How 'Rhian Kate' came to be
Updated: Aug 4
I thought it was about time I started a blog and give you the ins and outs of running a handmade business so I thought I'd start off with how I started.
Grab a cuppa, let me tell you a story.
Rhian Kate officially started in 2016 after I graduated from Cardiff met where I studied Artist Designer Maker, but my passion for jewellery started long before.
I've always had an interest in fashion but typically the fashion industry seemed like a scary place to be and as much as I wanted to work in the industry, the cut throat fashion industry is something I didn't think I was cut out for.
At 17 when they ask you to decide on your future everything seemed very scary and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, all I new is that I loved creating and a careers adviser suggested I applied to do an art foundation degree at Swansea met (its now called University of Wales Trinity St David) it's only a year long course but was probably the best decision I made.
A passion for jewellery
I learnt a lot about myself and that's where I discovered my love for jewellery my love for fashion transpired to be body adornment and I was fascinated by how we as humans choose to wear certain things, we wear clothes to keep us warm as clothes have more of a purpose but with jewellery its more of a form of expression, jewellery as a purpose is decorative and there's a long history that goes along with jewellery and it really fascinated me, it changed how I viewed things, I'd see how certain things could be worn and when we'd be given certain exercises to experiment with our work, the question I'd always end up asking myself would always be how would this sit on the body and that's when I knew jewellery was my passion.
When I had discovered this I had already applied for university so that's why I did a broad art course rather than a jewellery course. In a way, I'm glad that I choose to do a broad art course as it's lead me to where I am today but it would of been nice to learn some of the typical skills of making jewellery.
Whilst at uni I learn't many different techniques and I discovered my love for pewter so I spent time refining my pewter items to what they are today, I learnt a lot in that time and grew a lot. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished university, all I knew is that I didn't want to give up making!
There was an opportunity to stay on for a graduate scheme in the university for those wanting make a creative business so I applied because what did I have to lose? I got in! It was only for a year and we had to pay £1000 to be there for that year with that we got studio space, a mentor (my mentor was the wonderful Karren Del'armi who used one of our sessions to teach me how to silver solider) and use of the facilities which was amazing, sadly they no longer do the graduate scheme as they've had to make room for new courses but it was an amazing opportunity that I'm so glad I had the privilege to do.
The scheme started in the September of 2016, so that summer I worked two jobs in two different places (in the Gower and Penarth) working two very different jobs, one in a beach shack and the other in a jewellers one day I'd be serving chips and the next I'd be handing diamonds it was so bizarre going from one to the other but it's what I needed to do to make money ( I barely had a day off that summer) as the flat I was moving into was unfurnished and I ended up spending all my spare money on that and at that time minimum wage was £6.50 so money was tight anyway. Eventually in the September the summer job in the Gower came to an end and I eventually got a routine.
I'd work Monday - Wednesday on my jewellery business and Thursday-Saturday in the jewellers, I'd even work some Sundays on my jewellery business, I worked 6/7 days a week for over a year and I was exhausted and honestly I don't know how I did it but I knew I burnt out and I burnt out hard. Money was a real struggle I earnt about £600/£700 a month from my part-time work after paying rent and bills there wasn't a lot left but I still managed to buy materials when I could and reinvest any money I got from selling jewellery went straight back in to learning, growing, refining and bettering my skill set and my products.
I started working a lot with the entrepreneurship team at Cardiff met who really helped me grow and understand what I needed to do start actually making money there's an opportunity they do every year where you do a week-long boot camp and at the end, you have a chance to pitch to win £1000 to invest in your business and I was one of the winners which was so exciting, this led to other opportunities which I'll get back too. The first year in business for me was just about learning I was at a loss I failed A LOT but I also learnt a lot.
A push in the right direction
I was 22 when I started my business with absolutely no idea about running a business. By September 2017 we had to move studios as our year was up, we found a studio near Cardiff city centre (I still work from that building 3 years and many room changes later) I continued to work with the entrepreneurship team even though we were no longer on campus. By this point I was tired, I had been working 6/7 days a week for over a year and something had to give but I still needed to work part-time I couldn't afford not too.
