Roisin Connolly, 25
Lives in: Edinburgh, Scotland
Roisin Connolly is single-minded in her desire to forge a career on her own terms. Straight out of university Roisin launched her own jewellery business that has been steadily growing in the years since and was just recently featured at the International Jewellery London show.
I met Roisin a few years ago through her equally brilliant older sister Aisling, who was my bunk mate and best friend throughout our nine month stint living and working in Kenya. Roisin had travelled alone across the seas to visit Aisling and see what the big wide world had to offer and she came away inspired. When I saw her a few months later, she had turned the experience into a stunning collection of jewellery that reflected her own personal adventure.
What we love most about Roisin is that, for her, work and life are one in the same. Her life inspires her work and her work inspires her life. But it doesn’t come easy and Roisin was generous enough to share with us the secret to making it work and then continuing to make it work day in, day out. Since we spoke, Roisin has relocated to Edinburgh where she has rented a new workshop space and is even further along in making her fantastic dreams come true.
If you like the look of any of her pieces (and with Christmas just around the corner) I recommend you check out her website and indulge in some wearable art.
You are a very busy woman Roisin! Do you ever find it exhausting juggling multiple jobs as well as managing your own jewellery business?
Utterly exhausting, it’s been quite an emotional rollercoaster really! From working long hours to finding the time to prioritise what work to complete first. I would love to be in the workshop all the time, designing, sampling, and making. However, with running a business comes the ‘boring’ stuff. Paperwork needs to be completed, applications need to be filled in and it doesn’t happen by itself!
It’s all a big learning curve too. This business is so new to me and I’m constantly learning and meeting new hurdles that I need to overcome to further my business and further whittle down those hours of other part-time work.
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of being able to focus just on jewellery?
Well, hopefully soon I won’t be doing any waitressing. At that stage I’d hope to just be focusing on part-time gallery work and being a jeweller. I think I’ll always try to have a creative job on the side to make sure there’s a certain amount of money coming in.
But I’ve actually just found a wonderful creative space in Edinburgh and paid my first months deposit, which is exciting. It’s a shared workshop right in the heart of Edinburgh and I get to share along with thirteen other talented jewellers trying to make their mark on the world so hopefully that’ll help spur me on and drive me to succeed as a designer.
I’m sure it will! And having such a busy lifestyle, do you find it difficult to find inspiration?
Not really. I don’t come up with ideas through sketchbooks though. It’s more like, when inspiration hits, you’ll find me scribbling on an old receipt or a bit of scrap paper. I think of my surroundings as a pinterest board of inspiration.
I think if there isn’t doubt or worry then you haven’t given yourself wholeheartedly to your dream.
Inspiration can come from a phrase you read in the newspaper that somehow gets the cogs in your brain working, or it could be a pattern found on an old bit of wallpaper which your ‘designer mind’ instantly starts to comprise into repeat patterns or develop into a form.
My Degree Show collection, for example, was titled ‘Diary of a Traveller’ and the premise of the work was to evoke a narrative and story from seeing and feeling the work. It was inspired from the time I spent in Kenya visiting my older sister. The jewellery was collapsible, so you could wear a box ring with a lid on the box and as you slowly took the lid off the top, the ring would collapse out to unfold hidden imagery.
Do you ever doubt your ability or worry it won’t work out?
I think if there isn’t doubt or worry then you haven’t given yourself wholeheartedly to your dream.
So I have them but thankfully I have wonderful friends and family that are so supportive of the career path I have chosen. Sometimes I fear that it might not work out, but each year I see how my work, sales and identity have expanded and I think as long as you take the time to look back and track your progress you can keep going. I have done so many great things and I can’t wait to keep doing more.
What do you think it’s been in your life that has made you so self-sufficient, so driven?
It is just that. I WANT to be self sufficient in a career that I love. I have to be driven, I do sometimes have lazy days—don’t get me wrong—however the following day I’ll feel guilty and silly for giving myself double the work to get through. Getting into the rhythm of work and finding focus is quite therapeutic, it’s such a satisfying feeling.
So what challenges lie ahead for you?
The first thing is just keeping at it. It’s quite hard to be an independent designer and make a profit. If you want to do it, it will happen but you have to put in the hard graft. You have to approach shops about stocking your work and go out and tell people who you are because they don’t automatically know and come to you. Make sure everyday you are putting yourself out there, always have a business card on you and give it out.
