THIS IS A TRUE STORY
I often get asked what inspired me to start my jewellery line, and the best answer I can think of came from my 5-year-old self when asked by my school teacher what I wanted to be when I grow up.
I said I wanted to be the boss.
Even since I was that little, I somehow knew that I was born with something - a gift, a story, a message - that would only find its fullest and truest expression if I was given the freedom to make it my life's work.
The moment that this singular response came out of my 5-year-old mind is undoubtedly the moment when AKONG truly began. Because since that moment, the universe seemed to conspire to ensure that, no matter what decisions I made or what direction I took with my life and career, at the beginning of 2010, I would find myself as designer with the utmost promise, starting my own company, making the most magnificent and astounding jewellery the fashion industry had seen for some time.
This time in my life came, despite all the odds. I had just started a family, and was leaving a solid, lucrative corporate career to start a jewellery line with no formal training in design, no contacts, and no prior knowledge or experience of the industry I was about to break into. But from that singular thought that came out of my 5-year-old mind, to the many inspired thoughts that followed, AKONG's destiny was made, and it officially came into the world in its beginnings as an independent jewellery house at the beginning of 2010.
I built a basic website and began to contact individual buyers at some of the UK's top department stores and boutiques. Despite many promising meetings and conversations, I struggled to get them to take a chance on me, being a new designer with only one small, albeit strong, collection of necklaces. Frustrated but not defeated, I took to the internet and discovered the existence of trade shows. I searched for upcoming trade shows in London and found one that was a Home, Gift, Fashion and Craft show. It was in 3 weeks' time. I called up, booked a stand and spent every day and night over the next 3 weeks designing and making my first official collection.
Your first trade show as a new designer is always one that you remember, but the one moment that always sticks out in my mind from that show was seeing these two (obviously veteran) buyers walking down the aisle past my booth, mindlessly chatting to each other, then suddenly stopping in their tracks and letting out the biggest gasp as they turned and saw my work. That was the moment that I knew, for sure, that I had brought something special.
Over that weekend, I met several buyers and picked up those all-important first few stockists. That was great, but little did I know that the universe had much bigger plans in store for me. Another door was about to open.
During that show, I met a fashion writer who became a huge fan of my work. She told me I should be at London Fashion Week. At that time, I knew very little about it, just that it was where famous fashion designers did their runway shows. But after doing more research, I discovered that there was an exhibition aspect that accessories designers could be part of. Unfortunately by the time I made this discovery, it was too late to apply for the next show. I would have to wait another 6 months.
In the meantime, I carried on showing my jewellery to any and everyone I could. I got my first desk visit with a major fashion magazine, Grazia, and my jewellery officially hit the press in April 2010.
During this time, I also met a Swedish jewellery designer at an industry event. We got chatting and as it turned out, she was showing at the next LFW and was looking for someone to share her stand with her. And guess who was there, in the right place at the right time and was offered this stand-share? Yep, me. And that's the true story of how I got into to LFW in September 2010.
Two cool things happened during that London Fashion Week.
The first is that I got scouted by the senior fashion editor at Vogue Italia, who invited me to come to Milan as one of their Vogue Talents for the Autumn/Winter 11 shows. This was a true honour, and a personal career highlight.
The launch night was like a Who's Who of the Fashion world - an experience for which I felt woefully underequipped! But I did get to meet Anna Wintour, which was pretty cool.
So, here I am, pictured with the other 9 designers, Franca Sozzani, Federico Marchetti and Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, 7 months pregnant and clearly oblivious to the industry's all-black dress code!
The second is that I met this absolutely stunning woman, who came through the show with her journalist mum. She fell in love with my jewellery straight away and placed an order for some necklaces. It was my first sizeable order from a new customer, and I remember afterwards thinking how lovely it was to meet her and her mum, who were both such warm and friendly people. A welcome experience at any trade show!
Little did I know how this chance encounter would go on to change the fortunes of my company at the exact time that I needed it.
Over the following years, AKONG became one of the most sought-after fashion jewellery brands, stocked by some of the world's most renowned and exclusive stores, featured in countless magazines, newspapers and blogs, and receiving several industry accolades. To the outside world, AKONG was a massive success. However, between us, I knew my business model had to change for this success to be sustainable.
That change came in 2015 when, after 5 years of partnership and collaboration with the most amazing retailers, I decided to close the business to wholesale orders. Even in the 5 years since AKONG began trading, the fashion industry had moved to such a fast-paced buying cycle that the only way to compete was to keep churning out collections and pricing them as low as possible, which was conducive to neither my creativity as a designer nor the integrity of my product. AKONG jewellery was now only available to buy exclusively from our website.
While I knew in my heart that this was the right decision for both me and the business, I did enter this period feeling quite nervous. After all, selling my jewellery to stores was my main source of income at the time and not being the most social-media-savvy person, I knew I had my work cut out in attracting a whole new set of customers who may or may not have heard of AKONG before.
But see, this is what I love about the mystical laws of the universe.
Around that time, the news of George Clooney's engagement came out, and his fiancée - my Beautiful, happy customer pictured above - became the one of the most famous and photographed women in the world. Luckily for me, my jewellery featured in several of these photographs and thanks to Amal, I have been able to connect with and serve many other amazing women around the world through my jewellery ever since.
About a year later, something in me began to shift. My inspiration and creative instincts were starting to move away from jewellery and back towards my first love, sewing. Much of this was triggered by personal need, as I struggled to find cool, comfortable clothing that suited my new work-from-home lifestyle. This led to the designing and making of my first ready-to-wear offering - a capsule leisurewear collection called "Civvies" - and some experimentation into handmade footwear.
In 2017, after fully immersing myself into this new creative direction, I decided to close AKONG to all new jewellery orders. I said goodbye to the 7 years I spent designing and making jewellery with one final blowout sale and was done. Or so I thought.
When I made the big announcement that I was retiring from the world of jewellery, someone reached out to me on Facebook with the most touching message. She described herself as a “non-professional jewellery designer” and said she had been following my journey over the years and was being constantly inspired by my designs. Her beautiful message of gratitude and well wishes went heart to heart and inspired me to host a live Q&A session on Facebook where I openly and honestly answered any questions from aspiring designers about starting a jewellery business or taking theirs to the next level.
This session was embraced with such enthusiasm and generated such momentum that I created a private Facebook group for them called “AKONG All-Stars” so that I could continue to support these designers on their own journeys. This group has now grown to over 100 members and my support for them has extended into mentorship, coaching and teaching.
This whole experience led to a radical shift in the way I perceived myself as a designer and as a person. I realised that the contribution of my creative gift had begun to extend way beyond what I was designing and making under my own brand, and that felt so amazing. It became my mission to use my creative gift, not only to express my own truth through inspired design, but to also help other designers and brands bring their own dreams and visions to life.
Jewellery will always be a huge part of AKONG history. For this reason, and in its honour, I decided to keep all my collections accessible on this website. In addition to being able to BUY from us, you can also DIY our jewellery by enrolling in our Jewellers Bootcamp - an online video course that will teach you step-by-step all the jewellery-making techniques you need to DIY any of our signature pieces. This idea of “open source” fashion is one that I am truly passionate about, as I believe that those who are skilled at using their hands should always be given the opportunity and the tools to create, rather than just consume.
AKONG has already begun to evolve way beyond its humble beginnings as a jewellery line. My vision is to create an AKONG-shaped space in fashion where empowerment rules over consumerism, the designs are inspired, the products are nothing short of magnificent, the work is honest, open-source and carried out with the utmost respect and love for the environment and fellow humans everywhere. This, I truly believe, is the future of fashion.