Dedicated to designing beautiful and accessible contemporary jewellery, emerging London-based designer Davina Combe launched Davina Combe Jewellery in December 2011, and has since seen her designs celebrated in InStyle, Grazia, The Telegraph, and Stylist, among others. I recently snatched a few minutes of her time to delve into how she has approached the thorny world of design startups…
Hello! First of all – what is your design background and how did you go about setting up Davina Combe Jewellery? Do you have a Masters in jewellery making?
Not at all, there are so many different routes people take. I ran a jewellery business through school and university where I made and sold a range of designs to friends, family and boutiques. After University I did several short courses at Central St Martins College of Art, but I learnt the most doing work experience with jewellery designers themselves since this is where you see first hand how a business works day to day. The courses I studied were in designing and making, but at the end of the day you learn very quickly that it is the other aspects of the business that are also incredibly important. Yes – an appealing and well-crafted product is key, but the way you market it and sell it is also important. Design is almost the easy part – especially if you are passionate about it! Passion is key.
Great – that is hugely inspiring for me! What inspires your collections?
Colour and the stones are often my starting point, and then I focus on commerciality and wearability; making pieces that can be worn on a huge variety of occasions, or all the time.
Davina’s beautiful signature stacking rings.
How did you go about finding your niche in the market?
My designs are about elegance, good quality, and affordability, and I got to this understanding of where my product would sit via the following ways:
- Looking at competitors – looking at who I wanted to be sold next to, what their highest, lowest and average price points were.
- Focus groups – getting together with friends and getting feedback on my design ideas – how much would they pay for it? It is vital to get honest opinions from a variety of people.
- Pinpointing my ideal customer – asking questions such as where do they shop? What do they do at the weekend? Have they got children? What income do I think they have? The more specific you are the easier the design process is as it provides a vital focus.
You might even end up having two categories of customers; I’ve worked out that mine range from 18 -25 yr olds that love shopping at Zara and Whistles to young professionals and mothers.
BUSINESS AND SALES
How has the reality of running your own business differed from the dream?
Well in the early stages it is definitely not as glamorous! Friends envy me for my freedom, but the reality is that it is not a 9 to 5 and really becomes your life! You have to be the type of person who can stay motivated and focused.
How much time do you dedicate to creativity versus business?
I spend 20% of my time designing new collections and making new pieces. Day to day a lot of time is spent on fulfilling orders, marketing and communicating with stockists and suppliers.
Do you have stockists?
Yes, my sales are through a mix of wholesale and retail. While the relationships I have grown with boutiques has been quite organic, they are on the whole positioned in the same demographic location as my target customer, so I know I am on track in terms of hitting the right people. At the moment my London stockists include Katie & Jo, Pipa, Felt, Indian Summer, Feather & Stitch, and Tzefira.
How did you go about sourcing your manufacturer, and can you give any tips on getting the most out of the designer/ manufacturer relationship?
The gold dust is getting a recommendation from someone you trust and who has worked with the manufacturer in the past. With jewellery, there are huge fairs where you can find all your network under the same roof, which is how I came across the company I am currently working with. Likewise, there are a number of agents working for manufacturers who provide another avenue of finding the right supplier.
In terms of tips, I’d say its essential to make sure that every decision is in writing so that nothing can be disputed, so follow up every phone call with an email. It’s also important to find out delivery lead times and minimum orders, as being forced to order too much can often cripple a business. Also, keep checking that your order is coming along as expected as invariably there will be delays.
Can you describe the process of getting your items made, from inception, to being on the neck, ear or hand of a happy customer:
I start off by thinking of a particular concept, developing it through different visual stimulants, colours, and looking at the cut of stones. My designs are inherently simple and wearable, so the key things I focused on in my current collection were my favourite gemstones and the textured metal surface. At the design stage I’ll fill a sketchbook with drawings from cover to cover, before cutting it right back to my two favourite rings, earrings, etc., all while looking to maintain a unity between each of the pieces and ensuring that aspects of each design will ensure that the piece will stay in a particular price bracket. Once I have refined the collection, I show my designs to my manufacturer and we discuss stone prices and details and then samples will be made, which can often be tweaked again before finalising the design. I am currently aiming to produce one collection a year and the whole process takes about 6 months, from the first idea to the final design having been made.
What do you find most difficult?
Multitasking! Working alone means juggling lots of things, and its vital to keep an eye on every aspect of the business!
What advice would you give the you of two years ago now?
Go for it – as for anyone, to have your own business is a dream, but I would advise that it can be much harder than you could ever expect – you have got to love what you do, as it is all encompassing. I would also tell myself to keep at it, as it has been immensely rewarding!
I can’t wait to see your next collection – what can we expect?
Ooh – well it is coming in November and you can expect a combination of delicacy and knots….