If you have been fortunate enough to have already discovered Holly Simpson-Howe’s jewellery designs, you will know how elegant, edgy and enduring they are. The sort of luxury keepsake pieces that are statement-making yet can be worn effortlessly every day – and which you feel incomplete without. Since handcrafting the inaugural pieces for her eponymous jewellery label back in 2011, Howe’s collections have always exuded a sense of timelessness and permanence underscored by a deep interest in architecture, design and geometric forms. As this most unusual year comes to a close, M2woman caught up with Holly out of her Dunedin workshop to find out how her boutique brand Holly Howe Jewellery has been evolving, on being a new mum and in business, and her best advice.
What drew you to jewellery design as a profession?
It definitely came from the panic of finishing my Product Design degree. I threw myself into a Post Grad Jewellery course, I was drawn to the idea of wearable, small sculpture. I had a month to go before graduating and pulled out after deciding that I just wanted to do my own thing.
What are the best things about your job?
Freedom, more so now that I have my daughter at home. Another side of it is the people I meet through doing custom work. I’ve been part of some special stories, creating work for the sick, the recovering, pregnancy journeys, surprise engagements. To know I’ve created someone a forever piece and hearing people’s stories is a real honour.
Where do you find your design inspiration?
I have a really strong interest in architecture and design. It’s almost second nature to find the detail in my surroundings. It can be anything from shapes within nature, details and forms within buildings, the idea of changing the scale of something and making that wearable.
How do you want people to feel when wearing your jewellery?
I want people to feel like they have made an investment in quality design, to feel proud that they are part of supporting an independent business. It’s more than just an accessory. I don’t want to create seasonal pieces that are on trend for that time. It is about creating work that people feel proud to wear year after year, that ages with them and becomes part of their story. I want them to have an emotional connection to their jewellery.
Do you have a favourite or signature piece of jewellery you wear every day?
The Twist Bangle, Echo Cocktail Ring, Onyx Star Ring and my Gold and Onyx Star Drop Necklace are my everyday favourites.
You grew up in Dunedin, and still live there. How has the city influenced your work?
We have incredible architecture down here – old buildings that fit perfectly with that dark Dunedin style. There are incredible brands doing amazing things here; it’s hard not to absorb that and have it reflected in your work.
What is a typical day like for you? My toddler is still home with me full-time, so it’s a juggle act between being present with her and filling her cup up, and also running a business and making work. I jump into the studio as soon as she naps and I work at night time once she’s gone to bed. This season of having a young person in my life is so short and I remind myself that the juggle will be less in time.
How do you consider form versus function when you design?
Everything needs to be comfortable or you’re not going to wear it. I don’t create exhibition jewellery that leans towards sculpture or wearable art. My work is designed to be worn daily to become part of the person wearing it. Form and function work hand in hand.
You encourage your customers to work with you to turn their design ideas into reality. How do you take someone else’s vision but still make it a Holly Howe piece?
I’ve turned down work in the past where the vision didn’t fit my aesthetic. I like what I like and trying to create work for people where our vision doesn’t align just doesn’t work for me. I’m lucky that a lot of the people who approach me with ideas give me free reign to design what I want. They are coming to me because they know my work and like my style, so with a few guidelines from them it gives me a perfect starting point to create something new while adding a few details of theirs so they are a part of it.
What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?
I wasn’t scared of anything in the beginning, it was more excitement than anything. It was a few collections later where I was trying to get into more stores and the more people who knew my work, the more pressure I felt.
What has been your greatest challenge so far as a woman in business?
It isn’t a gender issue but the fact that I am an introvert definitely has its challenges when it comes to putting myself and my work out there.
What has had the greatest influence on your work and why?
Having a baby 100%. It has made me reevaluate what I want out of Holly Howe Jewellery, how I see the future of my business and my work. That I don’t want to be seen as a big brand, I want people to connect with me as a person, a jeweller, a designer, a creator, a mother. It’s really important to me that I am not producing big collections seasonally or having sales to clear out “old” stock. A lot of time and work goes into making my jewellery and I am really proud to create forever pieces for people.
What words do you live by?
“They can only say no” when it comes to putting my work out there for promotion or trying to get my work into stores.
Has motherhood influenced your work?
Absolutely, as I said above, it has changed how I want the future of Holly Howe to operate. It has slowed me down both in production and creativity. Everything is more considered. It has been so positive and almost the thing I needed in my life to be able to stop for a while. It felt like a reset and a fresh start.
What advice would you give to new mothers who want to start a business, but aren’t sure how to juggle a new venture with parenthood?
Lower your expectations and be kind to yourself. My daughter is home full-time with me until she starts kindy at four, a decision I made the day she was born. It was and is really important to me to have these early years together. I didn’t expect to start Holly Howe back up until she was at kindergarten but I needed something back for myself. It’s something I am still navigating and it’s a balancing act but something that is 100% doable. Be gentle with yourself, it is hard, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?
Ideas don’t always work out but don’t be so quick to discard them and ALWAYS write the idea down, you won’t remember it, trust me.
What would your advice be to someone who wants to enter a career in design?
Go for it. Do it. Study a path that can take you onto further education in a field you are interested in. Be open to your path changing and evolving, the deeper you dive into a chosen field, it’s all valuable.
What are your plans for your brand – where will you be this time next year?
Commission/one-off work is the main focus for Holly Howe. The first quarter of the year is booked out for commission pieces, I just want to build on that throughout the year while also making a small collection of work available online. That balance of one-off and collection work allows me to learn new skills and experiment, keeping me creative and inspired.
If you could describe the Holly Howe brand in three words, what would they be?
Timeless, bold, solid.
Name one thing that makes you feel like your true self?
Sleep but I don’t think I’ll be getting any of that any time soon!