How college course inspired award-winning Ayrshire business woman

2015/01/img_0856.jpgAfter taking up a part-time jewellery design course at college, Sheila Kerr discovered she had an eye for detail and a natural ability for design.

She decided to completely change her career and now specialises in the design and manufacture of handmade bespoke designer jewellery for her national and international clientele.

Read Sheila’s story.

In 2007, I was demoted as a result of restructuring. I needed to continue to work but was devastated at this news. My husband Tom noticed an advert for the Silversmith evening class at Ayrshire College and suggested I do something just for me after many years of staff development and academic study. I had always been creative but had never tried jewellery making, although it was always something I had wanted to do.

I enrolled onto the evening class and quickly realised just how much I enjoyed working with metals. I loved it! I learned all the basics of metalworking and silversmith, as well as how to sketch out a design and work to scale. The tutor was great and taught me all I know. I discovered that I had an eye for detail, but I also discovered that I seemed to have a lot of design ideas – this was surprising as I didn’t realise I had this talent until I started jewellery making!

Sheila’s ‘Ailsa’ collection, inspired by the beauty of Ayrshire’ landscape

I originally took up jewellery making as a hobby and at college I enjoyed meeting other students, learning new skills, making mistakes and learning from them. Around this time I was asked by a colleague at work if I would sell one of my own pendants that I was wearing that day. I was slightly bemused, not believing that anyone would want to buy my work. This pendant was created with copper in a scroll design with a silver spiral swirl. I took it home and polished it to a high finish and sold it for £15 – my first sale!

I continued to attend the class while working. I began attending craft fairs, church fetes and any local fairs. I worked mainly with beads and semi-precious stones as I didn’t have a workshop at home. I began to sell my work ever so slowly and then decided to create my own website.

I also started to create bridal tiaras and headpieces – this was self-taught using my skills from previous hobbies of dressmaking and knitting. Next I focused on the bridal market and have exhibited at many wedding fairs, including the Ayrshire Wedding Show and the Scottish Wedding Show at SECC. I began to build up a customer base and thoroughly enjoyed working with brides and creating special pieces for their big day. Finally, In August 2011, I decided to give up my job to dedicate myself full time to my business. I am now based at a design studio in Irvine.

I pride myself in my customer service as well as the quality of my work. I like to get to know my customer, especially for bespoke commissions. This type of work involves stages in the design process and the customer should feel that they are your only customer (even if you have a full order book!) I have also developed my social media marketing (follow me on twitter and facebook) and receive orders this way from as far away as Italy and the USA. My website was created by a professional web designer and I have recently added an e-commerce section.

One of the challenges I face is that it is important in a creative business to always be developing and improving your skills and ideas. My advice would be, always be aware of your market but be confident to create designs that you like yourself and would wear. I try to offer something different from the rest as there is always competition, regardless of your field.

On a day to day basis, life is hectic! I am the designer and maker as well as the business owner. Although I have great support from my husband, I juggle all aspects of the business. I would say that, if you decide to start up a creative business, make sure you seek support and help through a number of agencies. I contacted Business Gateway. I’m a member of the Ayrshire Association of Businesswomen, a member of the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and an alumni of Entrepreneurial Spark where I received amazing support and mentoring. I also applied for grant funding from North Ayrshire Council and was successful.

If you want to set up in business reach out for all the help you can get, research your market and customer, work hard and never give up!

I will be exhibiting at the Jewellery and Watch Trade Show, NEC Birmingham from 1-5 February in the Launch Gallery – my first international show. I’ll be showcasing my ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ Collection inspired by Robert Burns, which won a Mumpreneur Silver Product Award last year.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s