Following the Duchess of Cmbridge’s whirlwind tour of Canada, much of the discussion has been about the new designers that Kate picked up to wear along the way. But possibly the most fascinating story belongs to Shelley MacDonald, a young jewellery maker whose shop was located in Carcoss, where the Duke and Duchess visited on the fifth day of their tour. This was where, in the afternoon, the Duchess changed into a beautiful grey Sentaler coat, jeans, and Cowboy boots. Most excitingly, she also wore a beautiful pair of bronze earrings, soon identifed as being designed by Shelley MacDonald, whose local jewellery business has since experienced a boost of international proportions. Our correspondent Gemma from www.foodfashfit.com caught up with her over Skype to talk about the design of the earrings, and the impact that one sale in August has had on her business.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, Shelley, about your amazing work. Could you tell me what your background in jewellery design is?
When I was about 14, that’s when I started my first jewellery business. At the time I was just doing beaded jewellery and wire wrapping, and so, after that – when I was 14-16 – I started selling at the local farmers’ market in my hometown. And so when I turned 16, bought my first car, on my own – got a loan – and then I used to drive two hours to Halifax, which is the capital of Nova Scotia, and they have a bigger farmers’ market – so I used to sometimes leave at 2 in the morning to be there for 4am. So I did that for 2-3 years, and when I was 18, that’s when I started NSCAD University, and I started in the jewellery design and metalsmithing programme.
For people who don’t know how jewellery is made, can you explain more about it, about how jewellery is made?
Basically, when I started out, it was beaded jewellery with wire wrapping, and when I went to NSCAD, in my programme, that’s when I started to learn how to work with different types of metal, such as silver, gold, bronze, copper, brass. And from there I just learned different techniques, and then after I graduated, that’s when I really started to experiment more with how the metals work with each other and I focused on design more. Because in my programme, that’s what we were taught – is design and handmade is most important. Yeah, and basically having good designs that are going to work with what you make.
So, why did you originally decide to go into making jewellery?
It started at a very young age, it was always something that I loved, because I would make something, then I would sell it, and so I knew from a young age I was going to be an entrepreneur. But the whole thing with silversmithing and goldsmithing was new to me when I went to NSCAD University, because I actually went there to take Fine Arts. Then I quickly realised that – I took a jewellery course as an elective – I really really liked it and I remember my intro teacher Lillian, she told me that that was where I was meant to be and she said, “You’re gonna be something someday.”
Could you tell us more about the design of the specific earrings that Kate purchased, and what the meaning behind the design is?
Yeah, so this particular design, it’s a new line that I started designing just at the beginning of the summer, and so basically it’s a take on the traditional Ulu, and so what I did was I modernised it to fit my design. The Ulu is a knife that was traditionally used by the Inuit women, it was used for cutting hair, meat, fish and hide, and so it was also very significant because it was traditionally used as a woman’s knife. Now, all over, where I live in the Yukon, people use Ulu knives everywhere.
So it’s a very specific to the region you’re in?
Because I noticed there’s a range of different designs of earrings on your site, but they’re quite different from this Ulu one. And I also notice that there’s lot more metal in it – is that why it’s more expensive than the other ones?
Yeah. Yes, because they’re much bigger. And the way that it’s made, it has to be handmade, and it can’t be made by a machine, just because of the way the two metals mix. So I actually have bend the wire a certain way to get it to fit perfectly so I can solder it. And also the finish too.
It’s got a scratchy finish, it’s got a burnished look.
Yeah, so what I do, I basically rough up the edges, and you get kind of a little bit of that frosted look, and then I actually burnish the edges which means you shine up the edges so you get this nice contrast.
So when did you first find out that Kate purchased your earrings, and did you know beforehand that she was going to wear them?
