Once you have your why, the how and what will follow
By Hanna Pumfrey
An interview with Annabel Cox: Jewellery designer, social entrepreneur, co-founder of Little by Little Jewellery and all round awesome woman.
As women, I truly believe we are the catalysts of a cultural movement towards social good. Through our voices and our choices; collectively we are setting the course for the world in which we live and love. Today we are more informed and inspired than we have ever been, and we are doing GOOD. Take the US for example, women now make up 40% of entrepreneurs and the rate of women entrepreneurs is growing at three times that of men. This year is the centenary of the 1918 suffragette act; it’s a time to remember the amazing women that went before and to celebrate how far we’ve come. Our golden age is now and 2018 is the year that female, social entrepreneurs will become a force to be reckoned with.
This week I caught up with a women entrepreneur that really inspires me and is making a splash in the ethical jewellery industry, Annabel Cox. Read on to find out what drives her, the plans for growing Little by Little and her advice to other women entrepreneurs.
Tell me a bit about you. How did it all start?
About 10 years ago now, I was living with my Little by Little co-founder Georgina. We were in that big decision-making phase of your mid-twenties, trying to decide what we were going to do with our lives; where we were going. At the time I was working in a special needs school and making jewellery as a therapeutic past time in the evenings. I decide that I wanted to pursue jewellery making full time and enrolled in a three-year course at Sir John Cass. I quickly realised that my ideas and design skills outweighed my ability! My skill is definitely in the design rather than the making, so I went on to study a masters in design!
Here I discovered my why. I am passionate about storytelling; about telling the story of the people and the places that my designs and jewellery relate to. For my final course project I focused on Ethiopia and, through a friend, discovered artisan jewellery makers in the slums of Addis Ababa. My final course project and collection told the stories of these individuals. This was instrumental in me articulating and resolving my purpose, my why.
Like most jewellery designers, I started out working for someone else; I worked for a Fairtrade jewellery company for nine years before starting out on my own. It was always there, bubbling away, I knew I had more to my bow than being a designer and I was excited to explore this by creating my own, purpose driven brand.
In 2015, Georgina and I started Little by Little. Georgina is a food editor, cookery book writer and photographer, so when we came together we had to decide how to unite our passions. Little By Little's collections are inspired by the natural beauty found in food and are consciously created using Peruvian gold, silver and touches of enamel, much of which is recycled.
There is something amazing about having your own business; getting to shape it, dream it. Being able to do this with such a good friend is a true gift. As a woman, and two women in business together we very much know our own, and each other’s, strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to admit them, to grow together and know when to seek help from each other or externally.
What motivated you to start an ethical business?
I have always questioned the ephemeral nature of fashion and am passionate about stories, not seasons. The jewellery industry has many pitfalls and I wanted to create a brand that is a model for change and that has ethics that act as a model for others.
To me, for a business to be ethical, it needs to be conscious in all elements; not just the people but in it’s sourcing as well. The thing that unites Georgina and I as business partners is our why. On the people front, from the inception of the brand our aim was to bring opportunity and employment, and we do this by giving jobs to people with no prior technical experience, training them in the art of jewellery production. We also partner with Action Against Hunger which works daily to save the lives of malnourished children. With each item that is sold, we donate the funding to pay for three day's supply of therapeutic food to nurse an acutely malnourished child back to health.
The metal we use in our designs is locally sourced in Peru and is largely recycled. It is supplied to us by companies with environmental certification that meet with strict Labour standards and comply with human rights laws. Our ethical goal for 2018 though is 100% transparency. We are striving for closed-loop production and to find a 100% traceable source of Peruvian silver. This will further enable us to support local miners and communities, whilst reducing our environmental impact.
We’re exploring all the options available to make this happen. Ultimately, the goal for me, is to create a business and brand that not only meets all the necessary standards and requirements to be considered ‘ethical’ but to go way beyond this and start a revolution in the jewellery industry.
What is the goal of Little by Little and where do you want to take the business?
Our goal… to have fun! Business is fun! Yes, there are challenges, and days when I want to quite literally, tear my hair out but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. It sounds cheesy, but I am so thankful to have the opportunity to do this, and to do it with a friend.
We are dreaming big. Dreams are what bring hope in what can otherwise feel like a helpless situation. The bottom line of our business is to end malnutrition amongst children through our partnership with Action Against Hunger. The giving back element of our business is a major component along with pushing the boundaries in sustainable design and production. what is most important to us.
We want to flood the market with ethical jewellery that makes a difference, but we do not want to become another ‘sustainable’ product that is mass produced. Our goal is to change people’s approach to consumption; I am fascinated by the purchase consideration process. We want those that wear Little by Little jewellery to use it as a storytelling device. Ultimately, we want our collections to be part of a movement that is making a difference. A movement that is changing the course of our world for the better.
What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own ethical business?
We called our brand Little by Little because that is exactly what starting a business is all about. When we started out we realised just how overwhelming the whole process is. It can feel too much, it can become paralysing.
I think the biggest tip I can give anyone looking to start their own ethical business is to know your why. Know it, make it concrete, turn it into the thing that drives you, the thing that you keep coming back to when it all feels too challenging. Having your sentiment and reason behind you is particularly important as an ethical brand; it allows you to stay true and motivated.
Your how and what will follow.
Practically, I would say breaking everything into manageable chunks so you continue to feel like you’re moving forwards and achieving is something is key; that has really worked for us. By having the big picture in mind but being able to feel good about each smaller achievement keeps you motivated.
What are your top tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle
For me, above all, it’s about knowing your style. About knowing what suits you and being comfortable with you. This allows you to break free from needing ‘things’ to be you/feel better. I find the result is a much more considered approach to what you buy; you are more likely to opt for quality rather than quantity, for pieces that are timeless and that you will cherish for years to come. I’ve definitely found that myself as I have got older.
I have tried to move away from consuming to be identified, but that definitely doesn’t mean a lack of creativity. These days I mostly shop second-hand, something that, to do well, I think requires a huge amount of creativity and self-confidence. I love the process of charity shop/second hand shopping; the thrill of finding something unique, styling it yourself and being able to say you got it for a fiver at a charity shop down the road! I love to tie my outfits together with a statement piece, usually jewellery, that has an amazing story and is a conversation starter wherever I go. This gives me the platform to talk with friends, family, people in the street about sustainable living and to be an active part of the movement.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Flor + Cesta Annabel and for sharing your wisdom and insight into the world of social entrepreneurship as a female.
Check out Little by Little’s collections here.