Real Life

Ashley De Grey’s unique keepsakes ‘I make jewellery from breast milk!’

This Bay of Plenty mum is combining bodily fluids and her creative talents to produce beautiful mementos

The stars aligned for Ashley De Grey when she was searching for a side hustle while raising two kids under three, with another on the way.

Armed with a design degree and some experience working in a jewellery store, she knew she wanted to do something creative. But when she spied an ad for making jewellery using breastmilk, she was just one click away from a booming business and a renewed sense of purpose.

“I received this spam email for an online course on how to make breastmilk jewellery, which was really weird!” recalls Ashley, 30. “But part of me was like, ‘This is a sign!’ I’d done the jewellery thing, got

the design skills, knew a lot of breastfeeding mums – and I was a breastfeeding mum too! All the pieces just fit together.”

Ashley was six months pregnant with her third child when she launched The Spilt Milk Co.

Milking it! “There’s something about those tangible memories that you wear and hold on to every day.”

“I had an Instagram and Facebook account, and started making a few bits and pieces. I’d sit on the couch breast-feeding while watching YouTube videos, which is how I learned to make a website.”

A few friends sent samples of their milk and placed orders for keepsakes as a way to cherish those early days in motherhood. It wasn’t long before she started receiving orders from strangers. From there, much to Ashley’s surprise, the business quickly grew.

Five years on, Ashley says the experience has been an emotional rollercoaster, with her making jewelley out of everything from COVID tests to locks of hair.

“There are so many customers who’ve stuck with me,” tells Ashley. “There’s one mum who I’ve crafted for a few times. Her daughter battled cancer, so I made her and her sister some jewellery.

“The daughter unfortunately passed away and was buried with one of the matching beads I made for them. In a way, it felt like she was buried with a part of her sister. Meanwhile, the woman’s other daughter has a bead with a lock of her sister’s hair that she wears every day. That really gets me.”

Through these experiences, Ashley learned she could really make an impact in families’ lives by incorporating the DNA of late loved ones.

“There’s something about those tangible memories that you wear and hold on to every day, rather than putting something in the cupboard or a special keepsake box where it gets forgotten about.”

When the world went into lockdown, Ashley dreamed up what she thought was an hilarious April Fool’s Day social post, offering to turn people’s positive COVID tests into beads. Strangely, it turned out to be her most popular offering to date.

“People mostly understood it was a joke – like anyone wants to be reminded of home-schooling and Zoom meetings! – but there were so many comments asking if I would actually do it.”

The post went crazy and within a matter of hours, Ashley was at her desk working out how to fulfil the orders.

These days, you can still place an order for a keepsake of your COVID experience. “But please don’t send me your RAT test,” she laughs. “I use a fake one!”

The idea led to gems incorporating positive pregnancy tests for mums who have suffered miscarriages and want to remember their angel babies. “I call them Blessing Beads,” explains Ashley. “Some parents plant trees for these babies, and I incorporate the dried flowers and leaves or soil into a bead.”

Today, Ashley juggles the business ( with being a mum to girls Indigo, eight, Matilda, six, and Delilah, four, and partner to electrical project manager Jono, 31. But the self-taught jeweller and businesswoman is struggling to keep up with orders. “I wish I could clone myself!” she smiles.

Ashley, partner Jono with their precious gems (from left) Indigo, Delilah and Matilda.

So far, Ashley has created about 2000 keepsakes for customers around Aotearoa and Australia. She has plans to reach further but is keeping things manageable for now.

“I’d eventually like to have my own store with a workshop out the back. I’d love to share the space with a jeweller so we can do it all together.”

At the moment, Ashley has a local jeweller make the sterling silver and 9ct gold components first. Meanwhile, she creates the DNA-crafted pieces and then, once she has the silver and gold parts, she brings it all together in her studio.

Business is booming, with Ashley creating 2000 keepsakes for customers.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” says Ashley.

“I enjoy making people happy while doing what I love, which is creating. So long as there’s demand, I’ll keep going.”

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