How I Started a
Sustainable Jewellery Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Paulomi Debnath and I am the designer behind Handmade by Tinni – statement jewellery with a heart and soul. I am a textile jewellery designer and maker. I create modern, unique pieces of jewellery & home decor signs with organic cotton rope and yarn.
Handmade by Tinni i was a destined step for me, born out of my passion for handcrafted unique jewellery. When I finally set-up my brand in 2020, my design inspiration came from the bright colours of nature, amazing places that I have travelled to over the years, and most importantly from the rich heritage of India.
I mainly use age-old rope knotting crafts and processes like macramé; creating colourful, unique and bold designs is what makes my textile jewellery and home decor signs stand out!
I take great pride in making each piece by hand. My aim is to make you look beautiful and proud when you showcase a Tinni jewellery piece!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
“It’s never too late to set another goal or to dream a NEW DREAM!”
I was born and brought up in Kolkata, India, a colonial city with a rich heritage and history. It used to be the British capital during colonial rule and so you may find plenty of British architecture and influence dotted around the city. Charming and extremely busy, my birth city holds a special place in my heart forever. (The cultural heritage has a huge influence on my design inspiration).
I studied sales and marketing and started my career in hotel sales. I am passionate about travelling and found great pleasure in promoting hotels and destinations.
In 2004, I met the love of my life. Little did I know that the life I had known, had to be left behind and I will be travelling 5000 miles to start a new life soon!
In 2006, we got married in Kolkata. We both belong to this ‘City of Joy’ and very proud to have strong roots there. Soon, I joined my husband in London to start a new chapter of our journey together. With my experience in hotel sales, I was back in hotel sales management.
Fast forward 14 years, I now hold a senior position in hotel procurement as my day job, have become mum of a 10-year-old imaginative boy and we live in London.
My passion – I love music, dancing and travelling.
AND…… am totally addicted to jewellery. My mum often teases me, saying that I am building a secret jewellery museum. And being an Indian by origin, I am spoilt for choice and variety. I am extremely proud of my eccentric collection which is a mix of vintage, one of a kind or contemporary design.
2020 – A turning point
I finally launched my own sustainable jewellery brand – Handmade by Tinni
I love colour, I love handcrafted jewellery and I love travelling. My brand combines all these inspirations to create something unique.
(Tinni is my pet name – it is like my alternate personality – cheeky, full of fun and colourful)
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I think I have learnt very early on what I didn’t want from life; and that also acted as a catalyst for me in starting Handmade by Tinni.
It has been a challenge – being a Senior Buyer at an internationally renowned ‘Strategic Meeting Management Company’, a wife and a mother of a 10-year-old boy (who always keeps me on my toes), you need to learn to juggle a busy work & social life with loads of multitasking. But with constant support from my family, I always have been able to overcome that. When it has come to living my dream, I don’t want to resign into a life of missed callings and dreams.
“Do more of what makes you happy!”
Also, I decided to launch my brand in a very challenging time when the whole world was going through a crisis. Our life the way we know it, has changed drastically and some new habits are part of our normal now, hello ‘zoom’, ‘sanitisers’, ‘masks’, ‘lockdown’… etc.
It is nerve wracking and scary for any business, let alone a new independent creative launch. Plus, I am a social person and pretty much thrive on face-to-face meetings and interactions. So, the lack of human interactions at craft fairs or exhibitions, really added to the challenge.
But when life throws you a lemon, you learn to make a lemonade with it.
I adopted my digital persona in no time and was able to turn the situation around creatively in my favour. Social media was a big help and with the use of intelligent hashtags, engaging content, clean photography, and my creative prowess, I was able to transform visitors to my social page to become my followers and then customers. Afterall, I am a sales and marketing professional at heart.
Who is your target market?
Who is my ideal customer?
I have pondered on this question many times and have tried to segregate by age, demographic and hobbies, just how a marketing professional would like to. But the image has always been blurry and not specific. I do not think I can pinpoint at a specific personality for my designs!