Do you ever find any of that stuff difficult?
I do, although it’s becoming easier. The more I do it the easier it gets. I just plod, plod, plod along.
Were you always creative throughout school?
Yes. I have wanted to do art things for as long as I can remember. My mum went to art school when I was about nine or ten. She actually went to the same art school that I ended up going to. She would take me along with her on trips when I was feeling unwell and I would watch people draw or they’d send me to the animation studio or the textiles department.
I wanted to be an illustrator. I didn’t always want to be a jeweller. I wanted to do illustrations and cartoons and children’s stories but then that changed. I got into art school and in my first year I came across a jewellery workshop and I saw blow-torches and hammers and tools and my love changed! The workshop became where I wanted to be. I liked learning an actual skill.
Why a skill? What’s the appeal?
I think it’s the way I design. I start by scribbling technical drawings and measurements on scrap paper and old receipts but my mind works best when I’m put in front of the workbench and let loose. I didn’t know that I worked best in 3D until I was shown the jewellery bench and the possibilities it holds.
Working for yourself, are there any key motivators in your life who help you keep going?
I have really, really good friends. We are all dotted across the world. I have friends in Australia, in Qatar…all over! We all skype and email throughout the year until we all get back together. Whenever there’s a chance for us to come back together, at Christmas say, we’re just like old friends that have never been apart.
We’re all very positive about what everyone else is doing and the distance doesn’t matter. They’re all pretty successful in their own paths that they’ve chosen and we’re all really good at reminding one another about all the great things we’ve done and motivating one another if we’re down on our job.
So I have a really good friend and family base. My Dad, especially, is my motivator.
Tell us a bit more about that, your parents, and what role they have played in this?
Well, my dad is a hands-on, workshop-type character so he is very good at helping me out. He fixed my workshop bench and also my drill when the fuse was broken, and, of course, shares his tools with me. He is a hands-on man and he is a proud-as-punch type of dad. He always brings me up in conversations and brings out a business card I didn’t even know he had on him. He’s got me a few commissions from his friends. He is my biggest motivator.
And as I said before my mum went to art school (the same one that I ended up going to) so it was seeing her go there that helped me realise that was where I wanted to go and that it’s possible to follow your passion. She is a creative sort like me.
Why do you think it’s important to be supported in this way, by friends and family?
Support is vital. Knowing that there are people rooting for your success is invaluable. Having people believe in you makes it easier for you to believe in yourself, it’s a confirmation of your capabilities.
You don’t get taught these kinds of skills in university; you just get taught how to do the thing, not how to make money from it.
I think we’re forgetting one person here too! You grew up with just one sister, Aisling, whom I am lucky enough to know very well. Can you tell us what she has meant for your journey?
My older sister is wonderful. She is thoroughly driven and utterly wise. She is an environmental consultant and she is destined to do great things for this world.
She too has overcome great hurdles to get in the position she is now. Growing up we were close, we shared a bedroom so we had to be. We are polar opposites in many ways but I think that’s what makes us so close. She’s tidy, whereas I enjoy an ‘organised clutter’, she takes the lead and I see who wants to take the lead…the list goes on.
She’s still very protective over me and I always know that Aisling will have my back if I need her. And now that’s she recently married, I’ve also gained a brother too! The family is extending.
Your jewellery is stocked now in Scotland and London and you’ve sent orders off to New Zealand and America. Was there a turning point when your jewellery suddenly started being noticed?
I think this February was the turning point when I launched my new collection, The Bridget Collection.
Also perhaps when I got some funding last year through Fife Cultural Trust as an Emerging Artist. Through this I was also gifted a mentor that had been selected for me because of my skills and how I wanted to progress as a maker. Jane Gowans was the perfect mentor. She is driven, hardworking, effortlessly stylish and she is always three steps ahead. This year she was nominated for the second year running as Scottish Accessory Designer of the Year.
We already knew each other so it was a really comfortable and gratifying experience. Jane and I would talk about how I wanted to expand, about money, branding, the constant hours of hard work needed to achieve my goals and together we worked out how best to put my funding to good use.
In the last year I have started feeling much more positive about what I can achieve and how I can achieve it and I have also become much better at recording my achievements so that I can always look back and track my progress. My mentoring program is officially over but Jane and I still meet up and talk shop.
It’s not about making money, it’s about making things from hand, right from the beginning, right to the end, and doing that and still doing it in ten years and being pretty happy doing that.
