Hi, my name is Fern and I run Designs by Fern. I make polymer clay earrings in Sheffield in between my “day job” as a Commercial Interior Designer.
It all started in June last year when I was furloughed from my “day job” and as the months went on, I found my days at home were getting longer and longer. I started looking for a hobby to keep me busy and came across polymer clay. I’ve always loved statement earrings and when I found out I could make my own in whatever style I wanted. I got myself straight online to buy a starter pack of clay and away I went. I started with a few key materials until I improved the quality of my makes. As I started my business since COVID 19 started, I don’t really know any different. I was hoping to do a few markets this year which I am unsure if they will happen or not so I will just have to wait and see with those.
My typical business day involves getting up and driving to Doncaster, if I’m going into the office, for my job as a Commercial Interior Designer. I would usually call at the post box or post office if I have orders to send off that morning. Then I spend the day designing bars, restaurants, pubs and hotels. On my way home, I will post any local orders! Once I arrive home, I will quickly have tea and then chill for a little while. The evening is usually spent making content for social media, packing any orders or any general admin chores I need to do. I usually wait until the weekend to take photo’s of my earrings as finding the best lighting is my all-time bugbear. The winter months are a nightmare to get any decent photos spots. Although, I have recently found two spots in my house at 2 different times of day…for now, until it changes. I also like to (when I have enough time) map out my posts for social media on a calendar print out so I can forward plan but this doesn’t happen as much as I would like.
I would say social media has been one of the biggest contributions to growing my business. It’s almost like your shop front, so I think you need to keep it looking constantly fresh. I also think there’s a certain pressure to always keep up with the latest trends on apps, such as Instagram, as there is a lot of competition out there. Your social media page is often the first thing people see when they come across your business, so I think it’s important to try and catch people’s attention. It has also given me the ability to form relationships with people I wouldn’t have usually met.
When I first started my business, I don’t think I realised how much time I would need to spend on creating content for my social media pages. There is a lot that goes into a single post such as taking the photo of the product, researching and making the infographic to writing the post to grab the attention of your customers. I try to post at least once a day if I can, but if I don’t have anything decent to post then I won’t force it. I think it’s better to miss a day than to post something that you aren’t 100% happy with. I mentioned earlier that I like to map out my posts if I can as this helps with creating good content and not having to rush a post as soon as I kept home from my day job. I like to try and plan for the week ahead, so it takes the pressure off me for that week whilst I’m busy packing orders, etc. I get inspiration for my posts from a variety of places, there are a lot of cool prompts that can help you get ideas for posts or if I see a style of post I like, I will make a note of it and then give it my own twist. I have lots of notes in my phone with ideas for social media, along with lots of quick sketch ideas for new products.
Meanwhile, I tend to make my earrings in the evenings and then either finish them the night after or at the weekend, depending on how quickly I need to get them ready. I have recently just launched a Valentines range but the week I was supposed to start making them, my oven broke so I couldn’t make anything for 3 weeks. I obviously wanted to get them out in advance of Valentine’s day, so I managed to make the entire collection in 2 days. A collection would normally take me 3-4 days depending on how many pieces I make.
The process of making earrings starts with me conditioning the clay in the colours I want to use. This is an important process which softens the clay to try and prevent bubbles forming and also gives you a smooth texture. Some clays are easier to condition than others – I use Fimo, which I later found out is notorious for being hard to condition. I then use various techniques, such as marbling, to make different patterns or colours. I then cut out my earring pieces with a cutter, these are like small versions of cookie cutters. Then, with my new oven, I bake them for 55 minutes at 110C. Once cooled, I will then sand the edges with an electric buffer to get rid of all the rough edges. I believe this is an important process, as I think it gives the earrings a more professional finish. I used to do this by hand with wet and dry sandpaper, which took so much longer. The next few stages are the most fun for me, this is when I choose which charms and findings to add to my clay. I do sometimes have an idea which I’m working to, but I mostly decide once I have all my finished sanded pieces in front of me. The final stage is to add them to an earring card, and they’re all finished ready to be sold.
