Friday, 29 May 2015

The Vintage Valkyrie: independent women

I recently discovered a fantastic independent jewellery maker, Ipek Salih, who trades as The Vintage Valkyrie. Ipek creates pieces inspired by media and literature and I just had to meet her and her cousin (and inspiration for turning a hobby into a business) Havva Ali to find out more about her business and what drives her.

Ipek, thank you so much for taking time to meet. Can you describe your business for us? 

The Vintage Valkyrie is a boutique jewellery business specialising in movie, TV, book, game inspired pieces. We create unique and individual items that allow me to realise my artistic vision and get my creative flair across.

So from one unusually named business to another- why 'The Vintage Valkyrie'? 

I was thinking about company names when on holiday and running them past Havva. I have to say that the time difference frustrated things a bit! I knew I needed a cool idea and brand, and was glad to have Havva helping out.

I had a vision of creating cool, well-crafted pieces inspired by movies, games and books. I spent some time working through key words that represented that vision and we played with combinations to see what stood out. Finally I had the name so I got a logo design ready that I felt happy with before sending to my family for feedback. The Vintage Valkyrie was a random name that emerged from key words I had used, all based in mythology. I wanted something unique, and liked alliteration. 

I did research company branding and how to pick a name. I didn't doubt myself when I settled on it. I even designed my own logo- it was trial and error but I felt I picked things up by doing it and learned a lot.
I like the name because I feel it doesn't limit what I want to do. I checked around on social media to see if others had used it. They hadn’t, and it got a positive response from those I trust. 

I spent time repeating it to myself until I felt confident that it was right. People ask about it a lot! 

When and why did you start out making your passion and talent work for you?

I started up in November 2014, but I had been making pieces for many years for personal gifts for family and friends. I was inspired to turn it into a business by Havva, who pointed out that there was a market for my work, and also that I was spending lots of money on materials and should make some back. I do this because I just love doing something creative and I love to express that side of myself. 

Where can we see (and even buy) your stuff?

I trade exclusively on Etsy, though I am attending London Film and Comic Con at Olympia this year to test that out- drop by and say hi between 17-19 July. I'd love to meet you all.

I am also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and try to keep those lively. Give me a follow to keep up with new items and all the fun.

Speaking of social media, you seem to have a grasp of how to engage- how have you developed a following and promoted the business on those channels?

Hashtags have allowed me to connect to people all over the world, bringing my stuff to their attention. I have also run giveaways and competitions to generate attention and get people interacting. As a result of social media attention I have shipped items as far away as the USA and Albania.
We take time to present the items as best we can online. We do all the photography ourselves, all social media is manned by me- I can really say I deliver a real personal touch. 

I encourage people who have bought from me to share their purchases on their own social media- I love to see photos of happy customers wearing my pieces.

Who do you admire? Why?

I am a big fan of a few game and animation voice actors who have had success but remain grounded and friendly such as Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey and Roger Craig Smith. I try to reflect their attitudes in my work; they are nice people who love their fans and supporters and they spend time with people. I hope I do the same for my customers. 

Who have you learned from?

When I first started I used YouTube tutorials, just to learn to use the tools. Beadaholique in the USA share a lot of advice in using their products and tools online and this really helped me to understand how to do things the correct way. It plugged the gaps in my technical know-how. Their online videos are so helpful, I really learnt so much from them.

What are your fondest memories? 

Getting that first review from the USA. My customer received her purchase and posted that she had received a compliment the first time she wore it. 

I also gifted a piece to a favourite actor who then shared it on social media. It really makes me happy to make things for people who appreciate them. Recently I made custom pendants for some actors which really got fans’ interest. I am reaching out to different fans and seeing good results on Etsy- new favourites on the page is very satisfying.

How do you handle mistakes?

I really can't tolerate mistakes! Last week I was working on something that wouldn’t go right, but I was on a deadline so kept on. I try to maintain professionalism. Each item is handmade and individual so can be quirky, but there's a difference e between quirky and sloppy. I will redo something I am not happy with. I can be very hard on myself, because I want people to see my work as good and be completely happy with their purchase. This is the first venture out there for me and first impressions matter so much.

How did you feel when you made your first sale?

On the first day I opened the Etsy shop after trailing it on social media for a while I felt so nervous. I got the first sale notification around half an hour after I opened the shop, and I felt relieved that something I had made was liked. It helped me feel more confident- someone liked my pieces enough to invest. 

