How Katie built her unique bike jewellery brand
For the London Jewellery School team, one of the best things is watching former students progress in the jewellery industry. Today we catch up with former Jewellery Business Bootcamp student Katie Wallace of Katie’s Bike.
How did you get into jewellery making?
I started making jewellery when I was little – I can’t even remember how young, but when I was 10 I took my bead collection into school for ‘hobby day’. It was pretty impressive even then, if I do say so myself.
My first year of university I got some insurance money and decided to start a jewellery business. I bought a whole bunch of supplies and tools. I also took a silversmithing course on a study abroad program in Italy and loved it. But in terms of my business I had no real training or focus and studying architecture full time got in the way.
So 9 years and two degrees later I’m having another go.
Tell us about your business
I make and sell jewellery made from used bicycle chains. It may sound a bit hard core and industrial but actually they’re fun and quite chic. The business is built upon three core pillars: stylish and beSpoke (ha!) design, reCycling (double ha!), and engaging the cycling community. I think I’m more of a design and sustainability nut than I am a mad cyclist, but I do love my bike and it’s my main mode of transportation.
I’m still figuring out my core customer base – working local markets has helped a lot as I get to interact with customers. It’s also really nice to see the “wow” reactions. But for now I’d say my jewellery is for ladies and gents who like to work hard, play hard. It’s a bit edgy but also classy. I’ve sold a lot to ladies of my Mom’s generation, as well as the cool teens and their next gen 30-something farmers market frequenters. Great for cyclists, but beyond that it’s for urban folks who value handmade, sustainable fashion.
What did you do before setting up your jewellery business?
I made a complete change from my previous career as an engineer. I was great at my job and had just finished a part time Masters. By many accounts my career was ‘successful’, but I was miserable. It was difficult to go against the grain and decide to ‘give it all up’. I could probably be making six figures in a year or two if I’d stuck with it. But who wants to be rich and unhappy? Now, I feel like my new business is going to succeed and I can already tell it’s bringing out the better version of myself.
How did the Jewellery Business Bootcamp help you develop your business?
I could never have done this without the bootcamp. I’m not just saying that – my business never would have gotten off the ground without it. I probably would have committed halfway and, for lack of focus and need of an income, been sucked back into my previous industry.
The bootcamp provided me with a clear path for the developing stages of my business. It also basically wrote my business plan for me. It gave me mechanisms, tools and models for planning, tracking my progress, focusing my attention and honing my brand. I use these tools at least once a week, if not daily, to structure my work.
It gave me a lot to think about and a lot of different avenues to pursue. The trickiest part is looking at the big picture and not freaking out. There’s always so much to do, so it’s crucial to set realistic goals and expectations and to track them regularly. For me it’s also important to remember that this is supposed to be fun. Enjoying it means working hard but not killing myself or stressing out – that would make the whole business unsustainable. I work at least sic days a week now, but I get a little lie in everyday and relax, guilt-free, when I know I need a break.
Where can we buy your jewellery?
I sell my jewellery through my website at www.katiesbike.com. There you can also find a list of my stockists. But the best place to buy my jewellery is from my weekend market stalls in London. That way you get to meet me and you can see all the newest stock. I do Oval Farmers Market on Saturdays and various markets on Sundays (check the website or drop me a message to double check my Sunday whereabouts).
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a jewellery business?
1. Honestly, do a bootcamp. I’d give that advice to anyone starting any kind of new business.
2. Go for it. I don’t think you can do this on evenings and weekends – you’ll end up exhausted and unfocused. Save up enough so you can support yourself and make a small investment in your business for at least 6 months. Just do it.