Sydney Creative People: Fairina Cheng

One of the hardest parts of owning your own business is marketing it. It's truly one of the most time-consuming, frustrating parts of doing business because it's a never-ending exercise, and it takes patience, persistence and experience.

Today's blog post is about Fairina Cheng, who had a past life as a marketer, and is now a Sydney-based jewellery designer. Imagine how handy all of that marketing experience is now... knowing your bitly links from your inbound links and evergreen content (!). Having those kinds of marketing skills to fall back on are obviously very useful, so there's a bit more brain space left for the making/creating part of her work, which is obviously super important and probably a bit more enjoyable!

Fairina's story is also testament of what can happen when you challenge yourself to learn new skills. She was pretty steady in her marketing career, and it was only because she fell in love with the process of making jewellery on a course she went on that she knew she needed to make the change. You just never know what is going to light that fire inside of you until you give it a try.

Fairina has been crafting her own jewellery since 2012, and she specialises in unique and contemporary jewellery. She works from her studio in Zetland, where she is kept company by her dog, Brooklyn, and concentrates on creating jewellery that 'defies boundaries and expectations'. That includes her use of 3D printing technology, which is where the design is created on a computer, and then printed using 3D printing technologies.

This is her story...

 

Jewellery designer and maker,  Fairina Cheng . Photography by  Richard Whitbread.

Jewellery designer and maker, Fairina Cheng. Photography by Richard Whitbread.

Before I started my own business...


I was working long hours at a full time office job - meetings, deadlines, early starts and late nights. I enrolled in an evening jewellery course to encourage myself to leave work on time at least one day a week. At that point I was just curious, but it wasn’t long before I fell absolutely in love with the process of manipulating metal. Soon after, I enrolled in a two-year contemporary jewellery design course, followed by a three-year course in commercial jewellery manufacture. I’m not the kind of person to take big risks. So diving head first into a massive career shift was a bit out of character. It felt too right to be something I could ignore.

 

I think the fear of failure is the fear that gets everyone.

Before I launched my first product, it was terrifying to think I could put something out there that meant so much to me and get no response. But the thought of not pursuing my passion and missing out on what could be a very exciting career far outweighed that concern! Even now it’s still scary to test new promotional channels or launch new products, but it gets easier the more you do it!

 

I used to work in marketing...

I started my career in marketing after completing a degree in media and communications at the University of Sydney. While I didn’t discover a passion for jewellery design until a couple of years later, the experiences gained during this time gave me the skills to build a customer base and effectively share the stories behind my work. Initially, I wished that I had started my jewellery journey earlier. But if I had, I would have missed out on the important experiences that now help me promote my business. What I learned from this is that all experiences are valuable and, if you turn them into learnings, none of them go to waste! 

 

Photography by  Richard Whitbread.

Photography by Richard Whitbread.

As a one-woman brand, I've had to teach myself a whole range of skills...

These skills range from photography and editing to SEO and website management. And of course, there is the ongoing development of my jewellery skills! I love learning and don’t believe you can (or should) ever stop!

 

The first product I developed...

It was the Negative/Positive silver necklace pendant, which I made during a 3D printing class. It was an experiment and involved a lot of guesswork and luck. The result was a necklace that continues to attract attention to this day, and has now become a signature within my range.

 

I had to invest in a lot of machinery or equipment when I first started out...

Yes! And jewellery equipment isn’t cheap. I bought tools one at a time only as I needed them, and jumped on opportunities to pick up larger pieces second hand when they became available. I have also been lucky enough to be awarded artist’s grants totaling over $10,000 that enabled me to kit out my workshop to a pretty decent level!

 

Photography by  Richard Whitbread.

Photography by Richard Whitbread.

 

On the transition from employee to boss...

I enjoyed working in a fast-moving office environment, having certainty in decisions and getting things done. Working for myself is fast moving as well, but in a very different way. Decisions are more personal, less certain and, for me, there is much more at stake. At the same time, this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing and I wouldn’t dream of having it any other way! I get to spend my days in a sunny studio with my adorable adopted pup, Brooklyn, and work with stunning gems and jewellery all day! What could be better?

 

When you are the only person in the business, it’s so important to have a network of friends and peers to bounce ideas off...

I have groups of friends I meet up with regularly who are also running their own businesses and going through the same things I am. There are also some great networking groups out there – Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine is one of my favourites!

 

On digital marketing...

Social media is one of my main promotional channels and has been a great, cost effective way to reach a wide audience. I tend to focus on Facebook and Instagram. Social media is so invaluable for a small business with a small budget. I don’t know what I’d do without it!

 

The brand is very much an extension of me and my beliefs... 

I believe that in jewellery – just as in life – there are no rules. A person doesn’t have to behave a certain way or conform to a set of ideals any more than an engagement ring has to be a big blingy solitaire. I create jewellery that breaks boundaries and defies expectations, and I believe that this is the approach that we should all take to life!

 

Sometimes I’ll catch a fleeting glimpse of an interesting shape or line and it’ll stay in my head and influence my next design... 

Other times, and especially when working with unique gemstones, the gem itself will tell me what it wants the final piece to look like. Sometimes I start with one idea and by the time I’m finished it’s a completely new design!

 

Photography by  Richard Whitbread.

Photography by Richard Whitbread.

 

I’m most creative in the early mornings when I’m awake and feeling fresh!

This is a great time for me to draw custom designs or write for my blog. Mid-morning is time for a whole other kind of creativity. This is when I head into the workshop to get my hands dirty hammering, soldering and polishing jewellery. This goes on until about 4:30 when Brooklyn trots in and stares at me until I take him to the park!

 

One of the best moments since I started this journey...

Being voted Community Choice winner of the 2014 Etsy Design Award was definitely a highlight! As part of the award, I had the opportunity to travel to New York, visit Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters and expand my skill set in one of the fashion capitals of the world. It was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the support of my awesome family, friends and customers! 

 

The hardest part of owning my own business...

Having to be the designer, maker, CEO, marketer, sales person, administrator, cleaner and everything in between!

 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way...

You’ve got to think about more than just the creative side. As a jeweller, I spend a lot of time in the studio immersed in the process of making, however I also I spend a lot of time on admin, social media, copywriting and product photography. Marketing takes up a lot of my time. Anything that isn’t your strong point, hire someone to do for you!

 

To other business owners...

Set the foundations of your business early. Define your message, audience and branding and build everything up around it!

 

3 businesses that inspire me...

  • Black Milk – From one guy and a sewing machine in Brisbane, to a cult social media following around the world, Black Milk has built a tribe of loyal fans united by their love of the brand (and stretchy, shiny leggings)!
  • OneTribe – Based in Richmond, Virginia, Onetribe hand makes beautiful body jewellery in stone, wood and other organic materials. I’ve always been drawn to body jewellery and have been collecting it since I was 16 years old. It’s unconventional, beautiful and doesn’t care what anyone thinks! Onetribe takes it a step further and incorporates rich, raw materials to create a business that is authentic, ethical and passionate about what they do!

 

Photography by  Richard Whitbread.

Photography by Richard Whitbread.

Next year...

I’m looking forward to designing a collection of contemporary engagement rings, launching many (if not all) of the designs that have been stashed away in my head and of course, setting aside some time to eat ice cream and relax on the beach!

 

www.fairinachengjewellery.com