Who would you love to count as a customer and why?

Another jewellery maker who could make what I do but chooses to buy from me instead. Small businesses supporting small businesses is always a great thing.

Rceently an author based in France asked for commissioned pieces to go with a new book. I designed bookmarks to be given to online event attendees to promote the publication. These were dispatched internationally. That’s something I really loved doing and would really welcome more opportunities like that.

How do you resist only making items that reflect your own likes and how do you identify what other people might like to buy?

I respond to what people are talking about online and what's happening at the events I attend. For example at Comic Con I will be selling Back to the Future inspired items for the 30th anniversary events taking place there this year, including a full cast reunion. I also looking at the materials I buy and draw inspiration from them, so for example some pretty filigree hearts that caught my eye have inspired Alice in Wonderland ‘Queen of Hearts’ themed pieces. 

I seek guidance from others including Havva, who keeps me up to speed on what's popular beyond my own perspective. Even if I haven't seen the show or read the book Havva recommends  I put passion into it and keep in mind that it has to appeal to a fan. Sometimes the smallest details matter most, like where I might position a bead or how I mount a charm- it can make or break a piece.

I try to work with varied materials as not everyone likes things a certain way. I also make items that appeal to men, such as cufflinks and leather cord necklaces.

I also pick up on things that are not so popular, and take inspiration from less well known material. It's important to please those customers too as well as those who are into what's hot right now.

What's your favourite piece you've made and why?

Havva: I know one! My Wonder Woman bracelet Ipek made for me a while ago. It’s a one off unique piece so don't go looking for it on the shop! 

Ipek: Probably the phoenix wing necklace. I was so pleased with the painting on it. It was a challenge I set myself. Subtle changes in the colours made it perfect- it's simple but I am very proud of it.

Tell me about your everyday life – what do you do other than run your business?

I have some everyday family obligations, helping my parents, researching ideas, taking time to learn new skills and stopping my cats raiding my materials boxes! I read a lot and that's inspired me in my jewellery business.

What would you define as ‘Talent’?

Ipek: It’s something inherent in a person that they may not know they have, but it marks them out. It's not often called talent unless perceived as such by others. I see what I do as a skill, which is something I have learned- talent is more natural.

Havva: Skill and talent are similar, but if someone's dedicated, they may develop both. They may not be naturally born to play guitar but dedication makes them skilled and it is seen by others as their talent. 

What, for you, is the value of using your talent?

It's given me confidence and purpose. I'm able to talk confidently about my work which I struggled to do before. I took a leap of faith a year ago and it's given me a way to express myself. It's made me happy to be doing what I do. It's making me improve as a person.

What advice would you give to anyone nervous about starting out in business?

Trust yourself. Start small. Don't create an image in your head of being successful in a week- use social media to advertise freely and widely. Take a risk and go with it. 

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to expand and develop a Superheroes range, also to try my hand at stamping, and working on making each piece unique in some way. I want to expand my knowledge and customer base and develop my own website.

Most of all I want to always be the one making the items, expressing my creativity and having that direct relationship with my customers. That really matters to me. 

Love Ipek’s work and approach? Why wouldn’t you? You can buy from The Vintage Valkyrie on Etsy or at London Film and Comic Con at Olympia, London between 17-19 July. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Offensive? Moi?

Recent days have shown that there's a long way to go with regards communication and understanding in some of our most high-profile workplaces.

 First we had the minefield of whether it's 'sexist' to offer a pregnant woman a seat, with Equalities Minister Jo Swinson 'forced to stand' in a packed House of Commons after arriving late to a debate. He colleagues argued that at seven months pregnant, she was 'quite able' to stand for 30 minutes and to suggest otherwise was patronising. 

The fact is that courtesy should override any argument woman's stability, and a seat should have been found for Ms Swinson who, for all her reassurances that everything's fine, I am certain would have gracefully accepted in the spirit it was offered. 

God knows I'd have kissed the face off anyone who offered me a seat on a packed train when I was pregnant (or as i remember it, doing an impression of the Queen Mary in full sail.

If the time has come when common courtesy, consideration and respect for a woman in the last (often uncomfortable) months of pregnancy is ruled 'sexist', it's a sad day indeed. 

