1. Tell us a bit about your business?
My company is called “Alis Volat Propriis,” which is Latin for “she flies with her own wings.” I make hand-made, artisan jewellery, based mostly on old techniques (chain maille, kumihimo, and Turkish Ebru) with a bit of a modern spin. Because I like to combine different techniques and experiment with new colours, patterns, or weaves, my table at exhibits or markets is always an eclectic mix. People always seem surprised that everything truly is hand-made – by me.
2. What inspired you to start your business?
I have a career of 20+ years in corporate international human resources, which has given me the opportunity to live in four different countries and do project work across many others. In 2011, a major health scare made me completely reconsider my priorities. My GP suggested taking up a hobby or finding something creative to do to engage the other side of my brain (which was a polite way of saying “get a life” J). I happened to see an advertisement for a one-day jewellery making class, so I went. And then again. And again. And then a certificate programme. And then self-taught in other techniques. Then an opportunity to actually go to Istanbul and learn Ebru from well-respected local artisans. I love it!
I still take on interim HR assignments or projects, as the bills still have to be paid. But the jewellery design/creation is my passion. I continue to look for ways to further my career in the jewellery side of things, which would allow me to cut back on the HR work. But I realise that this will take time.
3. What are the biggest challenges you face with your business?
I’ve been exhibiting and selling now for less than a year. It is difficult to get started – to find the right contacts, the right people who will help you open doors, get invited to the right events, etc. It takes a lot of effort. And it’s very easy to get disillusioned after getting started, particularly if you come from another line of business altogether. I remember my first exhibit/market (just a local church fair) and I kept questioning myself about whether or not I even belonged there. You have to stay the course and put the self-doubt aside, which some days, is easier said than done.
The other major challenge is competing against mass-produced items. It’s very disappointing at times to have a potential customer tell you how much he/she loves what you do, and then tries to negotiate the price down to the point where I would be taking a loss. I use high-quality materials (sterling silver, niobium, among others), which all come at a price. And if a chain maille bracelet has over 1,000 individual rings on it, it is me that has placed each one of them there. There aren’t a lot of shortcuts. So when you’re looking at artisan, hand-made jewellery, you have to consider the materials + the time + the effort that went into each piece. There’s a little piece of “me” in every piece of jewellery which I produce.
4. What is the most rewarding part of your business?
Knowing that someone who has purchased or been given one of my pieces finds it special. I made a bracelet as a gift for one of my therapists when she was getting married, and I was deeply touched that she wore that bracelet to her wedding reception. Even with the limited fairs/exhibits I’ve done so far, I have had repeat customers! It’s very touching to hear stories that people tell about one of my pieces of jewellery that they gave as a gift, and how excited the recipient was at having something unique and different.
5. What advice would you give to people who have a business dream that they want to follow?
It’s never too late to follow your dreams, your heart. It’s also a matter of being realistic about what can be achieved – you can’t snap your fingers and suddenly change things around 180 degrees, especially if you’re already established in a particular field or career. If you told me that I’d never have to put on a business suit and matching high heels again, I’d do a dance of joy. And I hope to get there – some day.
To find out more about Holly and Alis Volat Propriis, click here: http://www.alis-volat-propriis.com