I’ve known Sarah from Sugar & Vice for quite a long time via my blog, I’ve always been a massive fan of the colourful and playful laser cut acrylic jewellery brand. I randomly met Matt about two years ago when I bumped in him and his girlfriend in Brighton and he greeted with with “I made that!” pointing at my brightly coloured gem stone necklace, pretty weird coincidence really since the S&V duo at actually based in Canterbury. Before I knew about Sugar & Vice, I was constantly lusting after Tatty Devine jewellery, but could never afford it so it was such a delight to discover a more affordable and more diverse selection in this duo, as well as knowing that that support is going direct to a small, indie biz that makes everything and does everything between the two of them. Sugar & Vice are a great example of what BIG achievements you can gain with even a tiny workforce, they’re a complete inspiration and should be very proud of themselves! Last year they collaborated with UK illustrator Katie Abey and even had some of their jewellery worn by Miley Cyrus, both pictured above.
Sarah and Matt were lovely enough to take a few minutes out of their busy schedule to tell us a little bit more about what it’s like running a alternative jewellery brand in the UK, here to inspire you to make your own business awesome!
How did Sugar & Vice start? Was it always your plan to set up a jewellery business?
Sarah : It was never, ever planned. I was working an unfulfilling office job and Matt was scraping a living selling art on eBay when we decided to pool our creative efforts and make some jewellery to sell for extra pocket money.
Matt : I’d moved in with Sarah in Manchester and was making a meagre income from selling uninspiring pop-art portraits in an increasingly crowded online market. We decided that it would be nice to figure out a way to supplement our income just enough to maybe pay for a night out once every couple of weeks. We settled on jewellery as it was creative, but also had a low financial barrier to entry and was something we could both work on. We set up shop on Myspace(!) and sold necklaces and also badges, because I had a badge maker from when I made pin badges for punk bands.
How do you guys work together as a partnership?
Sarah : We’re actually very lucky in that we dated for 7 years and have been able to maintain a close friendship since then, so working together always runs very smoothly. We don’t have designated roles but Matt’s definitely better at the technical and maths stuff, and I’m more suited to the communication and social media based stuff. Everything else we do pretty equally and we’re almost always on the same page, creatively.
Matt: I think we work well as a team. I tend to suffer from a lack of focus and am terrible at marketing so I’m lucky to have Sarah to help with those, leaving me free to focus on the things I’m better at. In return I tackle most of the technical and more mundane aspects of running a business, such as taxes and web admin.
What do you think are the main challenges for small, alternative businesses in the UK?
Sarah: It’s very tough financially, especially in the beginning, as the UK government doesn’t seem very keen to make it easy for entrepreneurial types. The flipside to that is that because times are tough for everybody, there are more and more small businesses cropping up as people try to make ends meet with side projects. It’s easy to lose your voice amongst them so maintaining a strong presence and a firm sense of originality can be hard at times. I think we’ve been around long enough now though, that that’s less of a concern these days. You also have to be exceptionally disciplined when you work for yourselves, and that doesn’t always come naturally!
Matt: Perseverance when things aren’t going well can prove very challenging. When you haven’t made any money for several days straight and you’re left wondering if you’re going to be able to pay the rent on time, giving up and getting a ‘real’ job can be very tempting. Or when you accidentally set your very expensive laser cutter on fire. That sucks too. The other main challenge has been developing a thick skin. Obviously you can’t please everyone, but it’s still very difficult to not give disproportionate weight to that one piece of negative customer feedback amongst the many positive comments.
What are your favourite things about being Sugar & Vice?
Sarah: No early mornings! On a more serious note though, there’s not much I don’t love about running our little business. We’ve worked hard to establish a good brand identity and a friendly rapport with our customers and so it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile, like getting a nice email or being featured on someone’s blog. It feels good to know that people like things we’ve made in our home in Kent enough to tell others about them, or to let us know they’re grateful. No 9-5 job can compare with that as it’s so personal.
Matt: I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that so many people out there wear jewellery I’ve made. Spotting a piece of Sugar & Vice on a complete stranger is incredibly gratifying. I love using the skills I’ve learned along the way to make gifts for people too. I enjoy seeing someone I care about proudly sporting something I’ve worked hard on. That’s a really good feeling.
What are your future hopes and dreams for the brand?
Sarah: We’ve got some pretty awesome ideas for future collections so all I’m hoping is that we can find enough time to bring them to life and unleash them on the World. I don’t measure success financially so I already feel pretty damn lucky that I get to do this every day. World domination would be nice, but taking each day as it comes and working hard and doing our best is enough for me.
Matt: I would absolutely love to offload some of the more administrative aspects of the business on to professionals so I don’t have to deal with the stress of tax returns and such any more. I’m also hoping we get our jewellery appearing in some more TV and films. We’ve had a few pieces feature in films, as well as the BBC News interview, and I get a real kick out of that!
You can check out more info on these guys on their website, Sugar & Vice as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to chat about how KITSCH.inc can help make your business AWESOME drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org or read more about our Services.