When Sophie Mckay founded BAR Jewellery in 2015, she was inspired by the “unapologetically pure block form that precious metal takes before being made into jewellery”.
“The name BAR summarises our brands ethos well – we are inspired by a back to basics attitude that runs through everything from our aesthetic to our approach to production,” she told Retail Gazette.
After working 10 years as a senior designer for fashion houses like Tom Ford, Burberry and Versace, Sophie decided to attend a silversmithing course. This has allowed her to hone her craft for her premium online retail business, creating pieces inspired by modern art, sculpture and architecture and put together with recycled materials.
As with many other independent retailers, operating a small, sustainable business had its fair share of challenges during the height of the coronavirus lockdown. For Sophie, the biggest obstacle was sourcing factories and materials.
“It’s difficult to go against the grain and encourage people to work in new and different ways,” she explained.
“We have been lucky to find production partners who are equally as interested as us in this area, and show willingness to support us in trying to produce the best, most sustainable products possible.
“Sustainability is still a relatively new concept in the jewellery industry”
“As the demand from brands for sustainable materials and processes increases, it is becoming easier to find manufacturers who are also enthusiastic to join us in driving positive change.”
While countless retailers felt the pinch when lockdown occurred, Sophie said that although BAR Jewellery saw an initial drop in sales at the start, the widespread shift in consumers shopping online led to an increase in the volume of orders.
“Being an online first business helped us to feel minimal impact from the physical restrictions that Covid-19 caused, and ultimately allowed us to remain accessible and connected to our customers and community,” she recalled.
She added: “We were really overwhelmed by people wanting to connect with their friends and family who were celebrating special occasions in isolation.
“During this time, we tried our best to go above and beyond to offer as personalised a service as possible so that families and friends could feel closer.
“Personally, I have found it has been a great time to reflect, focus and push myself and BAR harder than ever.
“We have so many new ideas and projects in the pipeline that I may not have had the courage to go ahead with had it not have been for Covid.”
BAR Jewellery prides itself on being a sustainable retailer, something which was a priority for Sophie when she established it.
“I have always been committed to using my work as a force for good, following the simple principle that every decision made must not have a negative impact on our suppliers, studio staff or the environment,” she said.
As UK retail slowly begins to recover after lockdown, Sophie said BAR Jewellery would now focus on improving its ecommerce experience and build a stronger connection with consumers through social media initiatives.
“We’re always working to expand our wholesale business, however we will monitor how Covid impacts this industry in the coming seasons and pivot accordingly,” she added.
Meanwhile, short term plans include prioritising BAr Jewellery’s expansion, specifically in Japan.
Before setting up her online business, Sophie spent time talking with other designers on how to make a positive impact through her work.
“It became very clear to me that to have true control over my personal impact, I needed to create my own brand,” she recalled.
“When I decided to create BAR, I knew I had a choice to start something that either had a positive impact or a negative impact.
“I decided to make decisions that weren’t harmful to the environment and that didn’t negatively impact the people who work for me from the very beginning.
“Don’t be afraid to change your idea”
“This has meant that as the brand has grown, and continues to grow, we can have a real positive impact and be a force for good.”
Sophie went on to say that independent retailers were crucial for the UK retail industry, especially since often offered a more personal and considered approach to their work, to customers, and the environment.
“Now more than ever, I think customers are seeking authenticity and transparency from brands,” she explained.
“People care to know who they are buying from, what their story is and how that purchase could benefit something in another way, be it a community or the environment.”
For retail business owners who are struggling amid the current climate, Sophie offered up some advice.
“Something that I keep reminding myself to do is to slow down and take time for myself, however much I want to keep pushing through and working hard all of the time,” she said.
“As a director of the company you are the most important cog in the wheel to keep things running smoothly, and if you aren’t on top form and well rested then this will mean everyone and everything suffers for it.”
She also suggested speaking to “as many people as possible” for honest feedback before starting your own business.
“Adapt from your learnings, and try not to take anything personally,” she explained.
“The hardest part of running a business is that there are inevitably downtimes and moments where everything feels like it is going off course.
“Whenever I’m having a bad week, something amazing is always around the corner so I always try to remember that.
“Pushing through the hard times sets you apart from someone who will give up when things are bad.”