We very pleased to announce the arrival of innovative jewellery brand KRothwell to IndependentBoutique.com. Headed by designer Karen Rothwell KRothwell offers exclusive and bespoke jewellery influenced by Karen's love of travel and passion for world cultures. We chat to Karen now about her designs, inspirations and plans for the future....
KRothwell is a jewellery brand that specialises in innovative and limited edition collections. Key traits that appear in each collection are my use of precious metals, colour and mokume gane. In recent work this expertise is mixed with the aesthetics of African pattern and form, inspired by my travels through East Africa.
But my principal signature is that although I make in multiples each item is unique, down to the mokume pattern, the rare material choice, or the one off seed cast in silver.
What sort of comments do you get about your designs?
A lot of feedback for my jewellery is that it is so unique. I make pieces with quite a narrative behind them, so it is nice when I get to engage with the customer face to face and can pass on the story and inspiration behind the work. I am often asked “what is mokume? How is it made and why haven’t they seen similar patterns before”. I take that as a compliment that I am creating original work, but I am aware that this traditional Japanese technique is rarely achieved so early in a jeweller’s career.
What is your background?
I started off exploring jewellery in my Foundation year in Stroud, Gloucestershire, I specialised in small 3D work. This meant I had a lot of freedom with materials, but I always turned the pieces into body adornment, whether this was metal, newspaper, old leather or even cement. The cement pieces didn’t work too well to be honest, they were heavy and turned out not to be so practical.
I then started an evening class in silversmithing and that convinced me that jewellery was what I was meant to do. Next was Central Saint Martin’s to study jewellery design, this is where I honed in my technical skills and became creative with metals. I graduated in 2011 and launched my first collection in autumn of that year.
I did an intern with Jacey Withers in my first year of uni and he gave me some great first hand advice on how to create a business from my love of jewellery. So I owe him some thanks for teaching me to focus on it as a business, and to make jewellery others will want to wear and not just pieces I would.
I was also fortunate enough to win a grant to do a week course with Alsitair McCallum, this was my first professional experience of creating mokume gane, and he was brilliant at passing on his enthusiasm and skill for the subject to me. He trained me in the technique and I am grateful for all his help since.
Tell us about your design process from concept, production and to the shelves…
My inspiration for designs always seem to come from world cultures and as much as possible this is from my own first-hand experience. I then return to my south London studio, stacked full with sketchbooks and research materials, and sit down and try to process through my ideas. I can easily fill a sketchbook with ideas for just one collection. Then is the exciting bit, where I start to develop sketches, make prototypes and work in 3D. This is almost my favourite bit, all bar the end stages-generally a good few weeks later. When the masters have been made and finished up to showroom standards, then I get to organise a photo shoot. I love this! I have forged a great team I like to work with for my shoots, and we always bring together inspiring visuals. It’s great for me when I get to see the finished jewellery being worn, and ‘glammed’ up for a photo shoot.
After this I edit the photos and create look book and pricelist that can be sent out to stockists and press.
I think since 2011 my brand has developed a lot, as I have grown more business-like. I now create pieces that aren’t so niche, but are sellable to a wider range of consumers. I know now who buys my work, and an ideal price range. Furthermore, when sold on the right sites, the story behind the pieces really does enhance the items and generates enquiries and sales.
What do you hate most about your job?
The hardest thing for me has been to become as much of a business woman as I am a designer. To run a brand successfully I have to be a: researcher, maker, designer, critic, writer and PR, sales all in one! It was hard to fill that role at the start with no previous business knowledge. But since graduating I have learnt on the job, and I know I still have a way to go, but I’ve definitely learnt to prioritise and find a way to make it work.
What are your main achievements and what do you aim to achieve now? Past present and future
My first big achievement was the success of my degree collection. This was the first time I was given recognition within the jewellery industry. I had my collection sponsored by MADE, which was a huge boost for me, as they are a company whose business ethos I admire. The same month I was first featured in Jewellery Focus, and I think that was a key time that gave me the confidence to then approach other magazines, stockists and galleries with my work.
I also co-founded the group Aurum of London, along with four other CSM graduates. Forging the group gave us strength and a presence that we could not have had individually. It was under our collective Aurum of London that we showed at International Jewellery London 2012, and have successfully run two pop up shops in central London.
But regardless what press or shows I have done, I always think the best achievement is receiving positive reviews from happy customers. When you know that the piece that has been created especially for them, has been appreciated and exceeds their expectations. I hope to always enjoy these day to day achievements, happy and returning customers, and knowing that what I make today is being enjoyed and most likely shall out live me still being appreciated.
When business is quiet, sometime I wonder if I can actually succeed rather than just survive as a jeweller. But if you persist and continue to stay positive and close to your customers, even through the hard and long days, you will definitely see the results in due time.
The best advice I have learnt is to be smart with marketing. As a new brand it is key to get your name out there and seen by as many people as possible, but do consider who your audience is, it is silly to waste time and often money, promoting yourself to the wrong sector. First assess your audience and then apply your marketing to the relevant areas, whether this is online, in physical stockists or at the big retail shows.
Why do you think British design stands out on the global stage?
I think British designers are often the most original of all the designers from the main fashion scenes. It is London fashion week that really comes out and shows the extreme talent that we can produce here, we push the boundaries of our industries and I think it is great to be a part of it, and that we should celebrate our British design heritage!
Shop the KRothwell collection here: http://www.independentboutique.com/designers/k-rothwell