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Innovation support from HIE gamechanger for local jewellery designer

Published 16/06/2021 by Gillian Galloway 5 min read

Jewellery designer Eileen Gatt standing in her workshop in Munlochy

The latest instalment of our Virtual Cup of Coffee series features Gillian Galloway, Head of Innovation at HIE, and Eileen Gatt, a jewellery designer based in the Black Isle in the Highlands, chat about the game-changing innovation support from HIE. Find out about how Eileen has married her traditional craft with a new process to create something lighter, more wearable and also reduce the materials she uses. 

What’s your elevator pitch? 

I’m a jeweller and silversmith and have worked in my craft for over 25 years. I use recycled metals and ethically sourced stones in my jewellery. Environmental issues, such as climate change and protecting species are at the heart of what I do and my passion for wildlife and winter landscapes are echoed in the pieces I create. I’ve collaborated with environmental charities such as the RSPB, working together to highlight their sustainability projects. I’m most renowned for stylised, miniature animal figurines I create and incorporate into my jewellery.

What support have you been given from the Innovation team at HIE?

I am account managed by HIE which has helped me in a number of ways. I am an inventive designer and enjoy experimenting with my craft however being a single mother of two means I don’t always have this luxury. I was given a Small Innovation Grant from HIE about a year ago and this freed me up to innovate, removing the risk factor associated with trying something new.

This grant has opened up an exciting new project for me which will be exhibited at Collect, a prestigious art fair held by the Crafts Council at Somerset House in London in February 2022. The grant allowed me to pursue my idea of creating wearable panoramas created out of bio resin and fine gold using a process called electroforming, something I hadn’t tried before. Through this process I have created larger pieces of jewellery with limited gold content meaning they are lightweight, durable, wearable, beautiful and affordable. The crowning glory is tiny 18 carat gold arctic animals incorporated into the pieces which are a social commentary on climate change.

HIE has been a huge support to me, a few years ago, I received funding to convert the old post office in Munlochy into my ethical jewellery studio which was a game changer. I have space here to take on graduates from art schools across Scotland to mentor them and nurture their craft.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, how did this impact your business?

It has been good and bad. My gallery sales are down as I had to close the gallery, however sales via my website are up. Everything has taken longer than it normally would with businesses closing down and the price of gold skyrocketing during COVID.

I was meant to be exhibiting at Collect in February 2021 but due to COVID this got pushed back a year. However, this has given me more time to work on the pieces, experiment and finesse them.

Did you innovate or diversify to overcome challenges and turn these into an advantage for your business?

Innovation wise I’ve soared as lockdown gave me a chance to breathe and time to develop new designs, ideas and concepts which I’ll launch at the end of the year in time for Christmas. It also allowed me to take a step back and reflect on how I want my business to grow.

With the price of gold going up, electroforming provided a way to use less gold, helping to keep costs down and do more with less.

I had taken on a Glasgow School of Art graduate who ended up staying for six months due to lockdown, and this provided her with fantastic, hands-on insight into my craft. She was able to do some of the labour-intensive parts of the job such as cleaning, filing and polishing the tiny animals I create which meant I had more time to concentrate on other areas of the business.

Did the time and space afforded by lockdown bring any new business ideas to explore?

I took the time to make my customers feel special. I have a wonderful client base, with customers who have collected for many years and continue to support me. I wrote compliment notes inside each order I packaged up, helping to create a more personal experience when unboxing.

What’s on the horizon for the business?

I’m so honoured to be showing my work at Collect at Somerset House in London next February. This is the first time I’ve been chosen and I’m one of 10 Scottish designers who have been invited, I’m thrilled to exhibit my wearable landscapes for the first time.

I’ll also be back to doing shows from November, I haven’t done any for quite some time so that is exciting. I’m also launching a new website just before Christmas.

Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to yourself when starting out in this industry?

It’s important to consider the market and the business side of things and not get carried away with creativity. It’s all about finding a balance between being creative and building a business which can earn you money and grow.

A lot of graduates coming out of art schools are very focused on making their brand look great but this is often to the detriment of their product. Craftsmanship and substance are everything when it comes to jewellery making.

Gillian.

 

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