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In Which I Am Reconciled to Separating My Two Distinct Jewellery Styles in Order to Stop Them Fighting With Each Other

Part of the reason I experienced quite a lot of flailing about and panic while running online jewellery shops in the past, I now realise with that very popular asset 20/20 hindsight, was that I was trying to make things be in shops together that didn’t belong in shops together. I mean, there are some people who make this work by taking it to extremes, like the shop in York that sells wholefoods on the ground floor and swimwear on the first floor, and a hybrid petrol station/wedding boutique I saw somewhere in the northwest of England in the 90s once. But those are combinations that make you notice and remember. Mine were just similar enough and just dissimilar enough to just be awkward. Kind of like an outfit of navy shoes and black trousers and a dark brown jumper, which only a French person could ever possibly get away with because they can all wear literally whatever they like and still look stylish </stereotype>.

Anyway. I eventually identified what the problem was: some of the things I make are intricate and detailed and maybe made with kind of muted colours and hemp twine and stuff and are the kind of thing you’d wear to a renaissance faire or a pixie-themed dinner party in the woods or a steampunk morris dance event (as a spectator). I mean, probably. That’s what I hope for. Other things are pulling more in the direction of what people who go to the kind of cafés that are all bare wood and vintage lightbulbs and mismatched crockery would wear. They’re brighter, bolder, and would look good with a dress that was covered in owls. You know the sort of thing I mean? (I am not being all down on this thing. I, ahem, quite like going to those kinds of cafés. I do also kind of own a dress that is covered in owls. Look:)

Owl Dress
I am totally wearing a dress that is covered in owls. I am Those People. Sometimes. Also kind of posing here, yes, sorry.

For a long time I tried to work out a way of separating these neatly and prettily in my existing shops, but it just never worked. They just don’t look right together. I’ve always been all right at the creation side of things, but have not had that much luck with curating my own stuff, it turns out. UNTIL NOW. I have figured it out. Well maybe. I’ve been certain before that I’ve figured things out and been TOTALLY WRONG, but we’ll just see how this goes.

Anyway, to get to the point: I’ve put my muted-steampunk-pixiewear into the one shop (this one here that you’re reading right now) and my vintage-tablecloth-owl-matching-hipster-accessories into another. I reserve the right to adjust these slightly bulky descriptions at any time.

WHAT IS THE OTHER SHOP, you clamour. (You don’t, do you? You’ve got bored and wandered off.)

IT IS Florence Loves Fridays and if you click on its name (which is Florence Loves Fridays), the internet will take you there.

Florence Loves Fridays, as well as being a home for this other style of jewellery, is an experiment in the area of more efficient jewellery making (i.e. making small batches of identical pieces) that sent me in completely the wrong direction previously. I’m being a lot more cautious with the materials I buy, this time – for example, new materials I obtain are biodegradable and I am not using any new plastics. The beads used in Florence Loves Fridays are made from wool or wood. The button stud earrings are made with buttons that I bought in bulk several years ago – but I won’t be replacing these once they’re used up. And I’m also gradually trying to move to using only surgical stainless steel for the parts that I have to use metal for, as to the best of my knowledge that’s the most environmentally friendly metal to use, plus it’s generally really good quality stuff. I’ve got some old stock of jewellery parts that use other metals, but I’m trying to replace these with steel parts once they’re used up.

And alongside this, I’m only making stuff I genuinely like and would wear myself. If there’s one think I’ve learnt, it’s that being surrounded by a pile of buttons that I think are horrible-looking and spending hours tying them together brings out the worst in me, and nobody should have to put up with me when I’m being Worst. Being surrounded by balls of soft felt in nice retro colours and threading them together on strings makes me a lot nicer. Possibly a bit like a … kitten? I will have to ask someone who’s seen me do this if it is accurate. (I think it is probably not. I’m probably more like a warthog or grasshopper or something. Hardly anyone is actually like a kitten.)

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Picking Self Up From Floor After Punching Self in Face etc.

I tried to think of a Plan. For ages. Something that would make it work like it used to, but wouldn’t involve compromise. Should I try to become Good at Social Media Marketing? I’d tried using social media for promotion before, but on top of me not being great at it, Facebook changed their algorithm too, so – surprise surprise – you had to pay for people who had “Liked” your page to be able to see your posts (unless they were “popular”, of course). I deleted my Facebook page. I wasn’t going to pay money to a company that was data-mining people for profit, even if it did increase my sales. (I consider data-mining more unethical than merely taking a financial cut; although we can’t boycott everything, there can at least be something of a hierarchy.)