My client can be a dreamy, bookaholic earth warrior from up north, a trendy, stylist culotte wearing singer from Brick Lane, or a founder and chief executive of an award-winning charity! Or all the above!
At the end, I feel, my ideal client is a colour loving soul who likes to express themselves with unusual jewellery while supporting small independent creatives who believe in sustainability.
In terms of the retail outlets, I have been very specific in choosing the independent shop owners who believe in small creative businesses and invest in sustainability. Independent retailers are the lifeblood of UK’s economy and there are so many little gems across the country to explore and be part of.
Currently, I am stocked at 3 eccentric boutiques in Chelmsford, London and Northampton. I am thankful to have found like-minded partners to showcase my designs.
My first selling site has been my Etsy shop and there is no doubt that it has been the best business decision for my brand. Etsy provides an amazing marketplace for handmade creatives and there has been no looking back. I reached 2 sales in January to 170 sales by December 2020.
This has been followed by Folksy, UK’S own ‘Etsy’ so to speak. Success came slightly later here but feels more home for a British designer like me.
In 2021, I have some amazing plans in place to grow in the e-commerce space and to launch my own website, finally.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
I have not used any paid advertising yet. However, I am considering using Facebook ads soon to grow my customer base and broaden my horizon. I plan to be strategic regarding that and only spend on targeted advertising. I might also consider using Etsy advertising to channel some internal growth.
Ecommerce Sites – I sell via Etsy and Folksy mainly. I am also listed on few local and niche boutique sites like Urban Makers, Show & Tell, Organic Clothing Company etc. Etsy has proven to be more successful as most likely, I have pushed my direct customers there.
Social Media – This has been my main source of inspiration and growth. With the absence of usual craft fairs and exhibitions in 2020, all forms of social media became the only source of interaction with our customers.
My brand is present in most forms of social media including Facebook (Facebook and Instagram), Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn (personal profile) and Twitter. However, for my brand, Instagram has been most effective followed by my Facebook page. I have grown my Instagram account from 2 digits to around 3480 followers in 2020andfound my niche here! Many of my followers are truly my tribe.
I have discovered early on that the secret to social media success is engagement. After all, it is called ‘social’ media for a reason – be social to be successful. With the intelligent use of hashtags, interactive content and using all channels available on the platform like ‘live’, ‘reel’, ‘story’ and posts, I engaged with unique clientele and found my community. Of course, I must add here that if my designs or products were not valued or loved, none of the above would have worked to gain popularity.
Pinterest is also an amazing medium to gain visibility. I used Canva to design my templates and regularly posted on my page with intelligent Pinterest search hacks.
Retail Outlets – I have been very fortunate to have found not one but three very different retail shop owners who share the same ambition and beliefs as mine. I have learnt so much since I started stocking at an actual shop! Thankfully I received great success in reaching out to B2C customers and that fueled my confidence in my designs. If you can sell when the global economy is going through a tumble then imagine what can be achieved when we all come out of this economic downturn.
I must add, I did my own research before approaching these shops as I had to find the right connection with each of them. It is very important to have a brand match at design, beliefs and productivity level.
Unconventional methods –I have invested a lot in social media training and learning. I knew I lacked in digital knowledge and new-age technology. So early on, I scoured the internet to find the best trainers and mentors to learn as much as I could. There is a ton of free training materials available if you are open to learning and studying. I was keen to know the inside knowledge on Instagram growth and Etsy selling. Etsy’s own training is definitely a brilliant place to start followed by Folksy’s training materials.
I also found many relevant training videos on YouTube and after a few days, I could recognise the good ones among hundred different options.
I have been focussed on what I wanted to learn and that worked for me. Initially, it was a hit and miss before I found my own routine slowly and steadily. I still make time for updates on my training and upgrade my knowledge as much as I can. Honestly, digital marketing is a fast-moving beast and the only way to keep pace is to keep learning and refreshing old ways.
