Monday, 28 September 2020

How travelling the world inspired this jewellery entrepreneur  

*Produced by SilverKris for SSFW* 

While we all travel for a variety of reasons, most of us travel to encounter new cultures and broaden our horizons. Being able to observe different traditions and trying something for the first time is an exhilarating experience you can’t put a price tag on. This intangible value is something the founder of gemstone jewellery label SSFW, Hazel Lam, recognises and treasures.

“Whenever I travel, I make sure to sign up for jewellery-making courses to learn different techniques that I can bring into my business,” Lam shares. “But inspiration can be found everywhere – from the patterns on locally-made homeware to the types of fabric used for clothing. It’s all about keeping an open mind and being a keen observer.”

SSFW jewellery
Hazel Lam, designer and founder of SSFW

It’s this creative mindset that has been the driving force behind SSFW’s success. SSFW first started as a fashion retail store in 2009 but pivoted to focus on personalised jewellery five years ago. Since then, the label has steadily grown its presence in Singapore, with a brick-and-mortar store at Haji Lane as well as retail presence at TANGS Orchard.

During the recent circuit breaker, Lam and her team faced the challenge of being unable to run their business out of a physical storefront but were undeterred. They quickly rose to the challenge, creating a range of pandemic-focused accessories that was sold out within the first week of its first launch.

SSFW came up with a multi-purpose chain that can be used as a mask chain or for your glasses

Lam tells us a bit more about the collection as well as the secret to longevity in the fickle world of retail.

What makes SSFW unique from other local jewellery retailers in Singapore?

SSFW stands for Spring Summer Fall Winter – we wanted to create jewellery that was timeless and suitable for all seasons. At SSFW, we offer a wide range of gemstones such as amethyst, moonstone and rose quartz as well as freshwater pearls, which customers can use to customise their own jewellery. My customers really appreciate being able to adjust the length or size of their accessories, and being able to add personalised touches such as charms or a monogram of their initials.

Tell us how your travels have inspired your designs.

Whenever I travel, I make sure that my itinerary involves more than just sightseeing as I’m always eager to pick up new skills and refine my jewellery making technique.

During my time in London in 2015, I underwent an intensive three-month course in jewellery making at Central St Martins. And when I was in New York in 2014, I took a two-week course in wiring techniques to make wire jewellery.

Of course, inspiration can also come from outside the classroom. When I was in Czech Republic, I visited a glass beads factory and was fascinated by the styles and patterns of the glass beads there, which I subsequently incorporated in my designs. Closer to home, I was also inspired during trips to Japan and Sri Lanka – from the designs on their ceramics and fabrics to even their food packaging. When you see how intricate the designs are for each product and the effort put in to creating even simple products, that’s something to be inspired by.

Tell us about the range of jewellery and accessories you designed for the pandemic.

When the circuit breaker was enforced in April, we couldn’t operate out of physical stores so we put our heads together to come up with new ideas. We were thinking about how we can make a mask more fashionable instead of just serving a function. That’s when we hit on the idea of designing a multi-purpose chain that can be used as a mask chain, a chain for your eyewear or even simply as a necklace.

We first launched the multi-purpose chain in mid-July, in collaboration with DermaCool, but have since extended the product range to 10 items. The response was overwhelmingly positive – our customers liked the chain because it served multiple functions and they could also personalise it with their own combinations of gemstones and freshwater pearls. We also offer a design where customers can string a series of alphabets to form their name.

SSFW jewellery
SSFW creates designs that are classy, elegant and timeless

What are some challenges you’ve faced during your time as a business owner?

One main challenge I face is trying to suit the ever-changing market. Because we are dealing with fashion accessories, there is a new trend cropping up every other day. Instead of following trends blindly, it’s about thinking what our customers will like and creating designs that are classy, elegant and timeless.

I often go to the retail floor and interact with the customers, to get feedback on the styles, colours and materials they are looking for so that we can try to incorporate them in our design collections. Every day is a learning opportunity for us. I always tell my team – there’s no best, only better.

SSFW jewellery
Lam says it’s important to know what customers are looking for

What is your secret to running a business in a competitive environment like Singapore?

One advantage we have is that we are a small, close-knit team. We are open and honest with feedback, and we work well together to respond to challenges and make changes when needed.  For example, when we first started making the mask chain, we got it ready for sale within three weeks of the brainstorm stage. Because we have an on-site jewellery studio, we have a lot of materials available and we are very hands-on. We don’t have to rely on large scale factories and the unpredictability of shipping routes.

SSFW jewellery
Look forward to higher-quality materials in SSFW’s future ranges

What can customers look forward to from SSFW in the near future?

We are always looking for ways to improve and refine our designs so in the near future, we’ll be launching products to help our customers accessorise for the “new normal”. When things get better early next year, we hope to offer higher-quality materials such as silver and gold-filled products to meet customers’ needs and cater to their different lifestyles.

For more information on SSFW’s products and jewellery customisation services, head to its official website here, or drop by its boutique at 75 Haji Lane.

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