I considered just giving it all up and getting a job. I flailed around at a few other ways to make money. But I didn’t completely stop making jewellery – after all, my website was sitting there, still selling the occasional necklace. It would seem silly to throw it out after all that time, work and embedded good luck that had allowed me to do it at all instead of working full time for someone else in a nine to five job.

In the end, the only thing I could think of was to go back to the beginning. Why did I start doing this at all? What did I like about it?

I would make things, individual little things, that I liked, photograph them, describe them, and list them on my website. Until there were lots of them, regardless of how efficient it wasn’t. I wouldn’t have any other plan than that.

There was something else I did. Alongside my website, I opened an Etsy shop. This sounds like a compromise – it is a compromise, but the whole thing down to the PayPal buttons is a compromise, and I have to accept that. In an ideal world we’d have a publicly owned/not-for-profit website payments system to do PayPal’s job. I’ve looked into alternatives for my website – they’re all too expensive for someone like me. Selling on a marketplace like Etsy is a compromise too, since they take a cut of the profits, but in the context of the way Google works now, Etsy does a lot of marketing and reaching customers that I simply can’t do on my own. So in effect I’m paying them for that service.

And the other side of platformisation is that I’ve been able to make part of my living from music again. I may know how to make a basic website with HTML, but I never learnt enough code to make a self-hosted online shop to sell digital downloads. I would have liked to, but it turns out that there isn’t time for me to do *everything*. And it also turns out that there’s another web-platform company, who are doing a decent job at being ethical and helpful and generally giving their money’s worth for the cut that they take from sales – and this one is for downloading music. They’re called Bandcamp, and they’re part of the reason I’ve been able to make jewellery in the (slightly inefficient) way that I want to again. Music sales mean that I can just about manage without having to go down the buying-new-shiny-buttons-in-bulk route, and Bandcamp not only provide the payment and downloading systems, but also deal with the difficult getting-into-Google-results stuff, plus have a nice discovery tool for people to find new music.

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The Button Boom and the Button Bust

Now Panic and Freak Out

Other than an A-level in Drawing and Painting with History of Art, I don’t have any formal training in craft, design, or general making-of-things. At university I studied music, and I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 and had my first gig (standing in for my viola teacher!) in a ceilidh band.

After university I spent several years muddling along, playing some gigs and working various slightly weird temping jobs (the best one of which was cleaning all of the overhead projectors in the university, under cover of darkness – a job opportunity brought to my attention by my housemate who worked in the audio-visual department). I also kind of accidentally fell into running music workshops with my friends. I say “running”. I did not do much of the running. My friends were all good at running workshops. I was not good at running workshops.

I went on several training courses in order to try to discover how to be good at running workshops, but I did not become good at it. I am a socially awkward, diffident, anxious introvert who is terrified of and terrible at public speaking, and while I know there are many people who fit that description who manage to overcome it all and be brilliant, I was not one of them. I didn’t even *like* running workshops – I was just doing it because my friends were, and letting them down in the process. It became abundantly clear that this sort of thing being my job was Not a Good Idea.

Eventually I made a clean break with it all and managed to get a part time job working in a shop that sold nasty mass-produced lace tablecloths and creepy porcelain dolls. Hardly anyone likes those, so most of the time there weren’t many customers and I just had to do things like dusting and stock-taking. It was such a relief. Also, I was in two bands! (But… not that good at getting gigs or talking on stage. I could only be in bands which contained other people who liked doing those parts.)

So when it turned out that it was possible for me to make a bit of money by making necklaces, photographing them, writing about them and posting it all on the internet on a website – using my natural skills, and doing things I enjoyed, rather than forcing myself into things I found very difficult – I was so pleased. I still didn’t really believe this was something I could do as a full time job, so I didn’t formulate an amazing business plan, quit everything else and go hell for leather on dominating the button jewellery industry – but I kept at it, slowly, and my button jewellery website tided me over financially through a turbulent few years.

“You know what?” said someone, at some point.
“What?” I said.
“If you made ten necklaces all the same, you wouldn’t have to keep taking photographs and putting them on the website all the time, and taking off the ones you’d sold. You’d only have to take one photo for a whole batch. It would be way more efficient.”

I thought about it. They were right. It took me longer to put a necklace for sale on my website than it did to make the necklace itself.

