Making Something From Nothing: Esme Rogers Evans Of Duxford Studios On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Start small — It’s really easy to get business envy whilst browsing social media. Everywhere you look, people are succeeding and thriving. It’s easy to start feeling inadequate and this can lead to unsustainable commitments or risky business decisions in the hope of getting ahead. Luckily, I didn’t make any terrible mistakes but, for a while, it did blunt my enjoyment and ability to recognise achievements. It’s important to strive for growth, but just as important to take the time to acknowledge the wins and enjoy the journey.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Esme Rogers Evans.

Following a Fine Art Sculpture degree, Esme traveled and continued exploring new creative skills. Having always loved wearing jewellery, Emse was eager to delve into this lustrous world. She began a course while in New Zealand and from the beginning of the 1st class, was transported back to her childhood pastime of making miniature sculptures. The scale felt so familiar; Esme’s inner child was awoken and she wasn’t going back to sleep without a fight.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged to explore my creativity. Kids dance classes, standing on a big blue tarp in my parent’s house with an easel getting covered in paint, making tiny Fimo sculptures all through childhood into teenage life — you get the picture. No surprise that my parents were artists, right?

After school, I saved for a year and traveled through Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Then, after what felt like a swift foundation year in Art and Design, I was off to do a BA in Fine Art Sculpture. I totally changed tack: from making huge art installations with fiberglass sculptures to building my own makeshift darkroom to develop photographs taken during an artist residence in Barcelona with hand made pinhole cameras.

It wasn’t until a few years after finishing uni that I reverted back to my first love — miniature. While traveling New Zealand on a working holiday visa, I did a short course in jewellery making in Wellington and totally fell in love with the materials and the processes. My next plan was to move to Vietnam, so I knew I had to keep teaching myself this exciting skill. This is where the seed for Duxford Studios was planted.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I once heard someone say ‘If it costs you peace of mind, the price is too high.’. This lesson has taught me to not exceed the limits of my conscience, especially in business. I made a conscious decision when starting Duxford Studios to only use ethical materials: Ecosilver, fairtrade gold and responsibly sourced gemstones. I’m proud to be contributing positively to the jewellery industry, and to be offering bespoke ethical jewellery to my customers.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I absolutely loved the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s witty and empowering, and came into my life at the perfect moment, shortly after starting my business when I felt, quite frankly, out of my depth! Gilbert challenges the reader to embrace their curiosity, pursue what they love above all else and face their fears. She encouraged me to ‘remove the suggestion box’ and instead to listen to my heart and ‘have an affair’ with my creativity. It was the perfect time for me to hear about someone else who was much further along on the path I was treading, and helped me visualize what I wanted and where to take my business.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

I think determination is the largest component of a successful business. Capital, self belief, a willingness to learn and contacts in your industry are all important. But if you give up, they quickly become irrelevant. It’s important to know that starting a business is almost always a hard and sometimes lonely road. Enjoying the peaks, and having the resilience to carry on through those deep troughs will stand you in good stead for success. As I’ve heard many people say, ‘It’s not about how much you get knocked down but how many times you get back up’.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Love the industry you’re breaking into, find like minded people, network with peers and competitors alike and you’ll soon find the ‘cutting edge’.

Jewellery is a highly competitive industry filled with countless takes on the perfect pair of everyday earrings, elegant necklaces and showstopper engagement rings. Does that mean jewellery’s finished? Definitely not! So remember, it’s not always about making something completely new, but doing things your own way to stand out from the crowd.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

After planning, design and prototyping, sourcing a good manufacturer can be a tricky process. You need to research many and then sample at least three to be able to make a value judgement balancing price, reliability, quality, turnaround time, customer service and other industry specific factors. Finding the one which best suits your needs can benefit your customers’ experience and your bottom line!

There are many different distribution models for jewellery as for all other industries. For me, having my own website is a must, because it provides the highest profit margins and I have complete control of the end-to-end customer journey.

