Most of the talented humans who make up the Studio Cotton team also have their own lovely small businesses. One of those is our website designer, Hannah, who also runs the gorgeously gothic SLAB Jewellery from her beautiful home studio in Bristol (which can also be rented out as a photography/film location – check out the Number 40 Instagram).
Her jewellery designs are inspired by 16th-century Memento Mori pieces and influenced by sub-cultures, featuring lots of dead cool skulls, spikes, daggers and roses, and she makes them using antique tools and the traditional lost-wax casting technique.
Hannah was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her busy creative schedule to answer lots of questions for us, as we were feeling particularly nosy about her not-so side hustle.
1. Why did you start SLAB Jewellery?
I took a few silversmithing courses and evening classes and enjoyed working with jewellery, but it was when I did a wax carving workshop that I really fell in love with it. I loved working with my hands on something tangible, especially as I spent my days at work staring at a screen.
I asked for a wax carving kit for Christmas one year and it all started there. I carved a lot of (possibly terrible) rings and experimented with different styles, before being drawn to the skulls and spikes and roses. I knew that I wasn’t the only former teenage goth out there that still had a hankering for the more gothic style jewellery, but this time with a grown up twist.
2. Tell us about your pre-small business background
I was late to uni after a couple of false starts, and studied Fashion Promotion at Ravensbourne in London. After trying and failing at a number of internships in the big smoke, I moved back to Bristol and started working in the digital agency scene. I spent several years as a website designer and in marketing teams before specialising in UX for a small agency working mostly with charities.
This was all really helpful for me, as every small business needs a website and it’s helped me feel confident in making my own website. I also still use my photography training from my degree, and even sometimes dabble in short animations – check out the slightly rough gifs in my emails!
3. How did you come up with the name of your small business?
I wanted a name that was easy to say and spell; something short that felt solid. SLAB fitted the bill as it’s a nice short solid word, and it feels slightly gothic to me as it reminds me of a mortuary slab or a gravestone.
4. What is your personal favourite product, collection or service, and why?
I love working on bespoke ring commissions. Jewellery can carry so much meaning, and having something made specifically means that extra details can be added in. I made a ring for someone who wanted some references to their favourite bands from their youth, so I was able to include a small carving that might not mean much to anyone else, but that meant the world to him.
I’ve also been able to reuse stones from a treasured ring, given by a grandfather who is no longer around. These projects always feel so special, and it’s such an honour to be trusted to create something that will be treasured for years to come.
5. What’s your bestselling product, collection or service, and why do you think it’s so popular?
My Valancourt skull necklaces have always been super popular. These are always carved from scratch each time, so they all have their own personalities. It’s brilliant selling them in person at market, as you can see people looking into each of their faces and choosing the one that most speaks to them.
6. What’s the loveliest thing a customer or fan has said about SLAB Jewellery, that still makes you smile now?
I had someone say that a Blanche skull ring made them feel “dainty and cool and also a bit dangerous,” which I think is the perfect quote for what I’m aiming for.
7. What’s the loveliest part of running your small business?
Definitely connecting with my lovely customers. It’s so brilliant when I see someone come back to buy something else from me when they’ve previously bought something. Or sharing the love by getting something for a friend. I’ve also had customers buying matching jewellery for themselves and a friend which I just love!
8. Tell us about a significant turning point that positively impacted SLAB Jewellery
Taking a sabbatical from my day job – I was thinking about quitting my day job anyway, but instead I took a sabbatical and I haven’t looked back. Being able to invest more time into SLAB has meant that it feels a lot more ‘proper’ now compared to being just a side hustle.
9. What’s a terribly unlovely thing that you’ve experienced that might have had unintended positive consequences?
I think I’ve been lucky so far that I haven’t had anything terribly unlovely happen to me… I’ve taken part in some markets that haven’t particularly gone well, but it’s just focussed me on making sure I research my next markets more thoroughly to make sure they’ll fit in better with my brand.
10. Sing the praises about an organisation or professional that helped you on your small business journey
Clifton Rocks Jewellers were so so helpful to me. I was taking part in March Meet The Maker, and one of the prompts was ‘Future’. I created a post on Instagram that said that at some point in the future I would love to be stocked in their beautiful shop in Bristol, and they commented on my post to encourage me to get in touch.
I asked what sort of thing they would look for from a collection of jewellery from a small designer-maker, and their reply was so packed with great advice, from how to make sure I had a good variety of prices (mostly affordable with a few more premium pieces) and a good selection of different types of jewellery.
I was able to take this advice and create my very first collection of pieces. I was super thrilled that when I took them to show the team at Clifton Rocks, they took them to showcase in their wonderful showroom. So big BIG thanks to Clare and the team there 🙂
They also added me to a WhatsApp group of Bristol based jewellers, and I’ve been able to meet other jewellers through them.
11. Tell us about a step you’ve taken to make SLAB Jewellery more lovely
I think small businesses are uniquely placed to be the loveliest businesses around. Being small means that I can make a personal connection to my customers – popping in a birthday card, or ‘congrats on your new job’ card if I know that’s why my customers are getting their jewellery. I’m also always happy to customise or change up my jewellery to better fit my customers’ needs.
I also make sure that my business is making the lowest impact possible on the environment. All my jewellery is made with recycled metals, and I’ve recently started recycling silver at my bench with my new Unburied charm pieces. I’ve also introduced the option for customers to choose to have their jewellery sent in lightly pre-used packaging to help reduce the amount of new packaging that’s used.
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12. What’s a lovely thing you have planned for the next 12 months of SLAB Jewellery?
I’m excited about the Jewellery Pop-Up in Shoreditch on the 19th-21st of November with a whole bunch of other talented jewellers, just in time for Christmas shopping. Plus, I’m doing my first ever alternative wedding fair with the Til Death Alternative Wedding Collective in Leeds on the 22nd of January.
13. As recommended by you
We asked Hannah to recommend 3 podcasts, blogs or Instagram accounts that she’d recommend to other small business owners…
I recommend following the Studio Cotton Instagram to every small business person I meet. The advice is so simple to follow, and it’s broken down so that it’s easily understandable. I’ve even written your details on my business cards to help people when they swing by my stall at markets.
As a jeweller, I like following Metalsmith Society for hints, tips and tricks for silversmithing at the bench. From sneaky ways to solder things more easily, to tricks on how to get a good polish on an awkward shape.
I also really enjoy following Vanilla Ink – a jewellery school and community interest charity that offer courses and tips. I’ve bought a stone-setting book written by Scott from Vanilla Ink which is super helpful.