NAJ News

Meeting the Creatives: Alexis Dove

01 Apr 2020

Alexis (right) with Jay and shop manager Rachael outside the shop

Image: Alexis (right) with Jay and Shop Manager Rachael outside the shop in Lewes.

In the second in our series of interviews with our industry’s creatives, The Jeweller editor Belinda Morris talks to designer Alexis Dove to discover her story.

Belinda: What led you to the jewellery world and was there a Plan B?

Alexis: Strangely enough the jewellery industry was my plan B, albeit without my realising until many years later! I started working in agriculture originally, having both an HND and BSc in agriculture. I have, however, always been drawn to jewellery, but was told that it was not something to make a career from when I was at school. So I said I was going to work in agriculture and was told quite firmly that it was no occupation for a woman! So I signed up to agricultural college… in many ways just to make a point!

After my degree I went travelling for a year, it was whilst away that I realised that I wanted to follow my original path, after all if I could survive four years at agricultural college surely I could re-train to become a jeweller?

I took a City & Guilds at Sir John Cass in Fine Jewellery and Diamond Mounting. Having sworn to never go back into education ever again, I loved it. It was so rewarding to be taught by some very skilled teachers including Paul Raven and Jennifer Bloy. I started to realise that I was enjoying myself so much because I was actually following the right path finally!

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Belinda: When did you start to actually make and sell jewellery commercially?

Alexis: I started my business in 2006, however, I spent the whole year before tinkering with ideas and making gifts for friends and family. I created a woodland tiara for a friend for her wedding and so my first collection was born out of that. ‘Wild Rose’ came from designing her tiara, another connection to farming as she is a farmer’s daughter who I met whilst working on a fruit farm! I made a few appointments with shops and galleries and thus managed to get my first wholesale orders together.

 

Belinda: What was the inspiration for what you were making?

Alexis: See above! At the same time as the ‘Wild Rose’ collection, I also created ‘Beachcomber’ – a collection of cast shells and coral, which I then combined with aquamarine, labradorite and freshwater pearls to create dreamy bohemian pieces. These were inspired by our local Sussex beaches, where I spent hours wandering, especially in the winter. I was also being inspired by architecture at the time, especially the Georgian ironwork on so many Brighton buildings. I’ll always fall back on my love of nature, but I am also obsessed with history and anything interesting, to be honest; that’s why I never get bored of making and designing. These days I’m more and more fascinated by gemstones and what the raw materials can do, colour combinations and textures. I think this time away from the shop will also allow my mind to wander over new ideas and inspirations, so watch this space!

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Belinda: How did the retail side of your business come about? And how did you choose a location for your shop?

Alexis: As with so many events in my life, opportunities present themselves. It was having the guts to take the chance and see what happened that made me open my first shop. Lewes is a gorgeous market town and there are a lot of Independent shops and businesses here. Friends of mine had a shop for many years and they decided to move premises – they encouraged me to take the plunge.

To be honest I had always loved the space within an old Victorian factory building and decided that I should take the opportunity since it had presented itself. Six years later a woman walked into my shop and offered me the lease on a shop on the High Street; I was not that interested until she said which shop it was – my favourite in the whole town! On top of this the landlord wanted someone who worked locally and with ethical business practices – I had to take the leap again!

 

Belinda: Describe your shop, what do you do to lure customers and to make sure you stand out from any competition?

Alexis: Our shop (since marrying my long term partner Jay last year, we have made the business a partnership) is designed to be a reflection of my sense of design and inspiration. The shop has a gorgeous double-fronted Georgian window, although the building itself is much older. We spent three months renovating the shop, including exposing the old flint walls to create a relaxed, inviting and calm space. We also found a traditional glass sign maker to create an authentic shop front, which would fit into the medieval town. Lewes has a very strong sense of identity and I love running a business here. I wanted the shop to add to and complement the High Street if possible.

The shop is full of curiosities and vintage cabinets and has a feel of almost being lived in, with houseplants and a jewellery bench made from some of the wall panelling we found when we were renovating the shop. We also have a private commissioning area built behind some old sash windows, where you can see into the shop, but cannot easily be disturbed.

Whilst we look to be part of our town, we also cast our eyes beyond, encouraging customers to visit us as the home of Alexis Dove Jewellery. We want our customers to have a positive experience with us and have the chance to buy from our collections and also one-of-a-kind pieces. Customer service is our focal point and the way in which we can stand out from other chain stores and brands

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Belinda: What is your design/business ethos today? Working responsibly is obviously vital...

Alexis: It has been a fantastic journey so far and it has been most rewarding to be able to steer the business in terms of responsible working practices. My trip to Peru, and then to Sri Lanka [with the NAJ], were real turning points for me. It is a continuous part of our business to keep moving forward on this journey. Things are always changing and it’s great to find new initiatives and ways to be more responsible.

Alexis Dove banner 5We are now focused on consolidating what we have been working on in terms of investing in staff and our own training. We are also spending a great deal more time in creating one-of-a-kind pieces and finding new ways to interact positively with our customers.

I did not start this business just to find a career; I wanted to do something rewarding that I loved and I try hard never to lose sight of that… especially now in these difficult and exceptional times. It helps to refocus on why we work the way that we do and whether we can make it better.

 

 

Belinda: What would you do differently, if you were starting out now?

Alexis: Times are very different from when I started out – I must be getting old!! It’s no longer very easy to start a wholesale jewellery business. It was the best way to get into the trade when I started out as a new designer. In 2020 it is far better to start your own business with a small website and a wide social media platform. I would also make sure that I applied for a lot of high quality retail shows in order to promote my designs and meet other like-minded designers. I have always enjoyed the company of other designers and have made some great friendships over the years.

 

 

Belinda: COVID-19 aside, how important is on-line for your business?

Alexis: On-line has always been the backbone of my business from branding to an on-line catalogue and for web sales. No business can start now without one as most customers research before they buy anything these days. Even when online sales are low, when I ask shop customers why they are buying something they will often say that they have already looked through the website before coming into store. Many commissions also start with online research. So I would say that it is vital!

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Belinda: What are the key lessons that you have learned? Any advice to jewellery designer makers starting out…

Alexis:

  • Don’t get into jewellery design because you think there’s quick money in it. It’s got to be something you are truly passionate about, as profits will take years to build up. I have met many people who believe that it will be a way to get rich quick; the designers I know who have been working in the trade for many years have taken a great deal of time to establish themselves and they love what they do. You need patience and resilience
  • Do not overwork! It may feel that you are doing the right thing for your business because you have stayed up until 4am and not had a day off for months. This will only result in burn out; I learnt this the hard way and so have many other small business owners. If you learn to pace yourself so much more can be achieved, you won't be tired and neither will your work!
  • Learn about money and business, if you want to keep doing what you love, cashflow is very important, although not very inspiring!
  • Get to know your customers and why they like your work, treat them well, but don’t make things you don’t believe in, as it will show in your designs. You have to sell to your work and so it must be something that you are proud of
  • Try on all of your jewellery to see if you can to identify design faults. What looks beautiful on the bench may not wear well, make sure that it does!

 

You can meet more 'creatives' on the NAJ Better Business Webinar series, which features a look at Stephen Webster's Jewellery Journey on 14th April. 

Source: The NAJ