Writing about myself doesn’t come naturally – but recently, I have been asked a lot about my background and how I have come to be doing what I do. So here’s an insight into me and my world!
Hello, I'm Jess. I'm 35 (for the next couple of weeks, anyway!), originally from Manchester, now live in Liverpool with my husband and son and I am the brains behind all the laser cut goodies you see here and on various social media platforms!
In Tokyo, 2013 – one of my favourite places.
I’ve always been creative. I had every craft kit going as a child and I rarely left the house without pens and paper – every car journey included some form of drawing paraphernalia! If I wasn't throwing myself around at gymnastics, I was making stuff (or creating a huge mess as my parents recall)! I used to make miniature Fimo figures and macramé friendship bracelets and sell them in the playground for the princely sum of 20 pence a pop!
At school, I was a good all rounder; academic, sporty and creative. I think at the time, academia was higher up on the list of priorities in schools, so my creativity was overshadowed by more core subjects. I really appreciate that I have a good academic grounding, but my creative juices were always bubbling away beneath the surface. When it came to making A Level choices at the age of 16, I was utterly confused, so I just picked subjects that I was good at and knew came quite naturally to me. I wasn’t brave enough to stand my ground and really argue to do the creative subjects that I pined for.
After completing my school studies and achieving pretty good grades, I went off to university to study law – yes, I know a strange choice but hey, I was 18, what did I really know?! Anyway, after three months of trying to enjoy my law degree and failing miserably, I made the decision to swap onto another course. I was still very unsure of what I wanted to do so I chose Cultural Studies as it sounded interesting and diverse – again, not what I really wanted to do, but I felt I had to stick university out and get a degree. So, three years later, I graduated with a good grade and set off into the big-wide-real-world. I had no clue about where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing, so I opted to do temping work until I had a better idea of my career path. A year passed by of call centres, data entry and administration work and I started to feel stifled. I felt at a loose end; confused, unhappy and bored. I think this was the turning point; the catalyst to make my own choices, choices that I had made for me, by myself. So I researched into jewellery making courses and within a couple of weeks I was enrolled on a full-time City and Guilds Silversmithing course. This was a breath of fresh air, a weight off my shoulders, something I actually wanted to do. I completed the first year of the programme and then got accepted onto an art foundation course. From that I went back to university to study Three Dimensional Design. This is where I discovered my passion for digital fabrication, computer generated design and all things technology.
I started my degree with the idea of being a crafts person; someone who sits at a jewellery bench and makes fine jewellery pieces by hand. I did enjoy this process to an extent but found it quite arduous, sometime spending hours to perfect one tiny element. This is when the discovery of laser cutting was made. I had friends studying the Design for Production element of the course and I was curious and intrigued by the technologies and processes they were using. There were so many emerging technologies in the creative industries at the time, but laser cutting stood out for me for its speed, precision, intricacy and ability to batch produce. It was a magical process; from the initial sketches, computer generation of the designs, to watching your product being made so precisely and quickly with a laser – and who doesn't love a laser?!
The next two years were spent laser cutting anything I could get my hands on. I graduated (again!) with a top grade and off I went to London, with my now husband, with the hope to work for a design company. We moved to London just as the recession hit hard and everyone was cutting back on their workforce. My husband had secured a job prior to moving but I was still looking. It took a good four months, enduring the longest interview process known to man, but I eventually got a job working for one of my favourite companies, MUJI, as a junior product developer. What is a product developer I hear you ask? Well, when you go into a shop and you see products on shelves, someone behind the scenes has overseen the whole lifespan of that product; from initial concept, numerous samples, pricing, safety testing, instruction manuals, proofreading, packaging – all this and more before the final product can hit the shops. Even I was unaware of just how much goes into the selection process for just one tiny product, so it was a real eye-opener working in this industry. I worked on such a wide-range of products, from bed linen to wooden toys – it really was so broad.
Chicken Skittles, developed for MUJI. Photo courtesy of MUJI
This then led to six more years in the product development world working for the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum, producing gifts for their museum shops and licensed products for the wider market. Although I enjoyed elements of these roles, I started to become a little disillusioned with just how many products were massed produced in over-seas factories. This mass production meant that the quality often slipped and it didn't sit comfortably with me that I was partly responsible for products that would ultimately be a throw-away item and end up in landfill very quickly. I started to question everything. What did I want to be doing? What were my beliefs and ethos? Was this the right industry for me? Did I still want to be in London? There were lots of things to ponder and get straight in my head.
