Sabira Silcock: Jeweller and owner of SKEN Studios

Name: Sabira Silcock

Job title: Jeweller and owner of SKEN Studios.

Career path: I graduated from a BA in Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University in 2014, the course  was quite multidisciplinary and it was during my time here that I decided I wanted to pursue a  career in jewellery. After graduating, I launched Sabira Silcock Jewellery, a business I ran  alongside working other part-time jobs. During that time, I sold mainly through shops and  galleries in the UK, with most of my earnings from sales feeding back into the business, to buy  the tools I needed. I also interned for a few small companies and trained under a very talented  Goldsmith called Loree Bologna, she taught me a lot of the traditional skills which had been  lacking in my BA course. 

In 2016, I moved to Stockholm to undertake an MA in jewellery at Konstfack, a prestigious art  and design University based in an old Ericsson phone factory. This education really pushed me  and forced me to see jewellery as a more conceptual ‘fine art’ type lens. I moved back to  Manchester in 2018 after two amazing years in Stockholm and got pregnant with my son Rupert  pretty much immediately as soon as I arrived back. It was during the first few months of being  on maternity leave with a very small Rupert that I had time to reflect and come up with ideas for  SKEN Studios. I then launched in May 2020. 

Ideas & Planning: I’m usually not a huge planner when it comes to designing a new jewellery collection. My  process normally begins with a few sketches on the back of a receipt or if the mood takes me,  one of my many half-filled sketchbooks. The initial sketches for my first SKEN Studios  collection were drawn on my iPhone notes – the only tool to hand when I was trapped while  feeding my baby son. 

After sketching, I translate my drawings into silver; I draw directly onto the silver sheet then  saw out the shapes. For my Signet rings, I carve a special type of Jewellers’ wax, which is then  cast into recycled silver. I prototype all of my designs and then test-wear them to make sure I’m  happy with the final product.  

I try to work quickly to override my true instincts to ‘fanny around’. My studio is located at the  bottom of my garden, which is proving a nice short commute, with just enough distance from  the house to prevent me from opening the fridge door every five seconds. 

Finance: I launched SKEN Studios earlier this year during lockdown, which seemed like a really risky  move but it worked out well. At the time I was furloughed from a part-time job, so I used some  of my wages from that towards start-up costs, like a website and packaging. 

I tried to make the packaging feel luxurious and special by spending time, rather than money on  the little details. I hand-stamped the cotton bags for earrings and shredded colourful waste paper  as packaging stuffing. One thing I absolutely couldn’t scrimp on was the gold embossed ring  boxes, I wanted those to feel extra special. Trades can also be a clever way to keep costs low in  the early days. I made a signet ring for my graphic designer friend and in return she designed my  logo and branding, which I love.  

The main thing I did to finance the first collection was to make my first pieces available as pre  order only. As precious metals are expensive, this allowed me to gage which pieces were  popular without huge start-up costs. Once I had enough orders, I bought the silver and made the  pieces in batch, which saves time. 

Networking: In my pre-Covid life, I worked at Manchester Craft & Design Centre, which is a great hub of  talented craftspeople. They also run regular Makers meet-ups which are great for meeting people  in the same professional boat.  At the moment, most of my networking takes places on Instagram. I’ve met some other amazing  designers and business owners; Gwen from Grey Millk, Sara who runs Kano and Tara Collette who makes the most incredible banners, to name a few. I was also approached by July Child, a  Manchester based cult brand which stocks the most stylish accessories – our signet rings will  soon be available to buy from their website. Networking doesn’t need to be stuffy and formal,  just slide someone a DM and see what happens. 

Typical working day: My typical working day is varied; I’ll be prototyping some new earrings in the morning, packing  orders after lunch and polishing rings in the afternoon. People talk about having to ‘wear  different hats’ as a small business owner, which is clichéd but true. You have to have a handle on  all these different aspects of running a business which can sometimes leave you feeling scatty but ultimately it stops me from getting bored with my work.

You can shop Sabira’s latest creations here.


Northern Business and the World of Etsy

As we move further into the digital era, curating an online presence is more significant than ever. Etsy is helping creative individuals in the North of England gain exposure and cultivate success by selling their homemade products, writes editorial intern Lauren Beesting.

Etsy was founded in 2005 and has become a thriving business model, chosen by many for its strong community ideals and unrivaled popularity. Etsy gives crafters and DIYers the chance to sell and distribute their products across the UK and overseas, allowing creative success wherever you are located.

Lauren spoke to Sophie and Kristyna; two Etsy shop owners based in Leeds, about their experience creating and selling products online. 

