Models Gigi Hadid and Megan Gale were early adopters. Pop star Selena Gomez and actress Olivia Wilde have posted images of themselves in various Fairley pieces. Asher Keddie was spotted in Fairley on the Channel Ten series Offspring last year and Fairley’s Samara emerald disc necklace was the crucial plot point in an episode of the Channel 7/NBC series Blindspot.
Which makes it even more surprising that this sought-after jewellery brand is a lean operation run by a husband-and-wife team from their Melbourne studio.
Designer Susannah Fairley and husband Jeremy Carp, a property developer who took on a more active role in the business two years ago, have a small in-house team and contract out their digital marketing, graphic design and IT. To date, they have had no need to engage PR agencies, capitalising solely on their organic growth and celebrities requesting the brand.
“We needed a digital marketing agency to capitalise on the changing nature of marketing and advertising… it’s been very effective and it’s happened organically,” Susannah explains.
Launched in 2013 as a four-collection range of sterling silver and 24-karat gold-plated earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces, Fairley is manufactured in Bali and stocked in more than 50 fashion and lifestyle boutiques around Australia, as well as five Myer department stores. About 10 per cent of their business is international in countries such as New Zealand, Fiji, Hong Kong and the US.
“I describe it as contemporary, luxe, affordable jewellery for women of all walks of life. It’s ageless,” Susannah says.
Fairley is distinguished by its use of 24-karat Italian gold plating, which is the highest and best form of gold plating on the market today.
“Italian plating is really strong. It binds to the sterling silver really well, so we don’t have any issues with gold plating wearing off, which can happen in plated jewellery,” Susannah says.
Their other point of difference is in the quality of the craftsmanship of the pieces and the precious and semi-precious stones that Susannah sources from stone merchants all over the world.
“My philosophy when designing is always less is more. I like to have really simple, elegant shapes as my canvas, and then give the designs a twist through adopting ancient jewellery-making techniques that can provide different textures and finishes, such as granulation design or matte finish, or just a beautiful stone that becomes the hero of the piece,” she says.
Design influences include classic, luxury designers such as Celine, Cartier and Chanel, that Susannah describes as “timeless.” From a business perspective, she is inspired by Jessica Alba.
“I admire her transition from A-list actress to entrepreneur, building a billion-dollar business with an honourable mission,” Susannah says.
Susannah and Jeremy have been fortunate with the growth of their business and attracting a loyal customer base with their wholesale and online platform lovefairley.com, but the journey has certainly not always been an easy one for Susannah.
Born and raised near Shepparton, Victoria, until the age of four, Susannah struggled through private school in Melbourne before undertaking her Year 12 at Swinburne Secondary College, where she studied jewellery making. Barely scraping through and without the grades to go to university, she attended TAFE for two years before being able to transfer to a Bachelor of Business, majoring in marketing and human resources.
Straight out of university, Susannah scored an entry-level position with the Just Group and worked her way up to jewellery and accessories buyer for Jacqui E. She says she learned more about the day-to-day running of a business on the job than she did during her years at university.
“I learnt a lot about growing a brand, sales and seeing how consumers react to product during different times of the year,” she says.
But business acumen is undoubtedly in Susannah’s DNA. Her great grandparents opened Fairley’s Department Store in Shepparton in 1907 and Susannah grew up hearing stories about them when she visited.
“Retail is definitely in my blood,” she says.
One of the stories she loves recalling is of the competition across the street: Farmers department store, which was owned by Sam Carp, Jeremy’s grandfather.
“My grandfather and Susannah’s great grandfather were competitors,” Jeremy explains.
Fortunately, the pair are now working on the same side of the street and have recently expanded into leather goods. The first season, comprising a clutch and a large tote bag in a variety of colours, sold out. After recently visiting the best tannery in Italy that produces leather for brands such as Valentino, Chanel and Celine, this season they are launching two cross-body bags and a tote.
The bags integrate Fairley jewellery with each piece featuring a semi-precious stone above the label encased in their signature 24K Italian gold plate.
“Like most women, I love bags and I especially love good quality, high-end designer bags. I wanted to create my own, that were affordable,” Susannah explains, adding that her bags retail for between $270 and $450.
The secret to Fairley’s success lies in the quality of their offering for the price, which has seen consumers repeatedly return to retail stockists and their online store. With nearly all of their original stockists still with them today, the business has grown significantly since inception.
“The last two years, in particular, has seen really steep growth due to a combination of factors: great TV and celebrity exposure, and fantastic collections that are getting bigger and better each season. Fairley is now a well-known brand in Australia and customers feel comfortable with the product and are returning each season, which is a good sign. From an online perspective, we pride ourselves on amazing customer service, fast delivery and beautiful packaging,” Jeremy says.
The question remains: how does this hard-working couple juggle working together with family life and parenting their two-year-old son, Jack? Complementary skills help: Susannah is the creative while Jeremy is structured and organised.
“We’re not knocking off at 5pm five days a week,” Jeremy quips.
“Maintaining and running a business is relentless, so it’s a matter of utilising our time as best as possible and trying to keep work time separate from family time.”