Leah Hendre, First Year Modern Linguist, talks about La Selva, her flourishing jewellery business
It wasn’t really an inspiration thing. An ex-teacher of mine gave me some plastic beads, as she knew Oxford University was stressful and thought it might be a relaxation technique! I had a play around, practising stringing acrylic and plastic beads onto wire. At that point I thought; what sort of thing would I wear and what quality would it be? I came up with the kind of ‘jewels’ I would want to wear, such as pearls, shells and gemstones. I had to figure out for myself how to source all the materials. I never attended any course or was taught how to do it, I just worked it out. So much of what I do is based around how I perceive jewellery, in style, quality and design.
That’s interesting, so how is it you visualise a design?
I get inspired from what other people wear in the street. For example, I had some necklaces which have strings to make it look like the gems float. I liked the design, but was not keen on the colour. I look to all different places for inspiration, even high street shops! When I see something – I think; I like that, but how can I improve it? Maybe it’s gaudy or too processed, which I dislike. I don’t like things made in bulk. No two pieces of mine are the same, as the nature of the beads is to be individual; with different shapes or colours.
My designs are bespoke. When I order materials, I only get string of one item. I want the people wearing them to know they are wearing something individual. I don’t make anything until I am 100% sure that this is the best a piece can be and that I’m happy to wear it myself, and it won’t date. I remember every piece I make.
I try to make sure that all the jewellery I make is natural. Generally, I use neutral palettes; greys, silvers, browns, but I can use any colour, and the age range I sell to varies enormously, from eleven to eighty-two so far! I also do made to order, where I am inspired by my clients’ personal taste.
It sounds like there is a bit of a psychological aspect to your creations.
I really love getting a bit of information about colours, styles, and the occasion it will be used for, then taking an idea and running with it. One of my favourite things about this job is seeing a customer’s face when their brief becomes reality. So yes, I try to get into the head of my client.
If you are so focussed on individuality, how did your business expand and how did you build up a recognisable brand?
Well. I started with three necklaces, making stuff from the selection my teacher gave me. I came up with the name because I do Spanish, and it was a word that I loved. La Selva means ‘the jungle’ which is in keeping with the materials I use and is also easy to say!
My parents helped me with my start-up costs once I had decided on the materials I needed, but my dad was slightly sceptical. He told me “you’ve got a bit of talent. It’s a hobby. If you sell two pieces to family members, you’ve done well!” To start with, it was quite difficult. At a local village fair, I made loads of pieces, and sold almost nothing. But then I hit the internet, and handed out fliers to get more and more people to look at the stuff. The business really expanded through word of mouth, but also through my Facebook page. In August I made the first few necklaces, and by September my dad had actually admitted that I had something there!
How have your designs been received?
Really well. I’ve had no complaints (to my face!) I always seem to have managed to make it exactly how they would have wanted it, indeed, more than they could visualise themselves! I’ve had so many comments – no one believes it’s a nineteen year old out working of their bedroom. I’ve always made the quality excellent, with proper materials. I think only with a good base can you have a polished end product.
The best reaction I’ve had was my friend’s mum, who cried on receiving her necklace, and then did not take it off for a week! I think the personal nature really comes out in that the family member has also taken time to find out about what their relation wants.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
If you’ve got an idea; run with it. I knew I had enough to make something from it. When business is slow; and there are some really slow points, don’t get down. Know your market and adapt prices to it. Mine and my mum’s friends want to buy good quality items, we live in a highly demanding society when it comes to consumer quality. Therefore, you have to invest to make something good. Don’t cut corners with costs as it will come back to bite you, and I never try to make a design too quickly.
Is there anyone who emblematises your designs, or who you’d like to see wearing your jewellery?
Meryl Streep. She’s classic whilst wearing many different styles of jewellery. She is not afraid to express herself in whatever she wears.
Leah’s designs are available to order online on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/LaSelvaJewellery
or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org