Advice from former CSM lecturer and award-winning jewellery designer, Sian Evans
Sian Evans studied jewellery design, taught it at the esteemed Central Saint Martins (CSM) and has her own successful jewellery line. It is fair to say that Sian Evans knows the jewellery industry inside and out. What makes Sian Evans jewellery so unique is that it has the mark of the maker's hand and time. Sian describes to us the importance of having her pieces handmade as it's " taking responsibility and letting my customer know that each piece is special and that they're spending their money on craftsmanship". Here to speak about why she left her role as a CSM Senior Lecturer in Jewellery Design and to give invaluable tips to students on how to succeed in the cut-throat world of fashion, is an interview with Sian Evans.
Describe a typical Sian Evans customer.
The way I design is that my pieces always have a backstory to them. As I was an academic at CSM, I approach my work from a research perspective. My customer is someone who is a bit like me, who is interested in the research and idea process behind design. They are not just attracted to my work because it's pretty, but because they are interested in the story behind it.
You were a senior lecturer in Jewellery Design at CSM from 2001 until 2014, what made you leave the industry to go and teach in 2001?
I set up my company in 1986 and quite rapidly, it became successful. Most of the people in my family are artists or scientists, so I was a first generation business person. My business expanded so quickly that I employed eight people. However, as I was quite young and did not have a background in business, I did not have a manager to organise the company and I was doing this part myself. This was taking up so much time, that I stopped being an artist and that was my superpower, being creative. I ended up getting bored and didn't know what to do with myself. I let the business get smaller and smaller and people kept asking me to come back and teach, but I was busy running a business. And then when CSM offered me a full-time position as a Lecturer in Jewellery Design, I took it and I ended up loving it. Being around so many creatives in one of the best art colleges in the world allowed me to explore my own creativity and meet people that I would have never met in my studio in Clerkenwell.
What then made you decide to leave teaching?
The reason why I then decided to leave teaching was because I am a bit of a socialist and don't agree with a university being run on a business model. Education should be free. I loathed being part of the thing I hate. I couldn't stand all the levels of management and seeing my academic colleagues and myself being compromised in an educational system that was squashing ideas.
You describe how your jewellery pieces “have the mark of the maker’s hand and time”. Typically, jewellers want to make sure the pieces are as perfect and pristine as possible, why do you deliberately want the pieces to have this mark of imperfection?
I am anti-consumerist but I exist in a consumerist world. So I make things for consumers. I don’t manufacture, I make things that are actually quite rare. My things are made by hand and not churned out by a big machine. For me it's important that my pieces have come from my hands, and I know where the metal and diamond comes from that I use. It's taking responsibility and letting my customer know that each piece is special and that they're spending their money on craftsmanship, not on huge markups, fancy packaging, a fancy shop, etc.
What is your favorite jewellery piece and why?
My favorite jewellery piece changes from hour to hour. The most exciting jewellery piece is the one I'm just about to make because it doesn't exist yet.
What advice would you give students regarding the first steps to starting a label.
The thing that helped me was planning. I did a business course given by the craft council. Knowing the basics of profit, loss and breakeven is important. You need to keep your overheads down when you start out. I had a cheap apartment and studio, which is a lot more difficult to get these days and I also worked part-time. It helps to do a part-time job thats involved in the industry you’re in in order to help build connections. You also need to have an active online existence, have your own website and instagram. Lastly, work hard and talk to a lot of people to build connections.
What inspires you?
I'm one of those people that is regularly inspired and often by the most mundane of things. I'm a gardener and was an archeologist before I was as a designer. So archeology, geology, nature and the mathematics and science behind nature have always interested me. Fashion has also always interested me, especially the anthropology of fashion i.e. why do people need to dress up? But from collection to collection it can be anything that inspires me. Often people I've been talking to or the person I'm collaborating with will inspire me by bringing up a subject that I had not thought of before and put me on a new tangent.
What would be your dream for the next five years?
I think I've done my service. I lectured for 14 years and only meant to do two or three years, it was a bit of an accident. I left CSM at the end of 2014 and so my practice feels new again. I feel like I'm just beginning again.