Tips on how to start a business from Zoe & Morgan founder Zoë Williams

My father was a jeweller. He gave me all his tools and said, 'Do something important with them.'

NEXT magazine sat down with Zoë Williams, the 39-year-old founder of jewellery brand Zoe & Morgan, and chatted with her about what she's learned in almost 13 years of business. From drawing inspiration by walking the Camino de Santiago to working towards sustainable practice, the mum of two (Ace, 10; and Mia, eight), says it's been a fun ride.

Take up a family craft or passion

Our father was a jeweller. We're a family business; I own it and design the collections with my brother Morgan and sister Ruth. My father was always nice and personal to his customers. He died when I was almost 20.
Before he died, he gave me all his tools and said, "Do something important with them." I took it seriously, travelled and lived out my youth but when I felt ready, at 26, I started Zoe & Morgan. [My family and I] support each other and there's a level of trust you maybe wouldn't have with another business partner. When I became pregnant in London, I called Ruth and said, "Come to London, the business is so busy, I want to be the mum that our mum was to us".
She took over [the business] and I stayed at home for a year with my son. When I did go back to work, my sister would look after him one day, and my husband Teia one day; we all shared it. He was always loved and with someone in the family and the business was able to grow.

Adapt to change

The world economy and the way consumers buy is different to how it used to be. When we started [in 2006], we were at Paris Fashion Week and people would travel all over the world to buy collections and put it in their shops.
We didn't even have a website as we weren't selling online ourselves.
We've also changed the way we make jewellery. To make something designed in CAD [computer aided design], where diamonds are dropped in and the claws are already in place because you've designed it on the computer and printed your model; that type of technology wasn't invented when my father died.

Do what you love

Designing new things, getting the physical samples and testing what works and what doesn't, that's what we live for. We especially love designing for weddings; it's such an exciting time in these people's lives. There's always a bit of nerves giving the customer the ring. We love hearing about the proposal and later seeing photos of the wedding. We're looking at developing our wedding and engagement collection.

Have a low impact on the planet

The most challenging thing in a modern-day business is being responsible, ethical and aware of the planet's needs, and giving something back rather than taking away from it; to be as low impact on the planet as possible. We're not a hard sell company and we value family and friendships strongly; it's the reason we started. Our friendships and the support and love we have for each other are more important than anything else.

Draw inspiration from travel

Before we started Zoe & Morgan, Mum called me halfway through the Camino de Santiago walk [in Spain] and said, "You've got to come on this walk, it's amazing." I was in London at the time.
I joined her for the last 100km. In Santiago there's a lot of old Spanish jewellery with a real Indian flavour. The filigree work inspired our Gypsy Heart range, in our first collection; 12 years later we still sell them.
Last year I went with my family to Bali, then by myself for another trip, then to Bangkok, London, Paris and Barcelona.
Those trips inspire the collections. A few seasons ago my sister and I stayed in a hotel in Morocco, and the rings [we later made] were the door and window shapes of the hotel.

Know your customers and what they want

We are always impressed with our customers. A large portion of our sales are gifts for loved ones or a treat to oneself, so we chat with our customers about what they want.
It's an enjoyable part of our day to interact and help find the perfect gesture. We tell the stories of our designs on the website, so people from all over the world can make those connections with our jewellery.
We get a lot of enquiries from people who want to propose to the person they love, so with our bespoke service we go on a journey together designing and conceptualising what would be right for them, and for their lives.
Our website and social media comes from our personal lives and experiences, so our customers relate to what we are doing, and they are a part of it.

Take a work/life balance seriously

Even since my children started kindy I've always picked them up. I have created a blend between work and family life. I'm satisfied as a mum and wife and have enough time with my children and husband to connect with them.
It means when I'm at work I'm focused on the hours I'm there, and get a lot done. I throw into the mix walks around the neighbourhood and yoga classes. Sometimes I'm absolutely shattered and need to be quite gentle at home and not do too much. I want to be happy, healthy, and have energy to be a good mum and an 'onto it' business owner.

Have a happy workplace

At work we always start the day with a coffee next door and then get straight into it. We sit outside and share a healthy organic lunch together, and we try to keep the ambience in the shop quite calm.
I've always got natural lavender oil on the go. We're not a traditional team where people in the shop have different roles or salaries and a hierarchy of someone being more important than the other. We're all equals, and all help each other out.

A holistic approach

You have to encourage creativity in all its forms, not in the sense of making something beautiful or being good with your hands, but in an intelligent way; being able to think outside the box. Being able to invent solutions in a non traditional way feels like pure creativity.
Planning is important, and it's important to have a holistic approach to your work and business plan. My business plan is not normal at all; it includes having fun in Bali and going on a trip to Paris with my kids and husband, and mixing in all of the good things in life so we're happy on all those levels. It also includes things like healthy food and growing vegetables in the garden.
I look at business in a holistic spectrum and not [as] just about work and business or family, but incorporating all of the elements that make a happy life into one model.

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