Your Impact Story: Jo Thorpe steps outside of her jewellery business Thorpe & Brown to focus on creative growth
In a field as competitive and saturated as fine jewellery, launching an independent business is a significant achievement, one that many makers strive towards from early on in their careers. In 2012, Birmingham School of Jewellery alumnus Jo Thorpe was able to make this oft-sought-after dream a reality, opening a small shop in Leicestershire under the name Thorpe & Brown. In the next ten years, Jo would accomplish something even more elusive - longevity and stability, with the shop taking on staff and expanding its range of products and services year by year, from repairs to remodelling, to commissions and off-the-shelf jewellery, before upgrading to larger premises in 2017.
By providing up to £7,000 to makers with over five years’ experience, the Business Catalyst (Large) Grants enable established jewellers, silversmiths, and craftspeople to take a dedicated period out of their daily routine to focus on creative development. This may take the form of technical or business skills training, internships with Masters in their field, international travel to research and develop a range of work, or general artistic experimentation. In return, Grant recipients contribute to the Goldsmiths' Centre’s public programme by teaching on short courses, speaking as part of the charity’s talks programming or mentoring emerging makers.
The Business Growth (Large) Grants are designed as a flexible grant driven by the maker. We rely on them to evolve the aspect of their business that they would like to develop. We know that makers are individual, all their work is individual, the business model is individual, the stage of their career will be very different. Flexibility is the key..
So, we had identified that need already, and then the Grant just came along at the right time. It will save us time and money in the long run to have these skills, because we will be more capable at problem solving and resolving issues with pieces in-house..
Jo will be applying her freshly acquired skills to the creation of a collection of engagement and wedding rings. Having worked predominantly on client-led commissions over the past decade, producing pieces based entirely on her own designs is a welcome change, an opportunity for Jo to express herself creatively and explore her own style as a maker, and it’s precisely this kind of personal and professional development that the Goldsmiths’ Centre strives to facilitate through the Grant.
"The majority of what we do at Thorpe & Brown is commissions. Whilst I do like what I make, it's tailored to each individual person, it’s very bespoke and personal. I don't take over a design or insist that they all follow a theme as such, so all the pieces are all very, very different. That can cause a bit of a disconnect between me as a designer and the work, because it's more about the customer than it is me."
I think that’s right - it’s what the customers come to me for, the pieces are for them, not me, but I do think it would be nice to have my own core range that I’ve built up, that reflects more of what I’d like to express and show. It’s nice to be able to think about what I’d like to make and what I’d like to showcase for a change..
"That can cause a bit of a disconnect between me as a designer and the work, because it's more about the customer than it is me. I think that’s right - it’s what the customers come to me for, the pieces are for them, not me, but I do think it would be nice to have my own core range that I’ve built up, that reflects more of what I’d like to express and show. It’s nice to be able to think about what I’d like to make and what I’d like to showcase for a change."
Jo concedes that the transition has not been without its challenges, however - though it’s through overcoming these challenges that real growth can take place.
“It’s not as easy as I thought it would be, as I’ve been facing some difficulty separating the commercial aspect of the work from the creative, design side; what is appealing to me versus what’s appealing commercially. I’m used to being quite strict with myself and being very practical in my approach - making sure pieces are durable and safe and that they will stand the test of time, because I want to make sure my customer is happy. The trickiest part is being more confident and free flowing, but it’s nice to be challenged as otherwise I would still be stuck in my comfort zone, and I work best when I’m under pressure.”
Ultimately, the support and training made accessible through the Grant will not only impact Jo on a creative and personal level but will also have a real impact on the business she has so painstakingly built. Services that were previously outsourced will be performed in-house, both by Jo and by colleagues she has shared her new skillset with, and Jo’s refinement of her own making style will shape the pieces that Thorpe & Brown produces going forwards. Clients will have the opportunity to browse Jo’s collection of engagement and wedding rings online or through physical samples in the shop, and either purchase them outright or make adjustments, striking a balance between Jo’s vision and theirs.
At the end of this project, I'll be proud to have a selection of ring designs that are adaptable, that can be tailored and adapted to suit customer’s specific requirements. I think that'll be the best achievement to come out of the Grant. The fact that we're more capable in designing, repairing, and the rest of the skills that we've got, is also great..