Spring is SOPHIE HUGHES' season to remember. After debuting her Fall collection at Coeur, the Boston-based jewelry designer is celebrating the first year of her South End jewelry store, ORE. There, Hughes showcases her stunning line of recycled Sterling Silver and 18k Gold jewelry along with the works of other local designers.
The story behind Hughes’ successful jewelry line hits closer to home: we first met years ago in our hometown of Kennebunk, Maine, where Past Fashion Future founder Emma Grady, Hughes, and I spent every spare moment at the beach. Years later, we reconnected and now I get to share the scoop with you all.
Image: A look inside ORE; photo credit: Sophie Hughes
REBECCA MIR GRADY: It’s been a long time since we both lived in Kennebunk, ME. Where did you move to after Maine? How long have you been in Boston? How did you get started making jewelry? When did you first launch your line?
SOPHIE HUGHES: I started making jewelry at Kennebunk High [School]. They have a fantastic arts program that includes jewelry classes! I then apprenticed with a local jeweler during my senior year of high school and went on to work for them [during the] summers throughout college. I moved down to Boston for school—earning a BFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry from MassArt (now Massachusetts College of Art and Design) in 2008 — and I stayed [in town].
I launched my line in 2009, shortly after graduating. I’ve been in Boston for 10 years now and my line is 6 years old.
Image: the designer at work; photo credit: Sophie Hughes
RMG: What lessons did you learn in the beginning? Do you have any advice for someone just starting out? How did you get exposure for your line early on?
SH: It’s important to work for another jeweler to learn the basics of running a jewelry business and see from their example what you do and don’t want to do with your business. When designing your line, you have to think about where you will fit in the marketplace, and what makes your line unique. You should spend lot of time looking at retail stores, websites, and magazines to get a strong sense of what jewelry is already out there (to avoid overlap, but also to be aware of what’s trending) and what prices jewelry in a similar material and style range to yours is selling at.
Your jewelry needs to be relevant in the larger context.
I built my business and gained exposure organically, one customer at a time by word of mouth. Starting out, I constantly did open studios (my old artist studio building has monthly events) and sent press releases to catch local attention. I built on that traction by using social media to help build my online presence, to connect with everyone beyond Boston. And of course my retailers have been so supportive and a huge help in distributing my work and helping my brand gain recognition nationally!
You need determination and passion to dedicate the time and effort to grow one block at a time; it’s the way to build a strong brand with lasting power.
RMG: I love that you are working with recycled metals! Have you had any trouble finding ethically and sustainably sourced materials?
SH: I work with a single vendor who is a refiner and distributor, so they can guarantee all of the precious metals are reclaimed. I also use responsibly-sourced colored gems, which has limitations but isn’t too tough.
Most colored gems are mined on a much smaller scale than diamonds (we’re talking pail and shovel style, here), so they’re “safe”. But I haven’t found a vendor who has a full selection of stones I may want to use, so I research the sourcing each time I buy stones.
Recycled/vintage diamonds can be a little trickier as well. The quantities are limited and the exact size I’m after may not be available at the currently, though I do have a single vendor I trust and work with. Because of these limitations, I usually reserve gems and diamonds for custom projects at this point.
RMG: You mentioned that you are getting ready for a show - what show are you doing? How do you like it? How many shows do you do a year?
SH: Right now I’m only doing one wholesale show per year. I have my Boston store now, so I’m not exhibiting at retail shows currently. I did Coeur in NYC in February to debut my new fall line to wholesale buyers. Throughout the rest of the year we’ll fill re-orders for current stockists and continue to organically grow our list of retailers.
RMG: What are you working on right now?
SH: I have a stack of custom wedding and engagement rings in Recycled 18k Palladium White Gold (my white metal of choice) that I’m working on producing at the moment. It’s such a treat to be invited into such an intimate time in people’s lives, when they’re getting engaged and then married, and to be trusted to make the rings that will be on people’s hands for the rest of their lives.
It’s not uncommon to have customers tear up when they see the finished rings, and it is so unbelievably touching to make people that happy.
RMG: Congrats on opening your new store - Ore - in Boston! How is it going so far? Is your studio on site?
SH: Thank you! I’m loving it! My studio is in a little lofted area overlooking the shop and the front wall of windows. It gets fantastic light and has a great creative energy.
The space is what I’ve been dreaming of: a bit more visibility from the street (rather than my previous studio, which was tucked in an artists’ studio building), but still with a private studio and a comfortable, inviting place for customers to visit.
I love the neighborhood and the building, and I’m thrilled to be here — it’s like home!
All images courtesy of Sophie Hughes.
“R&Design" is a monthly interview series that features jewelry designer Rebecca Mir Grady, who launched a debut jewelry collection under her eponymous label in 2013, in conversation with new and established designers. The monthly guest column is a platform for the exchange of ideas, advice, and fashion-focused research and development strategies. Follow Rebecca’s adventures on Twitter,Facebook, Instagram. This post first appeared on Past Fashion Future.