I actually had no idea, but just actually yesterday, I was sitting here and I was just thinking back, and I was just like, “I think I know who bought them.” So I went back in my sales book and they were actually purchased from me in my little store, in Carcross, Yukon. This lady, she came in, and I’m pretty sure she was Kate’s stylist and they were purchased on 5 August. That was actually when people came to Carcross to visit, to scout the area, so it goes together.
So you think it might have been Kate’s personal stylist who came in?
I’m not 100% sure, but I know it was a woman, and she was very indecisive between the silver or the bronze.
Oh, that’s interesting. Was she looking at the whole range, or do you think she might have researched before she came in?
Well, I do believe that, because on Kate’s Closet, the blog, I didn’t know this at the time, but she had after doing research about a month before they came, she posted on her blog that this might be of interest, as a designer in the Yukon, and then – so I only had one pair of these, I only made one pair.
Yes. So I do remember [the stylist] talked to me quite a bit about my business and my background, and so I think one of the main reasons why they got Kate to wear them was because it was in Carcross. My store is basically – like you see in all the pictures they’re sitting under the totem pole, my store is about five feet away from that totem pole.
That’s amazing! I saw they had been purchased from a shop but for some reason I assumed it was from a gift shop that had lots of different items, and people just happened to stumble across them. It’s really exciting that you personally sold them.
Yes, and it’s my little store, it’s about eight by ten.
Wow! So, what’s the reaction been from the media, and other customers?
Well, initially I had no idea, so I was sitting in a coffeeshop – and I’m actually in Rejavik Iceland right now, teaching – and so I was sitting in a coffeeshop, and so I knew they were going to Carcross that day, and so I thought I’ll pop online, see if there’s a video, and see if I can see if they capture a picture of my sign on my door. And they did. And I was very happy about that, and then it was minutes later that I got this message on my Etsy store, and it said “Hi Shelley, I’m just wondering if you’re going to be making any of the earrings that the Duchess was wearing on the Canada tour in Carcross?” I’m staring at my screen, and I read it again, and I was in complete shock.
I can imagine! It must be a bit exciting and a bit scary, because you only produced one, so how long did those take to make? Are they are particularly difficult pair to reproduce?
No, they’re not. They’re actually – I mean, obviously for me, because I designed them, I know how they have to be put together. That’s what I’ve been working on the last couple of days – I’m doing a production line, and so I’m doing one step, and then the next step, so it won’t take me as long, but on average I can probably make about 20 pairs, in two hours, I guess – and then the finishing will be another step.
That was going to be another question – how are you going to fulfil all these orders? Are you having to pull sleepless nights and long hours, or are you able to fit it around everything else?
Well, I mean, it is going to be a lot of work, and I probably am going to have some sleepless nights, but that’s nothing new to me, because the way my business was running before, I was getting to that point where I knew, okay, I’m going to have to hire someone, I’m going to have to hire an assistant, which I had to do since this happened, which has been amazing by the way! I think I just need to get myself organised first, and once I get the production started, it’s really not gonna take that long, and you know, having my assistant – we’ve answered everyone’s emails and Etsy messages and Facebook page messages. That was my first priority – getting back to people, as you know, if people don’t hear from you for a while, they might cancel their order, and we told everyone, we messaged everyone individually, saying the shipping could take six to eight weeks.
If you follow Kate’s fashions, and you purchase items she’s worn, I think many of us are familiar with long waits, after we’ve bought something, but I think it’s really interesting to know that there were literally only one pair in the world when Kate bought them, and that is why there’s going to be a delay, because you’re having to make them all to order.
And they are all going to be handmade by me.
That’s really nice, because sometimes an item will be produced, and the production line will sell out, and they release the same item, but it’s made from different material, or it’s slightly different, and it’s disappointing when it’s not exactly the same. But obviously as they’re handmade, each one is going to be an individual piece, but with that special touch that it’s made by the same designer!