That's the only advice I'd offer workmates in this scenario- be courteous. If you offer a seat or extra help to a pregnant woman, be sure the situation warrants it and that you do it in the spirit of care and consideration. Fussing about like she's made of spun glass won't make you firm friends, but inviting her to tell you what she needs to be comfortable and doing your best to deliver it is absolutely A-OK.

In other news, England's victory and securing of a place at the World Cup in Rio was overshadowed somewhat by a joke manager Roy Hodgson shared with the team at half time. It was an old NASA joke about the menial role of a human astronaut and a highly-trained monkey to illustrate how certain team members needed to support a particular talent, the Press screamed 'racist', believing Roy to be referring to black player Andros Townsend in less than flattering terms. Roy has apologised for any offence caused and his players have all come out in firm support of their boss.

Frankly, if use of the word 'monkey' is automatically assumed to be racist, London Zoo are in serious trouble- as am I every time I call the dog a cheeky one. 

So how do you deal with this issue at work? I always find it's wise to remember that offence is taken, not given. Give both sides a fair hearing. In most cases the person who made the remark is mortified to think that a comment has been taken to heart, and often able to clarify exactly what was said and why. Don't listen to third parties without speaking to those directly involved: in this example the media were busy being professionally offended while Townsend and Hodgson sat bewildered, wondering what the heck was going on in their names. 

We encounter- and negotiate- tricky situations daily at work, and some need careful handling. 

Some, like those above, just need common sense and courtesy.

Friday, 4 October 2013


I was asked this morning about the idea behind 'brand loyalty.' What makes a consumer loyal to one brand- Quality? Price? Advertising?

Of course it's a mix of all three, but with added ingredients that make the experience of buying that brand (or shopping at that store) feel good.

I'll tell you about two retailers I buy from regularly, and why. This is not an advert, and they've not paid me to blog about them, but they've more than earned some recognition. So if you go and buy from them, I'll be chuffed to have introduced you to two of the finest companies I've yet dealt with.

First up are the team behind Last Exit to Nowhere, an online retailer of clothing with imagination, creativity and humour. Each creation draws on famous movies- but why wear a T shirt reading 'Shaun of the Dead' when you can get one that says 'Winchester Tavern', with a groovy graphic? I love these guys and girls for their wit, great quality gear and excellent customer service. Go seek out their stuff and wear your favourite films with pride. Oh, and happy sixth birthday to them for October too!

Secondly I am delighted to introduce you to Get Cutie, vintage style dresses with added WOW factor. Beautifully crafted (trust me, even the pickiest dressmakers I've met have commented on their great work) and in the most vibrant prints, when I wear one of their dresses I feel so confident I might as well be wearing armour. What nails it for me is the service you get from the team- not just a great product but they are friendly, helpful, and do what they say they're going to do. Ladies, treat yourselves. Gents, they do ties.
Brand loyalty to me means these businesses; not huge, not world renowned, but doing the very best they can and keeping me, their customer, very very happy indeed.

Friday, 2 August 2013

HR- twaddle or what?

"HR is meaningless twaddle from an employee's point of view. HR is a parasite which serves to ensure nothing more than that the business hire and fires legally. Anything else is just faff and flannel, no matter how loudly anyone protests otherwise.

I've seen dreadful corporate decisions and worker treatment, I've been subject to it, and so has my missus. We've both been well paid for such corporate stupidity, in one case my missus had to use the courts but so be it."

This is an excerpt from a real Facebook conversation I had last night with a man who's clearly either a) disenchanted with HR or b) hasn't got a grasp of what HR does. Let's put aside the fact that he and his wife have been well rewarded for breaches of their employment rights (his lack of ability to make the connection between the two is astounding whichever way you look at it) but his comments that HR is "twaddle" that means nothing to employees both irks and intrigues me.

I believe the deeper recesses of HR may be a mystery to many employees, but they are generally glad to know who to go to with issues or questions. As for 'twaddle'? I don't understand civil engineering, but I don't have to- there are plenty of great people out there building bridges and airports so clueless me doesn't have to. I don't dismiss what they do as 'twaddle' because it's not what makes my wheels squeal.

I think that's how most people see HR- it does what it does so they don't have to. Not understanding it doesn't make it pointless.

As for 'parasite'? My understanding is that successful parasites thrive because the host doesn't know they're there. HR makes its presence known, no bones about it. They also do well because they take without giving.

