‘I fell in love with Patrick Scott when I was in school, there was one of his prints that was up for auction and I was raging that I didn’t take out a loan to buy it!’
Niamh Spain is a jewellery designer and maker who’s aesthetic is geometric, simple, contemporary and architectural. Spain exudes measurement and conviction with every word she choses coupled with a lightheartedness which can been seen in her work.
It’s no surprise that she is drawn to Scott as well as traditional Irish and Japanese design. ‘I rather take inspiration from exhibitions in museums like Cheapside Hoard rather then look at modern stuff and risk being influenced by my peers.’ She wrote her thesis on the Tara brooch and spent three weeks travelling by train around Japan immersing herself in their style of design. Kinkaku-ji has now become her screen saver she laughs. On return she designed a koi necklace and made a koi pond in front of her workshop.
Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto that has a skin of gold leaf, which was something you did back in day because why not. Hopefully someone will take inspiration from it and make the enlightened step to cover their semi-detached house in gold so that it can become a UNESCO world heritage site and put for example Walkinstown on the global map of culture. But let’s get back on topic. Interestingly Patrick Scott had a deep interest in Zen Buddhism and took inspiration from Japanese architecture, something that Spain was not aware of.
‘Japan has such an amazing ethos with their crafts, their apprenticeships are so long, about 5-10 years.’ The rational being that you will repeat the routines over and over again until your body knows it, you can then fully steep yourself into deep concentration easily.
‘I have been working for myself for almost five years,’ which is an incredible achievement for someone that is just twenty-nine years of age. ‘I loved school especially maths and art and I knew that I wanted to work in something creative.’
The combination of maths and art seems odd but when you delve into it more you realise that they compliment each other wonderfully. ‘There is a lot of weighing grams, calculations and excel sheets!’ Her time in Japan also reinforced her appreciation of order. ‘Logic is high up there in describing my thought process.’
After leaving St Mary’s College in Naas, Co. Kildare, Niamh attended Ballyfermot College and did a portfolio class. She was convinced that she would be a print maker and threw herself into it but when she went to to the National College of Art and Design she didn’t like the print department so she went to the metals department. ‘I found the metals department lovely, they were down to earth and there was no bullshit. It was there that I found my calling in jewellery making.’
Then came the search for funding for her business. ‘I never wanted to be the type of business that relies on grants also it’s so time consuming filling out those forms. They also tend to have their chosen people that they support.’ Armed with that realism Spain decided to keep it local. ‘I started doing courses with the Local Enterprise Office in Kildare, one in particular was a course for women in business. I had great support from the class and tutor, it helped me write a business plan but also how to work commercially instead of to my aesthetic needs.’
I never wanted to be the type of business that relies on grants also it’s so time consuming filling out those forms. They also tend to have their chosen people that they support
Even though she’s been at it for five years she still succumbs to fret every so often. ‘I had panic attacks on the days leading up to starting the business, I still get very anxious every month but its worth it. I’d hate to do another job, I like being in charge and taking risks. With hindsight it was terrifying but it’s all about believing in yourself. I’d rather have a bit of self doubt rather then blazing through, humility goes a long way.’
Sarah Silverman has joined the campaign started be Levo called Ask4More, she recently made a video about her experience of getting paid less then her male counterpart for doing the same job. It’s really a chronic issue and an attitudinal shift in women’s self worth needs to change. ‘With hindsight I undervalued myself, I think it’s an Irish thing, lack of confidence.’ In every single economy women have lower capabilities perceptions than men. In every region, women have, on average, a greater level of fear of failure than men. (Global Report on Women and Entrepreneurship, GEM 2012).
Spain owns two business, Smudge & Boo and Niamh Spain Jewellery Design. Smudge & Boo has a fixed line and Niamh Spain Design is were she creates bespoke pieces for clients. Making everything bespoke usually takes four weeks but Spain loves the variety and challenge that it brings. Clients are mainly from Ireland but she has had some from further afield. One client from London wanted an engagement ring for her girlfriend, ‘I spent weeks sending emails back and forth with Grace and Edel, you really build a relationship with a client, I just got to meet them recently in person which was great!’ Another client from America sent her a photo of herself and her family, ‘she was like, I’ve seen loads of photos of you online and I feel really voyeuristic so here’s a photo of my family!’
Spain has been featured on several glossy magazines and TV3’s Éxpose but no business came from them directly. ‘I’m sure they planted the seed for some people but my business is mainly bespoke so business comes through word of mouth, I don’t advertise.’
The culture of individualism is Nirvana for bespoke designs, we all believe that we are different and want to have that reflected. Jewellery is a very accessible platform for people to do that, good luck trying to convince the county council that you should be allowed to individualise the exterior of your terraced house because you are different.
Spain holds her tea on her lap as she glances out the window of her workshop, a wooden cabin in her parents back garden. The shy koi are still in hibernation and one gets the impression that Spain is on the cusp of even bigger success but she’s too modest to admit it. Her goals for the future are down to earth, a quality she seems to value highly, ‘I guess my goals are to promote Smudge & Boo more and continue doing bespoke pieces for Niamh Spain Jewellery Design because it’s the nicest work. Far down the line it would be great to have my own shop and employ people.’
Spain is a designer that continues the Irish natural inclination towards geometric design but with a unique twist that has and is captivating her growing customer base.