Sophie Howarth: Owner of SillyLoaf

Sophie Howarth and her SillyLoaf Cactus Scarf

Sophie opened her Etsy store in 2011 when she found herself unfulfilled in her office job. The store started as “extra pocket money for a fun hobby” says Sophie, but she soon realised the costs that would come with opening a store. She never expected the shop to become a full-time business, but it has been an enjoyable experience to flex her creative abilities. She is self-taught in all of her skills and has an abundance of support from her family, especially her partner. Sophie is a one-woman band and designs and produces all of her products. 

How has Etsy helped your business?

Etsy has provided me a lot more income than in the early days. It provides me with an incredible platform to get involved in the community and being part of an Etsy Team has allowed me to communicate with Etsy staff and actually influence how the platform itself runs, which is very rare.

They also have a ready-made audience that loves handmade, loves products with a story and really cares about what goes into the items in their home, and gifts they give to their friends. The opportunity to tap into that is unmissable for me as it’s exactly what my business stands for too.

Was it hard to become popular on Etsy?

I think if you do your research and learn and experiment it can work out really well for you.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start up their own store?

My best advice is to start now. Get involved in everything you can, share your knowledge and learn from everyone you meet. Don’t rely on your friends and family too much because they are not your target customer and trust me there is a customer out there for every weird and wonderful thing you could dream up. Finally, rest, learn, evaluate and change. Never give up.

Statement earrings available on Sophie’s Etsy page

What is your opinion on the stigma surrounding creative success up north?

I do think it’s a common misconception that there isn’t much of anything outside London. There are a lot more people just like you than you think, it’s just that sometimes you have to be the catalyst to bring those people together. Here in Leeds we have some incredible independent shops, a huge collective of artists selling in a shop in the centre of Leeds, lots of creative markets and fairs. If you don’t have them in your area – start one! You can probably find fellow local people hanging out online!

Kristyna Baczynski: Owner of Kriski

Wild Woman Risograph Print by Kristyna

Kristyna grew up in the Pennines of Yorkshire, her family weren’t the most creative of people, but her mother always supported her to work hard and do what she loved. Kristyna moved to Leeds for university and shortly afterwards opened her Etsy store as a side job, selling her illustrations as prints and stationary sets. 

She used the platform as a way to become accessible to her existing customers so they could find her online rather than just at events and fairs. In 2017 she became a full-time Etsy business owner, as she shared “hustle for a decade and your dreams can come true.”

Why did you choose Etsy to create your online store?

I think what encouraged me was a mixture of feeling like it was the next step naturally with selling all these products [at fairs], and then there were people who wanted to follow up and keep track of me through the internet, and then there’s the aspirational aspect what people were doing who were slightly ahead of me and I wanted to get to that place too.

Dream Studio – A3 Screen print by Kristyna

How has the experience been moving online?

Nowadays people are taking social media into their own self-promotion. Whereas when I left university no one was talking about building portfolio websites or running an online shop, and running a business, there wasn’t that focus on products and how you sell them and how you use the internet to establish it. People are so hungry for it because it’s so visible and it works. So, trying to figure out the internet at the early stages was weird, but then also being on the early edge of it I did well on Instagram initially and now I’m a steady account. My Etsy kind of grew at that point in the same way that my online presence did.

Making Things – Risograph Print by Kristyna

Have you ever encountered struggles with living outside of London?

People think moving to London is a badge of legitimacy like ‘ah I’ve made it I’m living in the capital this is where everything is happening’.

But to me I always felt like by not being in London I had way more advantages. I know someone in London who rents a room in a shared house, for the same money I pay to have a flat with my partner who is also a freelancer and we both have an extra bedroom for studio space.

In Leeds we are still connected to a city centre. We can get the train to London in two hours and yet people who live in Greater London’s commute are going on two hours as well and you just think it doesn’t really compare. I think for how much of a premium you pay on everything it isn’t worth it. 

I go down to London all the time, I work with publishers and clients in London. If I am down for a meeting with someone, I will also arrange deliveries to my stockists, and I’ll get a wholesale order for some of my products and I’ll meet about a job.

Sites like Etsy are helping to revolutionise the national success of small business owners, and creatives. No longer are we living in an age where you have to move to the capital in order to make it in life, there are growing opportunities across the country that are allowing women the creative success they’ve always dreamed of, from the comfort of their hometowns. 

A strong community is a huge deal breaker in business, without having that stronghold of support you lose out on potential to grow. Etsy is providing people from across the country with a platform that brings together crafters and creatives, providing individuals with the support and guidance of like-minded and inspiring people. 

Words: Lauren Beesting

You can find both Sophie and Kristyna’s work and creations here: SillyLoaf and Kriski

Getting to Know Megan Jones: Founder of Curated Makers

Words: Hannah Molyneux 

There is hope for the high street. With online shopping on the rise and empty retail units on every corner, Curated Makers offers a shopping experience with a difference. Championing northern makers, they are advocates for independent creative businesses, bringing handmade artisan products to the streets of the UK.

