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.