Looking at my workload right now, there's plenty of giving going on.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, 29 July 2013

Pay up or shut up

Lots has been written about the Government introducing fees for tribunal claims to be made. I can't rephrase the arrangements or beat the likes of Darren Newman's excellent summary blog here but I can offer a thought or two on the situation.

As someone who has seen employers taken to tribunals and change their practices for the better as a result, I fear the introduction of fees will prevent genuinely aggrieved and unfairly treated employees seeking justice. This in turn will stop companies making the essential improvements needed to retain their staff and get the best from them. I don't see how this stimulates engagement, growth or creates a single job.

I don't think for a second that employers will benefit from this. Employees who have been genuinely unfairly treated will resort to other measures to seek recourse including ensuring everyone they meet knows what a bunch of utter b******s their former employers are. The reputational damage could be huge. They may lose other staff who they've trained and invested in as a result. Some employees who have sought to bring  claims only to fail to raise the cash will feel stumped and may take steps they'd normally never consider to feel justice has been done. 

Employees with what might be considered vexatious claims won't necessarily be 'weeded out'- as in the case of genuine claims, if they have the cash, they get to bring the case.

One thing that does worry me enormously is that employees with a genuine problem and who are unable to pay the fees will suffer in silence; gay or ethnic minority employees who have been singled out for poor treatment, men or women who have been harassed or threatened (and heaven know Twitter's had a hell of a weekend on that front) and anyone else who's been mismanaged, abused or mistreated face a stark choice- pay up or shut up.

I can't predict exactly what's going to happen, but I can guess. What I do know is that since 1971 employees who have experienced discrimination, harassment and abuse and employers who have had to face down false claims or learn the lessons when they have got it wrong have had the reassurance of a fair, free tribunal system- and that has now been taken from them. 

I honestly don't see how this can possibly have a positive outcome for individuals or businesses.

UPDATE: It appears the Unions are also very concerned, with UNISON being granted a judicial review hearing into the issue of fees to be heard in October.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Life could be a dream

This morning I've been chatting with some people about 'dream workplaces.'

"What would yours look like?" I asked. I imagined I'd hear about plush offices in swish locations, soaring glass and steel constructs with top of the range technology, leather sofas, ping pong tables, free lunches and so on.

Every single person I asked replied in the same way.

"Great people", they said.

They couldn't have cared less about what they labeled 'tree-hugging' workplaces with 'fussy' furniture, or 'weird' practices and 'overcomplicated' layouts. They just needed to be around great people to make work worthwhile.

So here are my next questions: Are you 'great people'?

Are you hiring 'great people'?

If not, what are you doing about it?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Great culture? Don't bank on it

The CIPD just issued a press release with the news that there is still 'much to be done' in the battle to rebuild trust in the financial sector in the UK.

In other news, water is still wet and penguins have cold feet.

However, the press release is of interest because for the first time I've seen financial industry workers' position quoted. 

"Fewer than one in three financial sector workers outside of senior management say they’re proud to work in the sector, almost two thirds of all workers in the sector believe some people in their organisation are rewarded in a way that incentivises inappropriate behaviour, and three in four financial services workers (eight out of ten workers in the banking sector) say they think some people in their organisations are paid excessively."

While those outside the City have taken a dim view of banker's bonuses and the perceived 'reward for failure' culture in banking for some time now, it's interesting to read the above figures. They are a huge 'tell' when we consider the levels of engagement and connection employees feel in this sector. Those outside senior management level are clearly as frustrated by their culture as those of us outside the industry are.

Can we hope for a sea change in the finacial sector when these people rise through the ranks? Will the retirement of the old guard and the promotion of the bright young things that frown on reward for bad behaviour mean an end to bonuses for those who gambled the biggest? Will they change the culture?

Will we see less fat cat and more lean, mean, purring machine?

Starting from rock-bottom could be the financial sector's greatest opportunity to reinvent itself and become an industry people would be proud to be a part of.

If the industry seizes the opportunity to really change its ways and not just pay lip service to whatever new regulations it may find itself subject to, it could become a beacon, a great thing to be a part of. God knows there is talent within; but it seems it has to become corrupted to be developed.

As it stands at a crossroads, the financial sector has to ask itself if it wants more of the same, and risk remaining the villain forever more, or if it would like to be something that inspires pride, loyalty and a spirit of connection with its staff and customers.