Midway through the year, I identified that being a small business owner gives me the power to be nimble and try new things very easily. Some of those worked and few did not.
- Online craft fairs – This was quite a new concept and organisers adopted this route to replace the cancelled in person fair. Proved very successful for my brand. I partnered with the early adopters like Craft and Flea, Makers Market from home, Village Pop-up, The Pop-up Emporium, Handmade Hour etc.
- Pedddle – It is an amazing community for small independent creative businesses like me and provides support in multiple ways. Absolutely loved working with Nikki.
- Indie Roller – I came across Leona from Indie Roller on Instagram and I must admit, I was hooked. She speaks from the heart and her tone and knowledge sharing echoed mine. I have been a ‘Roller’ since then and found my community, my voice in the Indie Roller community, meeting several friends and like-minded professionals.
I have been very lucky to have hosted one of the Indie Roller markets ‘Made by Hand’ in November 2020. One of the proudest moments of mine.
- Insta Lives – I know I have talked about how powerful Instagram has been, but the ‘live’ function was a game changer. Anyone who is shy of camera, I must stress the importance of getting over your fear and getting out there.·
- Sustainability – My brand essence is sustainability and I have found a lot of attention around that thought. Sustainability is a way forward and more and more people are conscious about taking care of what they buy and wear.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I do not treat my customers as customers. They are my friends, advisers, and part of the community. I have tried to connect with most via social media so that I can keep in touch and engage on a regular basis.
Email Marketing – A few months into the business, I took some training in email marketing and understood the importance of having an email list. Since then, I have proactively collected emails from my customers (with their consent) and started a monthly newsletter.
I invest a good amount of time writing an email that not only talks about my passion around sustainability but also how it affects our everyday choices. I have covered many topics around that like – what is slow fashion? – What is organic? – How can we adapt to buying small and local to support our economy etc. Off course, I have added new product launches, new events, or any special offers with these newsletters when and where suitable. If you are interested here is a link to sign up to my newsletter.
Instagram Stories – Absolutely a gem when it comes to keeping in touch with your customers and developing a brand story. I have used all the story settings like ‘quiz’, ‘poll’, ‘countdown’, ‘questions’ etc to chat to my followers. I even used it to know a popular choice of colours before launching a collection. Twice, I have used to get my key followers name two of my new designs as I was seeking inspiration. Both customers were very happy when I chose their suggestions.
I am a sales and marketing professional by training and my years of experience has taught me to always put my customers whom I call my tribe, centre of my brand’s universe. I have never delayed answering any customer queries and offered advice when they cannot make a choice, as well as offering complimentary customisation to make sure my customer is happy!
Brand Essence – My brand’s essence is sustainability and I have always kept that in the heart of my brand story. Be it an online market, packaging, material, or forums. My followers appreciate that, and I have been true to my story.
Uniqueness of my product – One of my most successful designs has been my word necklaces. They are so unique as I can make any word into cotton rope necklaces. This design proved to be my most eye-catching and attention-grabbing design to date. My customers flaunted the necklaces on their social media and that resulted in a growing number of followers and customers.
In December, I was even approached and commissioned by the director of Folksy to design an unique ‘Folksy’ necklace for her. The director was hosting the live interviews over the Christmas online market and wanted to flaunt the Folksy logo in a unique and memorable way.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Incorporating sustainability in my brand:
A Local Brand :
I am based in London and make all my jewellery here. By supporting my brand, you are minimising your carbon footprint! Transport puts out a huge amount of C02, which can be reduced by minimizing the distances during production.
I take great pride in making each piece by hand. Nothing is machine made and you get to know the actual person who made your jewellery
Supporting ‘Shop Local’ campaign:
Small businesses are often run by people who live nearby. As the UK continues to recover from the pandemic, the experience of buying locally from a friendly face offers a dose of normality that many people may have missed.