I took my days down to working 2 days a week rather than 3 in November but I got my Saturdays back, which meant I could do markets that were on a Saturday and Christmas time was the time I really needed to make the money get my name and my work out there, I was so pleased with how my first Christmas went. In that time I'd been offered an internship from the Cardiff met entrepreneurship team which was sponsored by Santander which meant I would get paid a similar amount to what my part-time job gave me for 13 weeks but the condition was that I had to leave my job so I could give my entire focus to my jewellery which is something that I'd dreamt about from when I first started, so it was a no brainer to say yes!
I could give my website the time it needed so I wasn't so embarrassed by it, I did a photoshoot, I contacted A LOT of shops with very little in return admittedly, I worked on developing new ranges, which was all very exciting. I used money that I had won to buy equipment, to get the basis of my silver soldiering equipment that I needed once I had that and developed my silver soldering that was a real turning point, my products were better it was the piece that was missing to really help me grow!
Photo by Mary Watler-Thomas
By about Mayish time 2018 money was running out so I got a job in a coffee shop that was super flexible and I didn't have to work weekends so I could continue to do markets (which meant I could continue to grow) I worked there for about 3 months but working in hospitality just wasn't for me it stressed me out more that anything! After a successful market at Tafywl I was able to hand in my notice, I was used to living off very little but I just felt I couldn't keep both up I was feeling too overwhelmed.
I talked it over with my boyfriend (who's done nothing but support me and encouraged me) about quitting my job. At this point, it was 'make or break' so I said, "if it doesn't work this Christmas I'll look for a full-time job and say bye to Rhian Kate", my mental health could take it anymore.
I could feel my business going in the right direction but money and time had always been an issue so that September, October and part of November I poured all my time into it to make it work however money was extremely tight. I say tight pretty much non-existent I had to borrow money to just pay my rent, bill and for the markets I booked in the hope I would make some money I booked any market I could from what I can remember I did 13 Christmas markets that year and I was blown away by how well my jewellery was selling and in the middle of all the markets I was moving house and had to move into my parents house in Swansea for 2 weeks and commute to Cardiff as our new home wasn't ready to move into, I remember we moved in on the Friday after my boyfriend finished work we went to get a few bits out of the storage unit (mainly the bed to sleep on) got up the next day went and did a market as soon as that was finished went to the storage unit and did multiple trips just to move our stuff in then the next day woke up did a market, then when that was finished continued to move the rest of the stuff, to say that weekend was full on was an understatement but I did it!
I made enough that Christmas to pay all the money I borrowed and enough to live on through January-march. Since then I've never looked back I've continued to grow, make changes where I've need to I just continued to book markets in and made sure I'd do at least two a month just to make sure I'd have cash flow and continue push forward and have more awareness about my brand. I've been doing this job full time for nearly two years now and I can't ever imagine going back! In that time I've learnt about my mental health and how to keep on top of that (I'll do a separate blog post about mental health).
"Oh no, do I need to get a 'job'!?"
I've managed to give myself time off which still feels like luxury (I sometimes have guilt for that and need to remember to practice what I preach about taking time off as it is healthy and better for business if you're well-rested and not burnt out) obviously there been times where I gone "Oh no, do I need to get a 'job'!?" but it never fails me when I start panicking a sale will come through and it calms me, I now have customers who keep coming back for more jewellery and it's the best feeling!
I'm not saying it's always easy but knowing there are people out there who love what I do keeps me going, it makes it all seem worth it. I'm not quite where I want to be yet but I'm going in the right direction and as long as I continue to show up, continue to learn and grow and I'll get there I have faith in me because I've got this far. I still don't earn loads of money but enough to get by, money is always a worry as it is in most small business as much as money helps I run my business for the life I want, I've opted to have a slower pace of life and happiness drives me I'm enjoying the life I've built myself it's not my aim to be rich it's to be content.
There's a lot that I haven't spoken about but I wanted to give you an idea of what it's taken for me to get where I am today. I feel so lucky to be able to do this as a job, it's hasn't been without hard work but every day, I am grateful and thankful to anyone who as supported my journey it really is an honour that people choose to wear the jewellery I designed and made.
Thank you for reading - I'll be back with more!