I’ve become positive about what I can actually do because I’ve had guidance from somebody who has actually done it before. You don’t get taught these kinds of skills in university; you just get taught how to do the thing, not how to make money from it.
What advice would you give to a young Roisin about to start university?
I think I probably should have taken a year out before going to university. I still felt quite young and naïve and you can tell people who had a year before university, they are more mature in terms of life skills. I still felt a bit young and baby faced!
I would have liked to travel a little bit. There were also college courses available to prep you for going to art school and develop your skills a bit more before you went. I would have liked to refine my skills more before starting the general year, which sounds silly—to refine skills before you start—but I think doing more creative things for fun, rather than at a school level, would have been beneficial.
Anything else? Do you feel like you’ve changed a lot since those early days?
I probably worry more, but I now know worrying is an inevitable Roisin-ism that just means that I care about what I do, and how well I do it.
Now that you’re established, where do you see yourself in ten years time?
In ten years time, I see myself with a little workshop in my own house, doing more commission based projects along with regular jewellery collection launches. I know jewellery seems like a frivolous material object but people will always spend more money on that special thing because it’s special to them, whether that be because of the story of how it came about or because of the story it’s about to become a part of. I like making a story within my work, a real narrative of design.
I’d also like to get my work into New York. In ten years time I will have been to New York and I will have stockists there! That is a goal. Big lights, lots of people. Cities are where I want to be. A big city in my mind means that you’re aiming big.
But I have no goals of being rich, I don’t need that and If I really wanted to be rich I’d probably end up having to have a really big team but at the moment I pride myself on making all my pieces myself. I don’t want to start mass-producing things just to make more money. It’s not about making money, it’s about making things from hand, right from the beginning, right to the end, and doing that and still doing it in ten years and being pretty happy doing that.
So money is only a thing to sustain you? It doesn’t factor in your plans?
I don’t need to be making lots and lots of money…just enough to keep me going and enough to have a holiday once in a while. I enjoy what I do. When I get to do just jewellery, when I am in the workshop, it doesn’t feel like a job. So, no, it’s not about making lots of money.
Do you imagine yourself married with kids one day?
Yes. Yes. Definitely. I do want children and I’d always imagined I’d be married when I did eventually have them but we’ll just have to see who that person is (I’m sure Alastair, my partner that I recently moved in with, will be intrigued to hear how I answered this answer in fact) and if he wants to get married too. No pressure Alastair!
I would love to be settled down and married with children, but I’m only 25 so I still have some time (though I always assumed, when I was much younger, that by 30 I would be married and with kiddies). I’ve always had that maternal urge though. It really is a thing.
Being loved or loving someone is the best thing, the best feeling.
In terms of how that might fit into your professional life, what is your opinion?
I think if you want a family you have to accept that there’s some point that it will put you back a bit in your career—put it on a momentary back burner—but it will be worth it in the long run.
So it’s just a pause?
Yeah. Well, I hope so. It’s just a pause. I believe women are very capable of achieving their professional goals along with bringing up a family.
And what do you think we should be talking more about?
Depression. Recently I have witnessed too many close friends suffering dear losses of family members linked to depression. It is such a misunderstood illness and we need to talk more about how we can support family and friends affected by someone with depression, along with those suffering the illness. It was really difficult seeing close friends suffering such losses and not knowing what support I could give.
That has been a popular response to that question, it is such an important thing and a far more common issue than many people seem to think. As one final question, can I ask you what happiness means to you? Or rather, what you think happiness is?
I think this is going to sound really cheesy but being loved and loving people. If you feel love from friends and family and partners, that’s what happiness is because you know you’re supported and you’re supporting other people. Being loved or loving someone is the best thing, the best feeling.
Thank-you Roisin Connolly!
Things I Love
I have grown to love ‘nap time.’ I know this word is generally only associated with small children that need those extra zzz’s daily to help them, grow but I’ve found that little down time between the day job and the workshop is an utterly blissful time.
Hand written mail, be it sending or receiving it is a wonderful thing. In a world were we’re very much attached to our smart phones and lap tops there can be nothing better than taking the time to write a letter to an old friend.
I do a lot of thinking and planning while driving and I always keep little notebooks at hand so as soon as I’ve parked up I can jot down the day’s thoughts, possible designs and much more. It’s very easy to forget that wonderful idea you had a half an hour previous so it’s always worthwhile to keep a little notebook handy.