Sophie McKay, founder of Bar Jewellery and freelance fashion consultant, shares her journey to founding her company, the successes and challenges involved and how FutureGirlCorp helped validate her business idea.
The Idea... Growing up in the artistic community within Brighton, I always felt encouraged to be creative. I loved painting and drawing but eventually I decided to go into fashion design and studied at the University of Westminster. I was lucky enough to get a job at Burberry after graduating, working as a Womenswear designer. I then went on to work for Versace in Milan and Tom Ford back in London. After working in the industry for a while, I felt the need to do something different and wanted to go freelance. This isn’t the norm and so some people thought I was throwing away my career but I knew it was the right thing to do. I started working freelance for lots of different brands, which completely opened my eyes to another way of working. Once I was getting more solid work, I began feeling comfortable and needed a new challenge. At the same time I was talking to other designers about sustainability in fashion and what we could do to make positive changes - the best way I saw to achieve this was starting my own label. I had always thought about running my own company, ever since the age of 16 when I was making and selling bags and clothes on Ebay. In the back of my mind, I had an idea to start a jewellery brand - despite my background, it appealed to me more than starting a company selling clothing. I did a silversmithing course, which gave me the basics skills to make jewellery. I’d sculpt prototypes in wax and then work with London based companies who would cast, finish and plate the pieces.
"Bar Jewellery is the result of a passion for vintage jewellery and a desire to prompt positive change in the fashion industry."
The Product... I started Bar Jewellery in my first year as a freelancer, launching in October 2016. The brand's aesthetic is informed by elegance and simplicity - not following seasonal trends and instead placing importance on creating special pieces that will be worn for years to come. The core values of the business are to produce ethically and sustainably, and to move away from the general impression that eco fashion is ugly or crafty; it can be just as beautiful and compete on every level with the mainstream.
The Successes... In the beginning, I was getting positive reception from some big editors, which was amazing. I was also lucky enough to come across Emma Watson’s stylist on Instagram. Her team were starting the process of getting pieces in for the Beauty and the Beast press tour and because she was only wearing ethical brands, they were really keen to work with me. That was a really big boost. Overall, it’s exciting to have celebrities wearing the brand and it’s nice to have features in magazines but the main success for me is having people buy the products. It’s great that people are buying into the brand being sustainable too. I am excited that as the brand gets bigger, the values will still be the same and we can make a real impact.
The Challenges... It’s really up and down. There are weeks where nothing happens and you feel like everything is going wrong. Then there are amazing weeks and I’m up again. It’s a rollercoaster ride but you’ve just got to keep pushing everyday. It was so hard in the beginning - without any real feedback, I was constantly questioning myself. What kept me going was a passion for what I’m doing.
The FGC Experience... I came across FutureGirlCorp in the Evening Standard. I was taking steps to develop my brand but I wasn’t sure on how to take it from a small idea to a big business, so it made perfect sense to apply and it was hugely validating to get accepted. This was the first time I had met like-minded people. I couldn’t believe how many ambitious girls were out there, who were doing the same thing as me. It just takes you from being on your own to being part of a community. Plus, having the opportunity to write a business plan and access help from these amazing female speakers is so cool.
"FutureGirlCorp is a completely different approach to anything else out there because it’s directed towards you and your business. So you can ask specific questions and receive really helpful and practical advice. It’s amazing!"
The Advice... Keep pushing, keeping going - no matter if you are having a bad day or a great day, you’ve got to push yourself. Have confidence that you can do it.
The Future... I’ve learned so much over the past year and so I’m now putting all that knowledge into making the brand bigger and better. I’m working on a new collection and approaching stockists in the new year. The next step for me is to be working full time on my business and to achieve international acclaim. Big dreams!