Lulu & Levi: How I started making jewellery
Where to begin my jewellery making journey?
As the youngest of five, I was always surrounded by family. With two very creative parents, we all grew up with some form of creative talent or another. My Mum loves all things design, fashion and interiors and is an absolute legend in the kitchen, whilst my Dad can make just about anything. He is an extremely skilled craftsperson, an electrician in his previous life and also in his free time is an amateur photographer. It seemed inevitable that I would grow up wanting to work with my hands.
My entrepreneurial hunger began at a young age, I loved the thought that If I had no money and wanted something, I could just create it by making something and selling it. It’s just what made sense to me! I was always very confident in my abilities.
I remember my first business at one stage cultivating my tiny 3 ft by 5 ft strawberry bed and growing strawberries to sell on the side of the road when I was about 7! I think I must have sold only about 4 punnets though at 50p each because I had yet to learn about location (we live in the middle of nowhere), stock control and shrinkage (the staff a.k.a ME kept eating all the stock!). To be honest I was delighted with my £2 since I hadn’t really done any of the work (my Mum had actually grown them).
I was born with some pretty serious health complications so as a little girl while everyone else was running around outside I preferred to be inside creating things. I spent a lot of time in hospital growing up so I had a lot of free time to be creative because let’s face it hospital is the place where time stands still! I loved all my little arts and craft projects and it just brought me so much happiness creating little gifts for people. I still get that same thrill when creating a piece of jewellery for someone, especially at Christmas, it makes me feel like Santa!
One day my Dad took me out around Dublin on “Day Leave” (that’s what they call it when you’ve been in the hospital too long and you need to get out before you go insane!”). He brought me to Georges Street Arcade which I thought was the most beautiful building that housed the most unique little shops. We went to this little shop called Crown Jewels which sold the largest selection of Swarovski Crystals I had ever seen. I was a massive Swarovski fan, in fact it still holds a very special place in my heart. It was here that I started to design my very first pieces of Swarovski jewellery. When people ask me how I got into jewellery I usually tell them about how I trained in Kilkenny with the Design and Crafts council of Ireland and go on to tell them about my journey from there but now that I reflect on it, jewellery has always been a major part of my life. It has always been there for me comforting me in times of need, challenging me to grow and learn new skills and soothing me when I need comfort. It really is a therapeutic skill to have. I have been making jewellery from the age of about 8. I loved making pretty little friendship bracelets. I was reminded the other day though by a friend that actually I used to take the bracelets into school and sell them, oops!!! I used to rob ingredients from my mum’s larder to make gingerbread men and then sell them at the Local Community Market in order to make money for more jewellery making tools and materials (see I told ya I was a very young entrepreneur!!).
So, from a very young age jewellery and business was just naturally in my blood. It’s not that I love wearing it because honestly most of my money goes on my shoe obsession but boy do I love to make it. I love getting lost in the romance of a piece. The customers story, that precious moment that they want to keep close forever. I am honoured that someone is trusting me to make their precious heirloom. I love the thought that each piece jewellery I create will have a life of it’s own long after me. It will become part of someone else’s beautiful story and I love that I can be a part of bringing that story to life.
Because of all my time in and out of hospital I didn’t get go to school very often. But I never really struggled academically because my amazing Mum made sure I never fell behind. In transition year I became very ill and couldn’t finish the school year. This is when I realised I would never be able to have a regular 9 to 5 job because I couldn’t commit. This is also when I decided I needed to take my future into my own hands. Literally! I decided I could create a career that fit around me and my life needs and I chose to use my passion for jewellery making to make my dream life come true.
How I trained to become a Goldsmith
As mentioned briefly above I trained to become a Goldsmith in Kilkenny with the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland. This is a course that only accepts 12 people every two years and as impatience is one of my main traits I decided to sit my leaving cert in 5th year so that I could be ready to go on the course the following September (I had no idea whether I would even get on the course or not at this stage! 75 people had applied). Long story short I did get on the course, however in my second year I got ill again and couldn’t graduate. I went back though a year later and graduated with a new class so I count myself really lucky to have trained with 23 really talented now Goldsmiths rather than 11. Plus, I got an extra year learning techniques at the hands of some of the most amazingly talented Master Goldsmiths.
Starting Button & Co
I opened my first pop up shop at the age of 19 (that was well before pop up shops were a thing) back then it was just a short-term lease. I honestly hadn’t a clue what I was doing I just decided I had to start somewhere so went to my local shopping centre and asked to use one of their units.
I was still living at home at this stage and didn’t have kids so things were a lot easier! I remember sitting in the kitchen with Mum having a cup of tea when I designed my first collection which was based around buttons and the memories associated with them. I brought the initial concept to the Dragons Den where I secured my first real investment to build my business. It was amazing exposure and we had huge successes with what you now may remember as Button & Co. We were selling in over 40 shops in Ireland and the UK and a couple in New York.
A few years later we opened our first jewellery shop. It was my absolute pride and joy! We hosted the most beautiful collections of jewellery and met the most amazing people, customers who became friends. I was able to work with one of my best friends every day and I loved being able to meet customers and get to know their stories. I loved this shop so much but unfortunately the universe had other plans and after the birth of my second baby I got sepsis. I was extremely ill for a very long time as the sepsis affected the condition I already had and my body started to shut down. I reluctantly ended up having to close the business to focus on my family and my recovery.
We had a very tough 2 years in which time my husband Mark also lost his job because of my illness. I was in hospital most of the time, Jacob was in Crumlin quite a bit and Poppy began presenting with issues similar to mine for which she was hospitalised several times. It was pure madness and I honestly don’t know how Mark held us all together (he is our Button!). We had amazing family and friends and even local businesses who all came together to support us and helped keep a roof over our heads for which we will be forever grateful. They helped relieve those financial stresses for us and allowed us time to recover and enjoy being a family again. They gave us a gift we could never repay and this whole experience has made us realise just how precious life, family and friends truly are. This is where the original concept for Lulu & Levi came from.
Why Lulu & Levi?
We realised not everyone is as lucky as we are to be surrounded by such amazing and supportive people so we wanted to create a community where people in similar situations could come together to help lift each other up. A place where we celebrate all things family, friends, fun and of course not forgetting fabulous jewellery!
Through buying a piece of Lulu & Levi jewellery not only are you supporting a local business but you are also helping us to give back to other families (see the family we recently sent on a trip to Disneyland). We hope in the future to be able to help many more families spend quality time together making precious memories.
Thank you for all your support and love!
Elaine Sarah x
See the Lulu & Levi jewellery collection
Sun, moon and stars necklace
Sun, moon and stars earrings
Sun, moon and stars earrings
Personalised initial necklace
To see our full Lulu & Levi jewellery collection, please visit the Shop All page.