To celebrate London Fashion Week, we visited jewellery maker Emma Knight. Inspired by her interests in sculpture and fashion, Emma Knight’s eponymous jewellery brand combines minimal shapes with a playful twist.
Emma talked us through her transition from a fine artist to a fully fledged jewellery brand and shared her top tips for starting a business.
What’s it like to go into jewellery design, with a background as a Fine Artist?
Like all industries, numbers, spreadsheets and networking can be really intimidating at times but the transition from fine art to jewellery was actually super liberating! It’s a new world to explore. Around the time I decided to experiment in jewellery, I was one year out of art college. By that time I had studied solely fine art for about 8 years and fell into the trap of comparing myself to what was already done before or worried what my peers thought of my work. I also felt a lot of social responsibility in my artwork (and still do!) so for me jewellery is an escape from all those pressures. In the deeper waters of fine art jewellery making, those pressures do exist still but at the moment I’m enjoying floating on the surface. I feel that I’m still developing my style and technical skills at this stage. I hope to dive further into those depths in the future but for now bobbing around where I am, I really enjoy. but overall I’m happy!
You say that yours is a “jewellery brand for fellow makers, creatives, travellers, experimenters.” Can you tell us a little more about this?
It was tricky to pin down my brand at first and there have been people that find my work or my branding (ie Instagram) a bit weird and what I noticed from talking to customers or seeing who posts about my work was that they tend to be in the creative sector. Often they’re a little bit more experimental in fashion or living away from where they grew up, like I am, as I’m originally from Belfast and my studio is based in Barcelona.
Can you tell us a little more about your I Love Barbara Hepworth earrings? We love them!
Out of all my designs, my Barbara Hepworth pieces are the only ones that have quite a heavy personal story behind them, so beware! Barbara Hepworth is an artist I reflect on when I experience crisis and am searching for stability. Her stone and wood pieces are very powerful, stable and being abstract, are a good escape from drama. If an artist could be a mother figure, I would choose her! At the time of making both the Barb Heps and Standing tall pendants I was going through a fragile time after a close family member was diagnosed with an illness and I wanted to create a series using Hepworth-like forms. I’m hoping to add more to this series in the future.
The synthetic granite I’ve used in these pieces is certainly one of my favourite materials. I haven’t seen it used in jewellery design before. It’s a very versatile material which lasercuts like a dream! You can also mould it easily and apparently even vacuum form! (…watch this space). Another fun material I create with is a form of polyurethane which is normally used in industrial plastic forming. Exploring new materials is definitely an important part of my process. I need to have a material physically in my hands to start dreaming of experimenting.
Would you say that you’re more inspired by artists or fashion/jewellery designers?
At the moment I would probably say artists inspire me more. I guess this is because I have a bank on info on them that I built up of the years. I do find it interesting when design and art merge however. Elsa Schiaparelli would be a designer that I look up to who did just that. She was great friends with the surrealists of the 1930s including Dali and Man Ray and collaborated with them often. Her work includes all of the ingredients I love in design – elegance, playfulness and a bit of sparkle. I wonder sometimes what exiting things might happen If I collaborated with another designer and I took the roll as the artist or vice versa.
How closely linked do you think Fashion and the visual arts are as Artforms?
I would say Fashion and Fine art are more deeply linked that both industries realise. When I was staying in student halls when studying, I was living with fashion students which was again, certainly influential in my thinking. Fashion designers and artists think very similarly. We both have to come up with a concept and discover our own particular style, can both get trapped with the same creative barriers, there is both the commercial and ‘couture’ areas of the industries and can both have deep meaning behind each work/collection. From my point of view, Its possibly only the business side of the industries which navigate differently.
Do you continue an art practice alongside your business?
As I mentioned before, I always feel a strong pressure to address social issues! I can get pretty angry at the state of the world particularly relating to issues at home in Northern Ireland and in Catalonia, where I’m currently based it’s so divided and prickly – they hold a lot of similarities. Doing work on the issues of these regions takes a lot out of me. I have a little sketch book of ideas that I need to get out of my system. I’m waiting for the right time and opportunity to create them as fully fledged artworks, I want to make sure I research it properly before putting anything out there though. For now I love creating jewellery which I hope makes people smile and start conversations with strangers bringing people together.
What advice would you give to any creative students who are wanting to start a business?
I would definitely recommend doing a business course or joining some form of business network. When I first started out, I got the opportunity to do a course with ‘Women in Business’ which is a charity in N. Ireland to support entrepreneurs starting out. Through them I joined a great support network and received mentorship for free. It helped frame my mind into business mode and the weekly catch-ups surrounded in business minded people, with a slightly competitive edge helped keep me focussed. I would say the fact that I was surrounded by women on a similar journey was even better for my confidence. Women in Business is also a business network which you can join to go to business talks. I am sure there are similar organisations elsewhere, like the UK’s Princes Trust for under 30’s.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Maybe a little Thank You to you guys at not just a shop? It has been intimidating starting out as a new business fresh from college. The shop has been incredibly helpful in keeping me on track and giving me many opportunities through direct emails and the mailing list. I adored my time studying with University of the Arts and it’s such a reassuring feeling having that further support through selling my products in NJAS as well as keeping a foot in London. If any fellow alumni have a product they are selling, even a postcard of a painting, I couldn’t recommend not just a shop enough to help get your name out there. Go for it!