Working with retailers such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, and Paperchase, Curated Makers create a space for northern pop-up shops and outlets on the high street, giving shoppers the opportunity to purchase something lovingly handmade, while supporting a small business at the same time.

It’s been a whirlwind year for founder Megan Jones, with concession stands and pop-ups across Manchester, Liverpool, and Chester, as well as organising events such as Creatival – the creative business conference for makers and other small businesses. Recently, her efforts to showcase northern makers have been recognised with an award for North West Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year.

We caught a quiet moment with Megan to chat about her passion for bringing indie business to the high street, the realities of running a one-woman business, and her future ambitions for Curated Makers.

What was the inspiration behind Curated Makers?

I was working for large online retailers in digital marketing, selling mass-produced items that had no real meaning, and I wasn’t fulfilled whatsoever. I was always visiting local artisan markets and started to realise how much I loved the artists and makers there. I wanted to work with these people and see how I could use my skills to help small businesses. So then I started taking four or five makers to the market, trading on their behalf using a commission-based model, which normally doesn’t exist for small businesses.

After a while I started to realise that markets are unreliable, and the logistics involved even for five makers were almost impossible to manage. I saw an art gallery in the window of Debenhams in Manchester one day and thought, “I want to be in there,” so I approached Debenhams and pitched a pop-up shop to them. The window wasn’t available, but they gave me a space on the third floor between the café and the loos! I decided to give it a go and set up a market stall in there. 2 weeks turned into 3, and then finally they gave me the window spot. This was in June 2018 – it was my first taste of high street footfall and that’s when I made the decision to focus on the high street.

You’ve made the decision to focus on physical, tangible shopping rather than online selling – why is that?

There’s so much competition in this space online in terms of marketplaces, and I don’t really want to take them on. No one else is doing this pop-up model on the high street, and I’ve seen real success with it. The retailers want to stand out and the makers have the opportunity to sell their products on the high street. It’s important to me to create a personal shopping experience and tell the stories of the makers. I’m here to offer something different and to tempt shoppers away from mass-produced products made overseas in favour of local talent.

What is your relationship like with local makers? Were they on board from the beginning?

The makers have received it really well, especially because the footfall is so reliable. I just asked them to trust me and I’m so grateful that they did. I have a really personal relationship with the makers and that’s possible because they’re local. Even though I can’t work with everyone, I still want to build a community, so I’ve done two meet-ups this year with speakers, workshops to provide opportunities to connect with other creatives.

What do you find challenging about running this kind of business?

The sacrifice is real! The past year has been so full on and I’ve not been able to spend as much time with friends and family as I would like. There’s just me in the business and I’m responsible for every single aspect of it. Even the shop fixtures are designed by me and then made at home by my boyfriend who is a joiner. 

People tell me I’ve achieved a lot so quickly but I’m not running Curated Makers part time or even full time – I’m running it double time at the moment! Everyone’s concerned about me burning out, so I need to look after myself and work out a way of running Curated Makers that isn’t so reliant on me. At my last two pop-ups I’ve had a rota of shop staff to help me out – they’re all makers or freelancers themselves and it’s been life-changing for me to have them about.

My next challenge will be how I could run two shops at once, then three, then four, because ideally, I’d like to be in as many cities as possible all at the same time.

And if money was no object?

There would be something like this in every city across the UK. I don’t know whether it should be pop-up or permanent – the former is more exciting but logistically heavy with the added elements of moving around and storing stock and shop fittings. I had my heart set on getting into John Lewis and Marks and Spencer and I’ve managed to achieve that. I’d love a pop up in Selfridges and if Liberty would every have me that would be the dream! It would be amazing to take northern makers to the south.

I’ve got something interesting in Curated Makers and I’m starting to get emails from interesting people who want this in more places – it’s so exciting and genuinely all my dreams are starting to come true.

What is special to you about working in the north and particularly with creative women?

There’s so much going on in the south and makers are already well-represented, so I want to shine a spotlight on northern makers. The quality is so high and I’m spoilt for choice. Northern pride is fantastic and, in all the places I’ve been so far, people are so proud of being northern and that’s why I like to focus so much on local products.

I work with a lot of women and it’s great to be able to represent them. I’m really pleased to be able to contribute to a flexible style of working that suits women and their creative businesses and family lives. To be honest, the proportion of women that I work with is so high that I’m actually looking for more men to work with to create some balance!

I’m inspired by so many of the women that I’ve come across and worked with, and lots of them are good friends now. The community aspect is so important to me and I’m becoming more involved in supporting creative women in the North through events and meet-ups. I definitely find that filling a room with other creative people helps to keep me going too!

Curated Makers announce all upcoming events on Instagram @curatedmakers