She designs, makes and packages her own jewellery under the name Swank and here’s what she thinks about life
Interview by Sofie Jenkinson
I started making jewellery for myself and my friends out of Lego and pieces of broken jewellery. I took them down to a shop in Leeds and they took them on, which inspired me to try to sell in different places. The business just grew from there. Rachel Lamb from Hannah Zakari was a great help in the beginning as she was the first online store to stock my jewellery and I sold a lot through her. She gave me tonnes of tips on how to start out. I also spent a hell of a lot of time on the Etsy forums learning from other people who had been making a living out of crafting.
I wanted an outlet for all my pent up creativity. I made enormous woven sculptures from recycled plastic on my course and had the luxury of an enormous studio to do it in. When I finished uni I realised that they were a nightmare to store and although I loved making them, no one wanted to buy two metre high, brightly coloured, plastic sculptures. I realised that I needed to make something people would buy which would allow me to keep being creative.
I have always loved art, ever since I was a kid. My parents used to enter my pictures in competitions and encouraged me a great deal. I had my picture in the Hart Beat gallery and I won a Blue Peter badge for designing clothes for Karen Keating!
I come up with silly ideas and some of them work, some of them are just stupid and don’t even get a second thought. But often in the middle of a conversation about something else I will say, oooh, I could make a necklace with whatever it is we were talking about.
At the moment the AAAARGH necklace is my favourite piece. I was so happy when I got these back from the laser cutters. It encompasses so many things I love – gold, comic book style artwork – and it’s massive, in your face and totally blinging!
I’ve got some new designs in the pipeline, which I’m very excited about. Without giving too much away there will be hot rods, Mexican wrestling masks, more comic book inspired necklaces and some more sea creatures. I get bored of the designs so easily, after you have made hundreds of the same thing you stop wanting to look at it anymore.
I love it when someone I don’t know buys something and I imagine them walking around wearing it. When I started getting orders from abroad I was very excited, and I still do, especially if it’s in Australia or Japan or somewhere far away.
I like being able to call all of the shots. No one is telling me what I should make or how it should look. I design and make everything myself so it is all just stuff I think is cool. When you are at university you have tutors telling you how they think you should do things and, as art is so subjective, it is very hard sometimes because you have to do things just to get the grades.
I feel it is so important for aspiring designers to know it’s not all roses. I’m very proud of everything I have done but I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. I always used to read these things about independent designers and it sounded so easy, I wish I had read some more honest articles when I started out. I’ve been doing this for seven years now and I still don’t make enough money to live on. I once tried to do Swank full time, but I didn’t bank on was how lonely I would get. I still run a successful business and work very professionally in my spare time – it can work and it’s OK to do both. I’m a fully qualified youth worker, working in a surf shop due to the government cuts on youth work jobs and I run a successful jewellery design business on the side, and that’s cool.
I am so proud of Swank as I have done it all on my own and I am so impressed with myself that people actually want to wear things that I have designed. The hotel I built in Ghana was also a massive achievement for me, even though we did not go on to open the hotel I think what we built was amazing. My boyfriend and I desgined and built it all ourselves with money that we had saved. I know very few other people who would try to do something so ambitious.
My friend jokes that I’m like a Labrador and will jump in any water I can at any opportunity. I always thought surfing looked cool and I have loved water all my life.
I just love being in the sea! Surfing is the only sport I have ever been passionate about. Sitting out on my board behind the breaking waves is so relaxing and peaceful. I always think it’s really nice how there are so many people out there and it is so quiet! I am still not very good at surfing and the feeling when I catch a wave is still really amazing as it probably only happens once of twice a session for me at the moment so I get really happy when it does! Also you get to meet some great people.
I have always dreamed of living at the seaside. But I have to credit my love of surfing to my boyfriend, who had just started surfing when I met him. He took me down to Cornwall on holiday, I hired a board and loved it. He bought me my first board and has rehabilitated me back into surfing after a very bad fin cut in Ghana on New Year’s day this year. I was so scared when I got back in the sea the first few times, but now I’m back and in my wetsuit – I never thought I’d say that but it makes me feel safe from fin cuts!
I am very happy to be in the UK surfing in Saunton, where the waves are so lovely and break nice and slow. It can get crowded but I feel a lot safer. But it’s also great surfing in Ghana as the water is so warm, it’s quite quiet and there is none of the attitude that you can get in the UK. Over there people will cheer you on in the water and I learnt so much because really good surfers will give you tips and help you out. But the waves are very fast, pretty big at times and close out a lot, hence the hideous fin cut.
After living in Ghana I have realised how much I appreciate the UK. I really do love Saunton! I have always been a traveller and wanted to live in another culture. After actually doing it (big time) it was so hard that it has left me with a great appreciation for England I just love it at the moment. There is honestly nowhere else I’d rather be. Ask me again in the winter and I might have a different answer.
I don’t want to look back on my life at 70 and wish that I’d done this or that. I want to live a full life and try as many of things that I want to do as possible. This, unfortunately, makes me quite scatty in what I’m doing; I want to try everything all the time and am always off on some mad mission or other.
If I had an unlimited supply of time and money I would make a totally badass tree house hotel or glamping site in Devon, with a really amazing house on the side where boyfriend I could live!