Raising the BAR: Jewellery entrepreneur Sophie Mckay on sustainability, integrity and making ethical business decisions in uncertain times
Entrepreneur Sophie Mckay has brought her passion for sustainability and “getting back to basics” to life with her jewellery venture.
A former womenswear designer, Sophie lost her passion after eight years of immersion in the ‘overwhelming’ fashion industry, and in 2015 decided to change direction.
Sophie founded BAR Jewellery, specialising in products crafted from recycled materials and produced sustainably from its London base.
Since its launch, BAR Jewellery has developed an international customer base, garnering support from the likes of Meghan Markle and Emma Watson.
Sophie spoke to Bdaily about how her business began, the challenges and rewards of putting sustainability front and centre, and her vision for the future.
How did you come to launch BAR Jewellery and what motivated you to establish the brand?
“The idea behind BAR came from how I was feeling at the time I started the brand, after working for around eight years as a fashion designer I needed a change.
“The industry was so overwhelming, saturated with products and no longer inspiring, so getting back to basics in every sense was really important to me.
“The name is inspired by the unapologetically pure ‘bar’ form that precious metal takes before being made into jewellery and prompted a simplistic approach that runs through both the aesthetic and our approach to production.
“We design pieces that have a purity of form, crafted in recycled materials, they are inspiring forms in themselves but also timeless and comfortable to wear.
“From the start I was focussed on the things that I believe are most important in business, operating with integrity and respect for staff, suppliers and the environment.”
Sustainability has become a hot topic in the business world in recent years. What do you believe truly makes a sustainable business?
“I think it’s about being honest and open about how you work and being relentless in making positive decisions along the way.
“I don’t like to use the word sustainable because it has lost its meaning somewhat, I try to describe in detail the things that we are doing and let that speak to itself!”
How do you balance ethical considerations with the need to grow the business?
“I struggled with the sustainability aspect of my business in the beginning because it came with a lot of responsibility. Once I realised that our customers trusted honesty over everything, this took the pressure off to be absolutely perfect all of the time, as this just isn’t possible.
“I decided to operate on the simple premise that our impact on the environment and our supply chain had to be taken into consideration when making even the smallest decisions. Even things like ordering printer paper or bin bags become a conversation about how we can buy more responsibly.
“It definitely takes more time and effort, but it has been one of the main reasons why our customers have responded to the brand so is not something that we are going to change as we grow.
“When it has come to sourcing production partners, finding people who we trust to be as sustainable and ethical as possible is extremely difficult. I prefer to find partners who are already working in a way that aligns with the brand rather than it being something that we require them to change.
“As the demand has grown for sustainable materials and suppliers, this has become easier so isn’t a barrier to our business growth.
“My biggest concern is that growing means producing more and more, which means we need to always be looking for ways to be more innovative and constantly improve to reduce our impact.”
What lasting effects do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will have on consumer behaviour and small businesses?
“With consumer priorities changing, the pandemic is likely to be a defining moment for how both consumers and small businesses alike approach sustainability and ethical practise.
“Where it is tempting to cut costs and corners which will impact suppliers and the environment, our clear focus and goal - now more than ever - will continue to be on positivity and making conscious and thoughtful decisions along the way.
“I think that having faced difficult times, small businesses who come through the other side of the pandemic will be far more resilient and determined to succeed.”
What does the next 12 months look like for Bar Jewellery?
“We normally work to the seasonal fashion calendar which has been significantly disrupted by COVID-19.
“Attending trade fairs and events involves a lot of travelling which looks unlikely to be possible this year, so we are looking to digital opportunities to showcase collections instead.
“We entered the Japanese market in 2019 and this looks set to grow despite the impact of the pandemic, so we will be focussing more of our efforts on engaging customers in this market.
“Other than this we have recently moved to a new studio and so look forward to working in our new East London space!”
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