Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Meet Jenny

Jenny has taken up the challenge of running her own handmade jewellery business, Decadent Dragonfly, from home. She makes original and bespoke pieces of jewellery from a range of materials, and generously donates a portion of profits to Invest in ME. Here she talks about her inspirations and hopes for the future and how she balances running a business alongside her M.E. 


Do you have a business name? 


'Decadent Dragonfly' - choosing it took ages and was a bit of a mission!  Firstly I had to choose something that sounded right and that I liked, then I had to research it to make sure nobody else was using it (that happened a LOT to my first few favourites!) or it had any untoward connotations (like sounding a bit too much like a strip club, for instance...).  Then it had to pass the 'fellow designers' test, where my friend, who works in a building with lots of designers and arty types, told them the name to see what they thought - a few went West at this stage as, apparently, peacocks aren't fashionable any more, but luckily dragonflies are!  :-)  Dragonflies are also the symbol for transformation, courage and power, which I think is appropriate to those of us trying to make the best of our 'new' lives (with M.E.) by starting our own businesses.  And the 'Decadent' bit comes from 'Cabaret': "Divine decadence, darling"!  As soon as I found something that satisfied all of those criteria, I jumped at it and started using it straight away!


How did you get started with your business? 

Like many people with ME (PwME) I started crafting as a form of therapy and as a way of feeling productive without going over my limits.  I've loved messing about with jewellery since I was a child, and when my hubby offered me his old tools from his university days I jumped at the chance to learn a new skill that wasn't too strenuous (plus our cats are far less interested in my jewellery than they were in my knitting and crochet efforts!).  I saw others making and selling items through the ‘Make ME Crafts’ Facebook page (the crafting arm of ‘Invest in ME’ and decided I’d like to join in, and haven’t stopped since!  I never expected it to turn into a ‘proper’ business, but as I got quicker at making and improved my skills it became more and more of a viable option as something I could do from home and at my own pace. 


Where do you get inspiration for your designs? 

I'm very inspired by nature and the interesting textures and colour combinations that exist.  I wish I could talk about trips to foreign lands, exotic locations etc., but as you can imagine that’s not really on my agenda, so I find I visit places ‘virtually’ by watching nature documentaries and looking at pictures on the internet (Pinterest is amazing!), and often draw inspiration from them.  I'm also inspired by fabrics and prints that I see, other people’s projects (for example, a DIY project that someone else has done which isn't jewellery-based but I like the ‘look and feel’ of) and even by scenes on the TV which catch my eye (I have been known to pause the programme and take pictures of the colours or outfits or interior d├ęcor that I like!).  I'm also often inspired by the beads themselves – often an accidental pairing of two strands lying next to each other in a drawer can spark a new piece or whole collection.


What is your favourite part of your craft?

Collecting beads and other ingredients, swapping them around and finding unexpected combinations that work, seeing the colours and design come together, and watching the final piece materialise.

What is your least favourite part?

Repetition!  It's not good for me physically or mentally!  Unfortunately some of my most popular pieces involve performing the same action over and over again to create the final piece, so I have to pace and take regular breaks.  Luckily I now have some 'gizmos' that help take the strain off and make life a bit easier, like my trusty 'One Step Looper'.

Also, the amount of time we now need to spend on social media promoting our wares and generally being 'entertaining' - it feels like you need to spend about 3 hours a day constantly saying 'please like me, please like me, look at this cat picture, isn't this funny, please like me, please like me' and that seems like such a huge waste of effort :-(

Oh, and missing out on events and craft fairs because I'm too ill.  Major bummer :-(


Do you have a favourite material to work with, or favourite types of jewellery to make? 

I'm definitely a glass and stone girl, they are my favourites, but I enjoy variety so I also use wood, felt, ceramics, metal and recycled and re-purposed objects, plus acrylic/plastic as it is so light, which is good not only for me but anyone with ME who wants to wear my designs!  I'm looking into working with resin, and I'm learning some new skills at the moment which will hopefully enable me to incorporate fabrics and unusual prints into my designs, which I'm really excited about, and I'm learning metalworking skills, which is also enormous fun!


