Can creative work garner a cult-like following, while also being hundreds of thousands followers strong? Australian jewellery designer Natalie Marie and her namesake brand is proving that it can.
The delicate, distinctive pieces of Natalie Marie Jewellery are stocked in noteworthy boutiques across the country, and her social pages have gathered over 111,000 fans. And it’s little wonder: every piece is carefully handcrafted in her Avalon studio, and can take up to a week or more to produce, especially for bespoke creations.
“I wasn’t trained as a designer, but more as a maker, so getting stuck in and working with materials is what really gets me excited,” Natalie says of her process. “The design process for me involves a lot of experimentation and play. Keeping this creativity flowing is really about carving out the space and time for that to have its freedom.”
Although the brand actually began in 2012, it wasn’t until recently that Natalie decided it was time to turn her side hustle into a day job.
“I only went entirely full time on the brand about 18 months ago, which seems crazy now looking back,” Natalie tells Collective Hub. “The decision came at a point where I literally couldn’t have continued as I was; I was working 18 hour days, seven days a week, and woke up one day realising how crazy that was.
“It’s an empowering decision to decide to give the thing you love all of your energy, which it really deserves. As soon as I made the call, the business went from strength to strength, and we were able to expand and grow our team, open our studio and showroom, as well as provide a much more refined and personalised bespoke service for our clients.”
Working on the brand directly following graduation, the business originally took “a back seat” to full time work, as Natalie carefully built her collection of tools and equipment, as well as a substantial following. During that time, Natalie held a range of jobs – a design assistant in an architecture studio, as well as roles in admin and as a buyer for a fashion boutique. With each varied role, Natalie added a new notch to her business skills belt: effective selling strategies, brand building, client management. Her “bench skills” she gleaned at university, where she studied visual arts, with a major in jewellery and object. Everything else, however, was trial and error.
“Over the years, I have been called upon to rise to different and new challenges, which have forced me to expand in different directions,” she says. “I have, until very recently, managed all facets of the business personally – from making to marketing to accounting and beyond. While this has been challenging at times, I think it is a representation of how personal the brand is to me in every facet.”
Considering how personally connected Natalie is to her creations, it makes perfect sense that she’d guard the brand ethos so fiercely.
“One of the biggest challenges was sourcing reliable and trustworthy suppliers who have the same values as I do,” Natalie says of early challenges. “In an industry where it’s almost impossible to obtain transparency and verification around ethical and sustainable practice, I have made it a priority to work with suppliers who understand and value this – as we do. This has really been a long-winded process of refining down to a small but strong network of trusted suppliers.”
Natalie has also had “vital” and invaluable input from her menswear designer husband, and now business partner, in the previously unfamiliar territory of large-scale production and product pricing. But getting a crash course in some aspects of small business ownership is only one small part of the rise and grind that entrepreneurship can bring.
“I think the biggest challenge has been the pure blood, sweat and tears that inevitably goes into building up something that you are passionate about. I have poured absolutely everything into the creation of the brand, and on a day-to-day level that can be a real challenge.”
Luckily, then, there are growing fans who appreciate the work of her studio – including within her own family. “I’m probably my own harshest critic, so taking time to step back and pat myself on the back is not really my strong point,” she admits. “I think my proudest moment along the journey, personally, was creating my sister’s engagement ring, a special three-part set, which was designed to represent her two little girls and her partner. Being able to share this work with the ones I love is a great privilege.”