And one thing that – I started sharing it on my Instagram, and my Facebook, but as soon as this happened, I was like, you know what, obviously someone out there is going to start trying to copy the design and resell it, which is inevitable, we all know that. So what I’ve actually come up with, I’ve put a blast on my Instagram, is, I bought this tiny little stamp, it measures probably about, 2-3mm, and it’s just a K for Kate. That is going to be on the edge of each of the pair of earrings, so that’s how – and there’s going to be a note in the packaging, so people know that this is handmade by Shelley.
That’s a good touch. So have people been purchasing other items from your range as well as those earrings?
Yes, actually – everything has been selling. So, what we actually did, was, after we had a discussion, we took down a lot of the things that take me a long time to make – because everything in my store is handmade – and so, you know I really wanted to just focus on these Ulu earrings for now – and then, but obviously in the first day before I got everything organised, there are several orders that aren’t. But I think that’s because people were just, like, I need to buy something from this designer…
Yeah, that happens quite a lot, with different colours of the same item as well. So what does it mean to you, personally, to have Kate wear these earrings on such a high profile tour?
I think it’s great that these were handpicked, and there was only one pair, and that I think it’s, you know, the story behind it, that I had no idea she was wearing these, and I got a message on my Etsy store, and I’m in another country! It’s all a bit, you know, much – but this makes me so happy, because making jewellery is my passion, and also teaching, so, to have her wearing them is very special, because I think her, as a person – this is my guess, that when they were doing their research on what she was going to wear, they saw me in my little shop and they saw that I was just starting my business, and I’m an artist, I make everything by hand, so I think that’s very important to me, and I think her team and her decided on this. So.
It’s kind of like being selected for something special. Kate showcases lots of high end jewellery, but likes to pick things out from the places that she visits, as a way of showing respect to the local traditions.
Exactly. And these earrings are very significant, because, you know, they were traditionally used by Inuit and indigenous women, and so that also relates to it too.
I love the fact that it’s a symbol of women’s power and their place in the home, and obviously Kate’s becoming a family figure now, and she took her children on the tour with her, and so people are seeing her as a mother and a wife, and a public figure. She’s the future Queen of England, and she’s also a mum, like every other mum in the world who probably deals with the same problems, and so to echo this domesticity that women have been doing the same job for centuries… Just to wear that symbol. And it’s such a beautiful pair of earrings too, it also looks like autumn leaves, the bronze is a really beautiful colour.
So what’s next for you?
I just designed three different sizes of these – one were bronze, the only pair that she has, and the other two were smaller, silver ones. So what I actually have done on my Etsy store, because I know that the pair of earrings is 95 Canadian, and some people might want the same earrings, but might not want to spend that much, so what I ended up doing, was I ended up making the exact same pair, but just a smaller version, so that everyone can afford these earrings.
And the fact that they’re in different colours, because some women prefer silver coloured jewellery, and the bronze is kind of like the gold hues, so it’s nice to have the choice between those two. Could you let everyone know where to find you online?
Basically, my Etsy store is the main page that I’m wanting people to go to to purchase, just to make everything easier, and that is ShelleySilversmith. And my Instagram is Shelley.Silversmith. I’m just on Facebook for now, we working into Twitter, but my Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/shelleysilversmith.
So we’ll be able to follow your progress – if we’ve made an order, you’ll be in touch with everyone, which I know because I purchased a pair myself, so I know when you say you were in touch with everyone, you were very quick with communication, that was absolutely the case. So, as they’re being made, we’ll be able to follow progress. And you can also still order them whenever you like, you’re just going to have to be in a queue, aren’t you, if you’re purchasing them now?
Yes, so what we did was, we closed down the Etsy shop, just figure things out and then get caught up, and hours later, we decided we needed to open it again, and we did extend the shopping eight to ten weeks. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get your order in eight to ten weeks. That just means that we need this allot of time, just so that we’re covered. So if it does come in ten weeks, our customers will still be happy. Because that is my main goal right now, is to keep everyone happy. I’m working 16 hour days!
Good luck and we’ll look forward to getting them when they arrive!