Do you aim at a particular market/customer/style? 

Not really – any time I've tried to follow ‘trends’ or do something in ‘this season’s colours’ nobody seems to want it, so I've decided to stick with what I like to see, make and wear, and, rather than trying to find out what certain people want and try to make that, I'm now making what I like and finding people who like it, if that makes sense!  I'm learning to trust my designs and now think, “if I like it, then someone else probably will too”, and try to find them, which is much easier now we've got the internet!


Most importantly, how do you balance your crafting/working with your ME? 

I've found (through trial and error) that I have better times of the day, so I try to restrict my making times to those peak times and try to stop before I get foggy and start making mistakes or dropping things.  It’s not easy, but I'm definitely more productive when I work this way.  I am also very kind to myself when I can’t make anything for a few days (or weeks!).  I once heard some advice at a business seminar which was “turn your biggest limitation into your greatest strength”, which for me is turning “I can’t do many fairs or make much stock” into “online exclusives and limited editions”! 


And how do you cope at busier times? Is it difficult to manage customers’ expectations/understanding if they want something quickly? 

With ready-made items it’s not usually an issue as I can generally get things dispatched fairly quickly (my elderly mum is a great help here as she’s always willing to pop to the post box or post office for me!).  I make sure that anyone who orders a bespoke item is kept fully informed of progress and I know what deadlines I might be working to, so there’s no unpleasant surprises when I have too much on or am too poorly to complete a project.  At the moment I'm coping well with the amount of orders I'm getting through Facebook and Etsy, but my commissioned pieces have had to take a back seat recently as I've been working on making stock for an upcoming Arts Fair and some local shops, which is very exciting!


How does making the jewellery make you feel?  It must be satisfying to know you’re doing something so productive?

It’s incredibly satisfying!  I love the feeling of completing an item and having that sense of “I made that”, not to mention the thrill of knowing that somebody might actually wear it one day!  The colours and beads make me happy just looking at them, so being able to create something with them as well is incredibly rewarding.


And knowing you are giving to an ME charity must be rewarding too? 

Indeed – in some ways there’s so little PwME can physically do to raise funds for charity, as we can’t run marathons or climb mountains or organise parties, so to be able to do something I enjoy which not only makes me feel productive but means others can feel good about buying my designs AND gives to charity is like getting three benefits from one activity!  It shouldn't be up to us to fund research, but at the moment that’s the only option we have, and I'm proud to be part of it.


So what plans do you have for the future? Where can we see your work?

I'm hoping to be involved in more local events (such as the Nottingham Creative Fringe, Sherwood Art Week and craft fairs) and get my work into some more local shops too.  You can see my work on my Facebook and Etsy pages, in some Nottingham  shops including Bee & Bird in Mapperley and A Stone’s Throw in Sherwood and on my shiny new website Decadent Dragonfly.  Ultimately I’d like to be able to fund the private treatments for my ME solely through my jewellery-making, so they support each other – the treatments helping to keep me well enough to make the jewellery, which then funds the treatments.  I'm not planning world domination, but I would like to see how far I can go with it whilst keeping within the limits of my illness.  



Do you have a favourite thing that you make?  Do you have a picture of it?

My tastes change constantly and I'm always finding new things to make with unusual materials (which is great from a fun point of view but not from a promotional standpoint, as everyone else seems to have some kind of cohesive 'design identity'!).  At the moment I'm still loving my 'cluster sets', and also the new stuff I've made using re-purposed textiles.  My absolute favourite piece ever is a peacock-tones assemblage piece that I made as project for a part-time jewellery course I attended, but you'll have to visit my website to see a picture of that! ;)

Personal Details
Name JENNY BILLINGS
Age ALMOST 43
Location NOTTINGHAM, UK







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