Then comes the wrapping. My packaging has changed since I first started as I used to package my earrings in bubble wrap envelopes. However, I quickly realised the posts would sometimes come through the envelope, so I moved on to letter box size cardboard boxes. I also wrap the earrings in tissue paper and some recyclable bubble wrap. The box then goes into a pink postal bag to protect the box from getting wet. This set up has worked up to now and I think it is a good balance between looking aesthetically pleasing whilst still protecting the product.
Once I get in the mind set of making my earrings on an evening, I sometimes find it hard to stop as my ideas start flooding out of my brain. I try to make notes of my ideas so I don’t get carried away as it can be hard to concentrate. This helps me focus more on one design at a time. I do have a break occasionally whilst my earrings are baking. I don’t really find any of the jewellery making hard as I enjoy experimenting with making different styles. The harder parts for me are the admin and social media side of things and managing my time around my full-time job. I think if times were a little more normal, I would struggle more with my personal and social life but as we have been cooped up for most of the past year, it has given me lots of “spare” time to put towards my business.
For me, the best thing about having your own business is that it is YOUR business and all the decisions can be made by you. I’ve always been a creative person but hated explaining through school, college & university why I’d done something a certain way as I rarely knew why. All I knew is that I liked it and wanted it that way. Designs by Fern gives me that creative outlet to make what I want without having to explain “why” to anyone.
Furthermore, I don’t have any regrets as I think you can learn from your mistakes and its usually the mistakes, which help you improve. I started working on my kitchen table, so things were a little chaotic in the beginning. I then moved all of my materials to my spare room and I have recently got the space just how I want it with everything in close reach and organised. If you’re working from home, I think it’s important to have a dedicated work space, your work space can quickly overspill into more areas of your home and before you know it, you’ve taken over the whole house.
Also, I didn’t think this would become a business but it’s important to find something you love. You have also got to think whether you can make money from your idea and if you do, make sure to keep on top of is your accounts. Do this by making sure you do things on a weekly basis keeps you on top of things, so it doesn’t get too daunting if you’ve left everything until the last minute. I’ve also recently started prepping my packaging in advance which makes the packaging process a lot easier.
However, I still feel like I’m learning a lot about running my own little business. I think I was a little naïve of how much time you need to spend on tasks such as admin and creating content for social media. I started Designs by Fern as a hobby, so I think the process has been quite gradual for me. I was also lucky enough to start back at my full-time job just a couple of months later so I didn’t have the worry of having to earn a living from this business.
The past year has been a real eye opener for a lot of people and the whole lifestyle change has made a lot of people reconsider their day-to-day life. At the moment, I am happy where I am and feel lucky to have my full-time job and Designs by Fern. Some days it is quite hard to juggle the two together but I try to start every day as a new day and try not to let the previous day get me down if it wasn’t as productive as I hoped.
Moreover, all of my family and friends have been really supportive and are some of my most loyal customers. I really appreciate their support and I love seeing people wearing my earrings. I come from a large family and I am the oldest of 4 sisters and 2 brothers, who all love to give their opinion on new designs. It’s great to have that support network in which I can send them new ideas and get their initial thoughts. I have set myself a few goals for this year which I’m hoping to smash by 2022. A couple of them including a collaboration with another small business, getting my stock in a retail shop and I’ve also got a few ideas for a homeware range which I’m hoping to release later in the year.
Finally, if I could give myself a piece of advice from what I know now, I would tell myself not to compare myself to other people’s businesses. It’s hard sometimes seeing other people selling loads of products when you might not be doing so well. Of course, I’m happy for that person but it can be hard to see too. I always try to tell myself, “Never compare your chapter 1 to somebody else’s chapter 100.” My advice to anyone who wants to start their own jewellery business is to experiment a lot and get comfortable with your own style. You don’t need to buy lots of expensive equipment or findings. Gift your experiments to your family/ friends and get their opinions. And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself and most importantly, enjoy the process!
Instagram Link – www.instagram.com/designsbyfern
Etsy Link – designsbyfernstore.etsy.com