things would benefit me a huge amount, such as CAD, so I put a lot of time and effort into really learning them and integrating them into my workflow. I would also add determination to this answer – a lot of determination to realise a vision and being able to adapt and evolve to what unknowns could be around any corner.
Since you started your business , what has been your biggest achievement ?
I was very pleased with my ability to learn CAD, this was something I found daunting in the beginning, so I’m quite proud that I am now proficient with this technology. Also, my 1st collection was a great achievement. The combination of creating fine and well made work and getting it to fall within certain price points is very challenging, so I feel very pleased at the results. A personal proud moment was selling one of my designs to a Royal!

What was the most difficult obstacle during starting your own business and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part of starting my own business has definitely been the financial commitment you have to make to it. It is a nerve wrecking thing to throw everything you have at something. My way of overcoming this has been to research the market and establish a clear direction and strategy and defferentiate between what is essential for growth and what can wait . Another challenge I have found is starting up production. To be able to consistently provide the same level of quality and value has been very hard to orchestrate! Trying to create the designs you want without compromising or simplifying and yet get them to fall within certain price points – this is a steep learning curve and I don’t expect it will be ending anytime soon! You just have to keep focused, keep pushing and keep learning as many tricks as possible to reduce costs without reducing the quality of my designs.

In which business areas did you receive support?
I have had some financial support which  has been an essential course of action in order to be able to grow and move in the direction I have planned. A recent decision was to employ a good PR agency, which involved a big financial commitment.  It wouldn't necessarily suit everyone, but for me it is an important step.

You stock at online stores such as Luxxlab, Boticca and jewelstreet. How did you decide which are the right online stores for your brand?
Initially I was happy to list on quite a few online stockists. However, as things have progressed I’ve been able to look at the stockists that suit my work more and rationalise my online outlets. I now look for the length of time an online stockist has been running, how much marketing they put into their store, who they also stock and the price points available there as well as the overall ‘look’ they present. 

Certain online boutiques are wonderful to work with and I am very glad to be listed on, it is a fabulous way of reaching a wide audience. Online boutiques take time to build momentum and a strong client base. The most important thing I consider is the kind of products the online boutique sells; if they are very cheap and cheerful then it’s unlikely that customers will be looking for higher priced items, so I think designers have to consider their market and stock appropriately.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who plan to start their own creative business?
 I love sharing what I’m learning (both what’s worked AND what hasn’t!). However, everyone is different, so you have to research your market and what suits your designs and your way of working, what works for one may not for another. 

The jewellery trade is multi faceted, so there are many different ways of starting in business.  If someone wants to create a brand then my advice is to be very clear about what you want to do and how you work. Ask yourself many questions and be a ‘devils advocate’. Once you have done this, be positive. It may sound glib, but believing in yourself and reacting as positively as you can to everything that comes your way will make all the difference. 

My overall advice would be to try and map out what you would like to happen and how you can make it happen. Then be ready to have nothing go the way you thought it was going to go!  Think: BACK UP PLANS! If it all flows as planned, this is amazing, but if you encounter hurdles, have alternate ways of reaching the desired outcome, then you can quickly switch to plan b and keep moving forwards. Be determined, take on board any advice and give it due consideration. Above all, try & be fair to yourself, we can’t all be born knowing the answer to everything, it takes time to become more confident in decisions made.

What motivates you?
I've been sent these pictures today by a customer from San Francisco. I was rather impressed with their clean character and it turns out that her friend is a professional photographer and was snapping away all night. I thought they were rather beautiful. It's so nice to hear from happy customers!

Interview by Katja Widder

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