Interview with Kirstie Gibbs, founder of Alkemistry
The Alkemistry was started by Kirstie Gibbs in 2015, and is a curation of female founded, independent and international jewellery brands. Today, the brand has a flagship store in Covent garden, as well as having international presence with Selfridges, Galleries La Fayette and more
What’s your career background?
I’m originally from Newcastle but moved to London when I was 19 to go on to the Harrods Career training scheme which they had at the time. Unfortunately, a month before I was meant to start, they cancelled the scheme due to funding.
I applied for another role, and thankfully got an admin role in their corporate services department. After that, I moved into buying, then merchandising. I moved onto River Island in merchandising, and a year later went back to Harrods as the sportswear buyer, then became their jewellery buyer.
I seem to change jobs every four years! I always wanted to start my own business, and in in 2013, I left Harrods to work on the Alkemistry business idea, and turn this into reality.
How did your career change after having children?
I didnt really feel a change in my career after I had children well once I organised my child care. I prioritise work and my family, so the thing that did change was my personal life and time for myself. The two hour nail appointments became a thing of the past, my hair is done during the day with laptop in hand and my exercise came from being non stop.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with entrepreneurs and reading business books. I love learning about how people have started businesses and the how and why. I’d always wanted my own business but didn’t know what or when it was going to happen.
I always had a few business plans and ideas on the go. After being in jewellery buying, I felt there was a gap in the market of high-quality jewellery without the high end price tag. There were plenty of high street brands, but there was a leap between those and the high-end brands like Cartier and Tiffany.
I had the idea for The Alkemistry in 2013, and I wanted to create a brand which was luxury – real gold and real diamonds, and pieces with meaning. I wanted to bring female founded brands together.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I left Harrods in 2013, and I took out a government start-up loan which felt like a huge risk and amount of money at the time. I worked from my dining room table for two years, and it organically grew to where it is today.
The initial idea for the Alkemistry was based around algorithmics and personalisation. I worked on a website which presented the customer with jewellery choices based on their star sign, and numerology. I spent a lot of time, energy and money doing this, but, when I started trading, people loved the idea, but it didn’t quite translate to sales.
It then evolved, I had a contact at Harvey Nichols who gave me the opportunity to sell on their website in 2016. It started to sell well, so they gave me a chance to have a 6 month in-store pop-up which then became permanent. I realised the algorithm based website and way of selling didn’t resonate in retail, and focused on unique branding and store concepts, supporting women and a luxurious but commercial assortment.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the jewellery industry?
I love that we don’t waste anything – as we only use 18ct gold and diamonds so everything can be remodelled. This is why we never go into sale, if an item or collection doesn’t sell, we just take it back in house and redesign it, it is often done as a team brainstorming project, I love this process, repurposing brings me joy!
We also have a loyalty programme called Alkemistry Always, in which customers can have their Alkemistry pieces remodelled and reworked time and time again using our in-house jewellery designers.
What’s your USP?
Luxury high-end jewellery with meaning, without the high-end price tag.
Who’s your target audience?
Women who seek meaning from their pieces and who want jewellery that will last the tests of time.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We’re very lucky that we partner with Selfridges & Harvey Nichols, alongside our flagship store in Covent Garden which has increased our brand awareness greatly and spread the word about The Alkemistry.
In terms of marketing and PR, we have a 360 approach, and we advertise on Facebook, and Google AdWords to drive traffic and footfall into store, advertising our unique experiences such as luxury ear piercing, 18ct welded bracelets, and our Aura readings.
Over on our social media, our Instagram is constantly growing, where we share behind the scenes of our female apprentice team making the jewellery. In 2020 during lockdown, we started on Tik Tok which has resulted in over 50k views, and also worked with an influencer on Tik Tok, in which the video went viral receiving over 1.6 million views.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I think initially, the admin of starting a business was an obstacle, setting up a company, trademarking, VAT submissions and building a website etc was all new to me and I found it rather daunting. I also spent a long time doing market research and deciding what the USPs would be so we would have a point of difference in the market.
A few years ago we launched The Alkemistry’s own brand, the design and manufacturing process was something I had to learn. At first we outsourced the manufacturing but when Brexit and covid hit, we knew we had to try and bring it in house.
We started the in-house female apprenticeship scheme in 2021, and we often take on apprentices who have no jewellery experience but who are creative and passionate to learn.
It’s harder work at the beginning as we have to invest so much time in training, but it is working, it means no one has set rules on how jewellery should be made and we try to research new techniques and ideas often from outside the jewellery world to break boundaries in our design and creative process.
And your proudest moment so far?
Business wise opening our Covent Garden store, it was a dream come true.
Why is work so important to you?
Since I was 15 I have never not worked, I always need to keep my mind busy, but it is also important because I love creating and evolving. When I am not busy at work or with family I have housing projects which I work on, it’s the same feeling in both, I love coming up with ideas and concepts and seeing them come to life.
Who inspires you?
My partner Ali inspires me the most. He’s very knowledgeable on everything, so he’ll say something on a topic, and there’s something within that topic that then sparks ideas.
My team also inspired me, what can start off as a brief chat can often develop into a big concept. For example, with the new auric collection, I’d wanted to do something surrounding auras for a while. We had a woven bracelet already in one of our collections, then one of the girls in the workshop wove the two colours together as an experiment, and it sparked the idea of how we could merge aura’s and jewellery together.
How do you balance your work with your family?
When I’m at work, I try to be fully at work. When I get home, with my son, I am fully at home.
In my typical work week, I structure each day by one function that I oversee, for example on Monday I focus on Buying, Tuesday I focus on Strategy, Wednesday I focus on design and so on.
I’m not very good at relaxing. In the morning, I occasionally do breathing exercises that help balance the right in the left part of the brain. Life tends to get in the way now – before I had children, I used to practise Kundalini Yoga but have not recently since trying to get pregnant and being pregnant.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- Don’t skip the tuition fees – you will make costly mistakes, but you will learn in the process and that is worthwhile.
- Done is better than perfect – If you wait till it’s perfect you have missed crucial time to test and learn.
- If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together – I started my journey alone and it was hard, it was only when my MD Jenna McGee I realised the benefits and strength of partnership.
Find out more about Alkemistry.