There are many different types of retailers so it’s important to research which avenue best suits your pricing structure and business model. Once you have this information, ensure that you thoroughly research the ethics of the retailers you think would be best for your brand: you need to ensure your brands and ethics align. Shops are a great option and will either buy stock outright or work on a sale or return agreement, but the latter can be expensive if the cost price of your products are high. Another option is online marketplaces which can be great for raising brand awareness and gaining credibility. There are countless avenues to explore, the important thing is to find sales funnels that you feel will work for your brand, and to always be sure that your product or service represents value for money to your customers.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Learn how to time block — Like many people, when I started Duxford Studios, I also worked full time. Having only evenings and weekends to grow my business, I would flit from one thing to another, simultaneously replying to email enquiries, designing new collections, creating my brand image and marketing and everything else. After around six months and not enough progress, I learnt about time blocking. It’s a planning method of marking out short blocks of time throughout the day to focus on specific individual tasks. My productivity increased significantly and I would never look back.

Start small — It’s really easy to get business envy whilst browsing social media. Everywhere you look, people are succeeding and thriving. It’s easy to start feeling inadequate and this can lead to unsustainable commitments or risky business decisions in the hope of getting ahead. Luckily, I didn’t make any terrible mistakes but, for a while, it did blunt my enjoyment and ability to recognise achievements. It’s important to strive for growth, but just as important to take the time to acknowledge the wins and enjoy the journey.

Know your customer — Without them, you don’t have a business. You need to understand who they are, what they want, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and goals. Making meaningful sales is about connecting with your customer and solving an issue for them. It took me a while to understand exactly who my customers were because I was so focused on my products, so make the time to get to know your customers from the get go.

Stay true to yourself — It’s very easy to get distracted with all the advice people give, potential upcoming trends in your industry and comparing yourself to your competitors. These influences can be positive, but it’s always important to be mindful of what special and unique features you bring to the table. People buy from others that they know, like and trust, so if you’re not being true to yourself and your brand, customers may discount you as inauthentic.

Know your limitations and learn to say no — Especially when you’re new in business, it’s impossible to say yes to every opportunity. Doing research and understanding your strategy and priorities will give you the best chance of understanding what to say yes to and fully focus on, and what to kindly decline.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Firstly, look at your idea from the perspective of your customer — Will it solve a problem? Will it add value to their life? How much should it cost?

Next, I generally go through the same initial design stages before moving on to production. I first think about its scale and material practicalities. Once I’ve decided on these basic features, I make a test piece using a cheaper metal like brass or copper and wear it for a few weeks. This tells you a lot about the product, like how it feels when worn, its durability and if you get a positive reception. Once I’m happy with the feel and I’ve hopefully got a compliment or two, I may make some additional minor refinements to the design before making a mould for reproduction.

Essentially, consider the size, materials and production costs, use cheaper materials when making initial prototypes, ask for feedback and user experiences and refine before moving to production.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I guess this depends on each person’s knowledge, confidence and budget. For me, I wouldn’t go this route as the design process is very personal to me.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I went with my gut and funded my own business with a full time job. I found this worked for me, as being on a budget forced me to always consider my business profits and it enabled me to keep 100% control of where I wanted to take Duxford Studios. Bootstrapping definitely teaches you to manage your money responsibly and it channels you to focus on how to make that money back quickly.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

In an industry where exploitation has been the normal practice to ensure a high profit, it is important to play a part in changing the culture. By using recycled and ethically sourced materials in my work, I support ethical working practises and promote the need for conscious consumerism. By creating and promoting bespoke ethical heirlooms, I provide an alternative to the world of fast fashion and encourage consumers to think about their purchases as investments in products and peoples.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Think before you purchase!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love to have lunch with Grayson Perry! He’s a British potter and contemporary artist who’s straddled the world of art and entertainment for years and he’s one of the most straight talking, unpretentious, likeable people in the art world. There is an unnecessary divide between the art world and people who think they ‘can’t draw’ and I think it’s a lot to do with how ‘art people’ talk. It can sound intimidating to people who don’t actively engage with art, and although Perry has some pretty out-there imagery in his work, he’s able to connect with people from all walks of life, closing the gap between both camps. His personal brand is authentic and alluring, and I’d love to pick his brains!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Esme Rogers Evans Of Duxford Studios On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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