Cotton is soft to wear, anti-allergic, colourful, and extremely flexible to let my imagination flow. Cotton saves us from pesticides and is way better for the health and land of the farmers and protects wildlife. Plus it is biodegradable, eco-friendly, lightweight and locally sourced and produced.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If I started today, I would:
- Embrace social media from the start and invest in photography and correction apps that I use today;
- Not be affected by how little my follower number is and rather focus on how to create engaging content from the very start.
- Created an email list from day 1.
Before starting, I was unclear on how social media works and how much importance it holds for the modern digital age. I mean, I only opened my Instagram account when I started my business! In the same line of thoughts, I should have embraced Instagram way back when it was launched. I have since learnt the importance of photography and several easy hacks to enhance a rather normal product image, and the importance of the right community and a mentor. It is crucial to find the community where you fit in and the right mentor can help you achieve that.
I have made plenty of mistakes such as not investing enough time in the wholesale side of the business and spending too much time making images too perfect. Aesthetics are important to have an eye-catching image, but I could have spent that time doing something more productive or used an app to get images corrected quicker for me as I do now.
Despite the above, I would certainly keep my brand essence the same. If I can summarise my brand in one sentence, it will probably be – ‘Colourful & Unusual designs made with sustainable materials’. I will never move away from this essence as it defines my brand and ultimately me.
Learning and pivoting: 2020 was a rollercoaster ride. But I could not have achieved my success if I were not constantly learning and pivoting based on the market needs. I will not change that in the coming years too. It is important to be nimble and flexible and be adaptable to changes!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being my own boss is the best. I determine when to work and how to work. I oversee my successes and failures in equal measure and celebrate my success as much as I ponder on what did not work so that I can pivot. Yes, there is a huge pressure to make it all work, but I am answerable to only myself.
Being a creative entrepreneur is more rewarding as your work not only makes money but also gives you satisfaction as a creator. Nothing gives me more pleasure than reading the 5-star reviews on my designs especially when clients post a picture flaunting them on social media. I always do the happy dance. 😊
Being an independent business means wearing multiple hats. It is exciting and liberating. I am the creator, I am the digital marketing manager, I am the accountant, I am the admin, I am the social media scheduler & manager, I am the customer service manager, I am the salesperson, and I am also the head designer.
I have evolved so much as a designer and an indie biz owner that I am proud of my achievements. I have made mistakes, but they only made me stronger and resilient. The best part of being an entrepreneur has been the journey and I am really looking forward to what to come next.Here are my business highlights from 2020.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Without a doubt, listing of products on the eCommerce websites like Etsy or Folksy or Urban Makers etc. This is a pure admin job and not that interesting yet a very important part of selling, and hence, needs to be done correctly, creatively, and precisely.
The listing description, tags, product titles, everything affects how my designs are searched and found in the world wide web. Simply put, I can make a stunning design but if no one knows about it, I am never going to sell it!
Writing a description is also not a task I would choose naturally as I am not at all a creative writer. I write impulsively and sometimes I struggle to find the right keywords to describe my product.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I came across Leona from Indie Roller on Instagram and I must admit, I was hooked. She speaks from the heart and her tone and knowledge sharing echoed mine. I have been a ‘Roller’ since then. I found my community, my voice in the Indie Roller community and met several friends and like-minded professionals here. Leona does many podcasts with industry professionals on different key topics affecting a small indie biz owner. I found them very helpful.
I will also recommend Holly Tucker’s podcasts as she interviews key industry leaders in the SME sector under her SME SOS segment.
Lastly, Nikki from Pedddle also organises regular podcasts and discussions on topics related to creative businesses and I love listening to them whenever I can.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I love what I do, and I will be doing that consistently. I would hope that in 2-3 years, I would be able to scale up the business and grow into a fairly known sustainable design brand in the UK. I plan to explore creative partnerships and brand collaborations to add some spice into my business. At the same time, I will work on my wholesale partnerships and grow the revenue from that angle.
However, I will always remain true to my brand essence of being a small independent design brand that is sustainable, colourful, and unusual – just like me.
I’ll leave you with some of my most popular designs!