Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Name and role:
Sharona Harris and Rachel Ford, founders of jewellery label Ford + Harris
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
SH: I am the sales and marketing manager for Ford + Harris, so I look after all the PR, branding, website, social media and retailer liaison, however as a start-up brand you need to roll your sleeves up and also do whatever it takes to get the job done so packing orders, managing customer relations and being the main contact for our factory is also a major part of my job!
On a daily basis, I will fulfil orders and check inventory. I will also respond to any media and stylists requests to loan our products, which we have been very fortunate with as we have built some great relationships with celebrity stylists such as Dale McKie (clients include Montana Cox & Bambi Northwood-Blythe) as well as Marina Didovich (who works with Jennifer Hawkins for Australia’s Next Top Model). I will then also plan our social media such as Instagram and Facebook, and research any up and coming bloggers, photographers, stylists and publications that I think we should be working with. The next major part of my role will be to ensure Ford + Harris will be positioned in premium retail boutiques, so I am currently researching this also.
RF: Sharona and I juggle the entire business between the two of us and our jobs change depending on who has the time for the particular job required. My role for Ford and Harris is mainly to work out the technical elements of our designs, and because I am not trained as a jeweller, sometimes this takes a lot of research and time. However, I feel so overwhelmed with happiness when an idea comes to fruition that it is completely worth all the hard hours of thought. All our designs are little works of art that a person can choose to wear. It is a very satisfactory process when you see customers enjoying your work and creations. Sharona is really good at sensing trends and she sends me inspiration and ideas for designs – then it’s up to me to come up with specifics. So in a nut shell Sharona briefs me – then I go off and research and it works really well.
How/when did you know this what you wanted to do as a career?
SH: It was NEVER something I thought I would be doing but I couldn’t be happier. Rachel comes from a family of jewellers so it’s in her blood, but I sort of joined in and now I can tell you how many microns of plating a jewellery piece has, the cut of a gemstone and all these other weird and wonderful jewellery terms that sounded so foreign to me only 12 months ago!
RF: Art and fashion are both long time loves of mine. I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Queensland College of Art directly after finishing school and later completed a Diploma of Fashion Design. I didn’t like the fast paced and “throw away nature” of fashion however, and thought that perhaps I could direct my love of aesthetics into jewellery, which I think tends to be loved and treasured a lot longer than clothing.
Where do you find your inspiration?
SH: Of course Instagram, Pinterest and websites such as style.com and street photographers such as Tommy Ton give me sources of inspiration for what’s currently happening but I think real inspiration comes from your passions and personals discoveries and for me that comes from music, movies and books, especially from the 60s, 70s and early 80s era’s, which we then reinvent into something original and modern. I won’t give much away but for our next collection Rachel and I were inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, it just shows you that you never know where your next big ‘ah ha!’ moment is going to come from!
RF: I find inspiration every day. Things people say, things people wear, things I hear and things I see. Everything is open to interpretation. I also love history and looking back at era’s and trends. For instance our latest collection was an amalgamation of the Byzantine art era, the 1970’s punk rock music scene, in addition to paying homage to Coco Chanel and her early costume jewellery designs. Nothing is new anymore – it’s all about reinterpretation. One who claims they are creating something totally new is being completely silly. We all depend on each other for innovation.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?
SH: I have so many mentors. I am incredibly fortunate to have so many talented friends that range from artists, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, financial planners and musicians and they are all mentors. I try to learn and absorb from people around me as much as possible. It so important to surround yourself by inspiring people, it makes life a much more fulfilling experience.
RF: My mother, Suzanne Bribosia, who has impeccable taste in jewellery, is my main inspiration. She is a hobbyist jeweller – however, if she had pursued a career in the field, she would be very well established and very well known. She still has the most amazing ideas and visions to this day and she continues to help Ford + Harris on this journey with ideas and with technical support.
What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?
SH: The whole journey has been one big stumbling block! Not in a bad way, just because neither of us had run a business let alone worked in the jewellery industry so we started from absolute ground zero. But I always put one foot in front of the other and believe that things will work out… and so far they have!
RF: Due to having no technical training in jewellery design, the start of designing our first collection was quite overwhelming for me. At times it felt too much to take on, however having a supportive partner by my side to talk through all the problems, made it possible to deal with. In freak-out times, call Sharona and get some perspective. You learn a lot about who you are when you don’t know what you’re doing. You learn your strengths and you learn your weaknesses too. It feels very satisfying to learn your strengths, and completely horrible to realise your weaknesses. But this is the journey of life, right?
How did you overcome these?
SH: NEVER be afraid to ask for help and open your eyes to the amazing sources of knowledge you have around you. Sometimes I think ‘how am I going to do that on my own?’ but I try to remember not to be too proud to ask for help, as soon as you do things become so much easier and you will be surprised by how willing people are to help someone out… Just always remember to return the favour two-fold.
RF: As I said, be honest and talk the issues out. We have learnt that communication is key, and we have also set boundaries with each other. Being best friends and business partners is hard, but for us – so far – really, really good. Be patient with each other. Be patient with all humans, we all have good days and bad days.
And knowledge is power. Learn all you can. Throw out your television. Read books, listen to Podcasts, talk to people.
What are your goals for the future?
SH: For 2015, I want to position Ford + Harris in the best retailers both here and overseas. In the long term I want Ford + Harris to be positioned world-wide as the answer to tough luxe accessories… I think there is a gap in the market for high-quality jewellery that is seriously cool and still affordable… so here we come!
RF: Sharona and I would like to be able to work full time for Ford and Harris. This is not fashion for me – I’m making people art – and I hope when people wear our items they feel the beauty, strength and love that we put into each and every item.
In the future, I would love to go to a particular town in Vietnam called Sapa, and set up a local jewellery company to support the abandoned women and children of that area. I was given a pair of amazing earrings made from coke cans about ten years ago that I love to death. The people of this area have skills in jewellery making but do not have design vision. I would love to set up an industry for these people. It’s just a matter of time for me. I want to give back somehow.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
SH: One step at a time! Just focus on the one problem or the one goal at a time and then move onto the next one, everything is achievable when you break it down into bite sized pieces.
RF: If you can’t do it by yourself, find a good partner who believes in you, and just chip away at it. One day at a time. Two minds are always going to be more powerful than one.
And – never think you have to be formally trained to do anything. We live in an era where information is easily accessible. If you want to learn it, you can. You just need the motivation!