Interview with Natalie Perry by Ibi Lagundoye
It was around 11 am on Monday morning at the Riding House Caféé, where I met jewelry designer Natalie Perry for a small bite. Initially, I missed her red hair at the booth opposite, but after checking my email all I had to do was look behind me.
During our conversation, I could see the passion and genuine love she has for designing and making jewelry which resonates with people, and ethically fair. I’m sure we could have talked well into the afternoon, but sadly time was not on our side that day. It’s a real treat when you can speak with designers, of any kind, and I’m excited to share a brief of our time together.
Ibi Lagundoye: What made you want to be a jewelry designer?
Natalie Perry: “I think it was when I was about 16 at school and I was studying art textiles, and everything that I made happened to be jewelry. To be honest, I didn’t know that it could be a career. As I moved on through my schooling and A-levels, I realized you could pick jewelry design as a university degree.”
IL: How did your time at Middlesex University further your development in design?
NP: “I spent four years there, with one sandwich year where I got to go out into the industry and do different internships. I was able to craft that year to suit me so first off I worked for Kothari Jewels in Jaipur, then leading British designer Alice Ciccolini and finally a family run jewelry workshop in Leicestershire. The university was supportive, and the course itself was very creative. Our professors encouraged us to experiment with all different kinds of materials, and look at a jewelry in a non-commercial way. This emphasis was strong throughout the course.”
Most impressively, she won a prestigious award during her time at university, which allowed her to partake in an adventure which would profoundly shape her outlook. “I won the Isabella Blow scholarship, which was a design competition open to all students. You had to design a piece of fashion or jewelry, which represented Isabella Blow’s legacy. The prize was 5,000 pounds and I wanted to make sure that money would go towards progressing and furthering my understanding of jewelry.”
“So, that’s when I decided to go to India…it helped pay for my flight and everything else, so off I went.”
IL: How did your time in India influence your work and what skills did you gain?
NP: “I went to work for a diamond and gemstone company in Jaipur, Kothari Jewels, and that’s when I opened my eyes to fine jewelry. I learned fine hand rendering and about gemstones, gold and traditional Indian craftsmanship. Whilst I was in India I spent time exploring the ancient palaces across Rajasthan and it was disintegrating murals that inspired the Floral Fragments collection. Through fragmented, broken patterns, there’s a hint to the forgotten grandeur of these palaces and the jewelry treasures of the women who once lived there. It was that experience that made me really passionate about gold and gemstones and I completely fell in love with India!”
IL: I know your line emphasizes the use of Fairtrade Gold. Can you expand on that more and how it did come about?
NP: “Up until about 2015, I didn’t even know Fairtrade Gold existed. I discovered it when I was working in my previous role at Facets PR and we held a press day about the launch of African Fairtrade Gold. At the time  certain African mines were going through the accreditation process – which have just, this year, become licensed – until now, Fairtrade Gold has only come from Peru, which is where my gold is from. It was working on that project and talking with clients about Fairtrade that helped me understand its importance. What impacted me in particular was listening to a Ugandan miner, Josephine Aguti, who spoke at the press day about her experience with Fairtrade. She told us of the amazing, positive changes Fairtrade had made to hers and her colleagues lives. They had received proper health and safety equipment and education, also a refining machine which made their jobs much easier – something that would take them 2-3 days now only took them a matter of hours. Once I heard how Fairtrade had positively affected her life and the community around her, I knew this was the only way forward for Natalie Perry Jewelry. Not many people really know the dangers in mining but when you hear it first hand, you can’t ignore it.”
IL: Speaking of ethics, do you feel this stance has impacted your brand in anyway? Do clients feel more inclined to buy from you because of shared values?
NP: “Yes, I think so. I mean for me, I want an equal amount of style and ethics. There’s no reason why jewelry should be one or the other; they can be both. So, it’s important for me to make a piece of jewelry somebody wants to wear because it looks great, and it feels great because it’s an ethical product. They’ve also made a conscious decision in buying it because it has a sustainable story.”
IL: What are some of the challenges of fair trade and ethical jewelry?
NP: “One of the challenges is the quantities of Fairtrade Gold available – as there are only a handful of mines accredited, there is a relatively small quantity available and this is even more true for Fairtrade Silver. Therefore, it’s so important to keep supporting Fairtrade so more and more mines can become fair and the lives of miners are improved. As the word spreads I’m hopeful the quantities available will gradually increase and it will be more widely accessible. For jewelry retailers, it’s about getting their support to back ethical brands and for consumers it’s helping them understand what Fairtrade Gold is and making sure they know it’s available.”
IL: To take it back briefly, I remember you mentioned your previous job in jewelry PR. Do you think that gave you an advantage when starting your brand?
NP: “Yes, I think so in certain ways. With having a PR background, you learn how to promote a product, and how to basically talk about and inform people. But, I’ve also learned a lot along the way, and to be honest, having the PR background only gave me a little confidence to start the brand. Otherwise, I’d probably still be waiting for that push.”
IL: What’s been your journey since starting your brand?
NP: “I had a few teething problems at the start, as any new business would, particularly with production and actually getting my ideas from paper to a finished piece of jewelry. It taught me to just use my resources and I turned to the people who taught me, and from there I learned so many techniques and a great jewelry education.”
IL: What’s been the most rewarding part of having your own company?
NP: “Just knowing that I’m using my creativity. Things that I have designed are going out into the public realm, and knowing that my name is behind the ethics of the brand. I’m proud to have combined style and ethics which will hopefully lead to change in the jewelry industry and greater awareness of Fairtrade Gold.”
IL: If you could design for any fashion house, who would want to be?
NP: “I’ve always, always, absolutely loved Alexander McQueen. I think, obviously, when he was at the helm his influences were unconventional, and displayed an interest in the juxtaposition of something ugly and something beautiful at the same time. A lot of his collections center around this, and I find this also fascinates me in my jewelry design as well. So, I think that would be the absolute dream brand.”