So I went through my box of vintage buttons and I sorted the buttons into piles of those that were all the same, and eventually I was able to come up with a few designs that I could replicate two or more times. I made the necklaces – and of course, yes, it was great – when one sold, instead of removing the old one from the website, making a new one, putting it on the website, I could just do nothing for a couple of iterations. *But* it took such a long time sorting through the box of buttons to find the ones that were the same. If only I could buy some that were all the same, pre-packaged in a bag together…

And this is where everything started to slide. In some ways you could say it was the opposite, and that was when it all took off – it was becoming more efficient and I was growing my business. I started buying bulk, brand new buttons, which all came in a packet together, and making the same design ten, twenty, a hundred times over. And since I was buying these new buttons, why not extend it all out into new-everything-else? New beads, new miniature-teapots, new safety pins – all unusual objects to make jewellery from.

But it wasn’t really what I started from. It was an impression of it. A fake version. But lots of people seemed to want it, and as it was more efficient I was making more stuff, selling more stuff, and, by the look of it, earning more money. It looked like it really could become my actual job.

I took a bit of a leap. I stopped doing most of my other jobs. I moved somewhere else. And then I took my eye off the ball.

Around this time, a few things were happening in the outside world that would have an effect on my tiny online business.

The internet was growing enormously. Some of the biggest and most forward-thinking internet companies realised that if they made it easy for people to sell their crafts online, they could take a cut of the profits and make even more money. Specialist “handmade marketplace” websites emerged, and they had business plans and spent a lot of money on marketing and easy-to-use websites and suddenly lots of people who didn’t know how to before could sell their crafts online.

Buying online became a Real Thing. Buying handmade stuff online became even more of a Thing. And for a brief couple of years, there was a tiny bubble in which my business was doing really well because everyone knew that you could buy crafts online and my website was easy to find in Google. I’d learnt how to make it show up at the top when people searched for “button necklace”, “button jewellery” and “button bracelet” – but the way Google worked in those days was that it just looked at what the website was about, and ranked them by relevance. Mine was unequivocally about button jewellery, so it showed up at the top without me having to do very much other than make sure all the right words were in the right places.

Then something else happened. Google, which was the main thing that sent traffic to my website, changed its search algorithm. Google doesn’t ever say exactly what its algorithm is, but since 2012 it has seemingly taken into account how popular things are, and how many fans something has on social media, and places more emphasis on these things than the content of the website itself. Or, alternatively, you can pay them some money in order to get in the search results. So for me, it was either: pay the money, or spend lots of time on marketing and social media and clickbaiting. Which is not something I’m good at. Not at all. You remember that stuff about being socially awkward? Doesn’t make a good marketer. And so much social media is just full of people being fake. Not to mention: I already thought that a lot of what I was now making, with my brand new buttons and specially-bought beads, was fake too. There was no way I could promote it when I didn’t even believe in it myself.

I looked at it all, and realised that the thing that had enabled me to start doing this as a job – those PayPal buttons you could put on a website – was the beginning of the thing that had turned both the internet and my own business into something horrible and corporate. Once it turned out that people could make money out of something, there were always going to be people who used it to become enormous and too powerful. The PayPal buttons themselves were that, right from the start. The thing that let me do this in the first place is the flipside of the thing that made it all go horribly wrong. And I don’t know what we do about that right now (that’s a whole different essay about the possibility of ethical web-payment systems, perhaps) but here we are.

It may have been the increased competition, it may have been the change to Google’s algorithm, it may have been that people started going straight to Etsy – or probably it was a bit of all three – but my website started losing traffic and sales. I didn’t have a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to hand: so I panicked. Instead of coming up with a properly thought-out plan, I just stripped out all the jewellery I was making that seemed inauthentic – all the necklaces made in bulk with brand-new buttons, all the things made with anything I’d bought new for the purpose – I sold them off cheap, then made my website into what I thought to be a beautiful, minimalist, totally authentic little corner of the internet which only sold jewellery that was made from old vintage buttons and that I felt proud of.

Which was really stupid, because a) I didn’t have very many things left that fitted that description, and b) making jewellery in that individually-crafted, photograph-every-one kind of way is, as we established, less efficient and pretty time consuming, and c) my traffic kept falling and falling and nobody was looking at it. So I ended up with no money left! And then I panicked again, and bought some new brightly coloured buttons in bulk from China because I knew that people would buy those kinds of necklaces, they always sold well before! Except… now there was more competition and buttons weren’t so much in fashion any more (and did I mention my website was losing traffic?) and I was stuck with a load of stock that I thought was fake and against all of my principles… *AGAIN*. In other words, I made a complete mess of everything. GO ME.