Lazy Oaf for Tate range, 2010. Photo courtesy of Lazy Oaf
I then went completely left-field and made the leap into the catering industry. I've always loved cooking so I thought I would give it a go to see if this was the next career move for me – plus I needed a break from the design world. I joined the team at The Modern Pantry, working in the little take-away shop attached to the main restaurant. What was meant to be an easy - go to work - enjoy my job - go home and not think about my job kind of role, turned into me managing and reshaping the little shop. My, oh my, was it HARD work! Early starts, long hours and having to deal with the public – ALL DAY LONG! Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved it but it was such a shock to the system after spending so many years in my computer facing, office based roles. For the first month of working at The Modern Pantry, my feet and brain were throbbing! It was such a challenging, yet rewarding role but the hardest work. I helped turn the little shop into a very busy little lunch venue. People would queue around the block waiting to get their salad fix and be utterly despondent if they missed out. I truly admire anyone who makes a career in the catering/hospitality industry. The hours are gruelling and the work is equally as hard; constant, non-stop and demanding. I then became pregnant, and what was already a demanding role became even more of an awesome task. I worked right up until I was 8 months pregnant; my little hips and legs could take no more and I went on maternity leave. It was whilst on maternity leave that the big, exciting decisions were made.
The tiny banana that changed everything!
London is a beast. A fast moving, exciting, ever-changing and super-expensive wild beast. Whilst I loved my time in London, once I had my son, my perceptions changed. We had enjoyed a hard-working, dependent free lifestyle – finishing work and not batting an eyelid at going out for drinks, meeting up with friends, jumping on the train at weekends to wherever. Then you make the decision to have a baby and, boom, everything changes. My eyes were wide open to the fact that our lifestyle was going to have to change once we became parents, but it was everything that changed. London became ever-increasingly hard work. My friends were all moving to the suburbs, my support network were all back up North, the thought of going back to work just to pay for childcare frustrated me and I felt I was in a perpetual state of limbo (not a nice feeling at all). We had been toying with the idea of moving out of London for a while and then came the best and most welcomed offer, just when we needed it – my husband got asked to work for the family business (not like the Godfather or anything!), back in Liverpool. We jumped at the chance, it was the perfect reason to move and we would be closer to both families – plus neither of us had ever lived in Liverpool before so it was a complete new adventure.
Liverpool is such an exciting and vibrant city, with such a rich history and awe-inspiring architecture. There is so much change happening and new development on the horizon. The transformation I have seen over the last ten years is immense. The buzz around the creative, digital and technology industries with organisations such as, the Liverpool Girl Geeks, Creative Kitchen and MerseySTEM helping to remodel and change the face of these industries is especially impressive and inspirational. I’m really thrilled to be in the hub of it all and can’t wait to see what the next few years hold for the city.
When we decided to move to Liverpool, I had already rekindled my love of designing and making – I had been doing a few markets, selling jewellery as extra income whilst on maternity leave. This is where my little business was born. I now had the time to really concentrate on getting things done, and done well. In the past, my jewellery had always been a hobby – fit in between a full-time job – so felt rushed and part-resolved. In Liverpool, I started to research places I could get laser cutting done (I’d always outsourced the production of my jewellery elements) and found an organisation called Fab Lab. Fab Lab is a creative, co-working technology space, accessible to anyone who wants to learn more about the processes and machinery available for production. Here you can 3D print, laser cut, create electronics, use other CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines and much, much more. This meant that I didn’t need to pay someone else to make things for me, I could go and learn how to do it myself and I haven’t looked back since. It has been one of the best experiences – I love using the laser cutter and exploring its capabilities, pushing myself to try new techniques constantly. It has opened my eyes to what I am capable of and enabled me to work on so many other projects and products besides jewellery.
Through this whole process, I heeded that the aspect I especially enjoy is working with people on realising their ideas and concepts. The whole process of designing and making is important to me; whether it’s a pair of delicate, glitter embellished earrings or large scale signage, I just love making. People come to me with so many different briefs; awards, signage, retail displays, business cards, bespoke wedding items, customised gifts – just to name a few. If I can make it, I’ll give it a good go! I wholeheartedly believe in quality over quantity, and longevity in a product. Attention to detail in every aspect of the business – from the design process, through to how you portray yourself on social media – is imperative to creating and sustaining a good reputation. Supporting British companies and buying materials as responsibly as possible is also key – knowing where the products come from and using companies with transparent ethics is a vital part of my business. It is difficult to know the exact source of everything, but having that awareness and to constantly be asking yourself the question is better than being ignorant.
Custom pin badges for Eat Pokē, London
So, that’s me and the business so far. It’s early days, but there are some great plans and projects in the making so there will be lots more to talk about soon.