Elizabeth Galton, Creative Visionary Behind Links of London, on Her New Venture

Elizabeth Galton is a celebrated British creative talent. Creative Director of Links of London for two and a half  years, Elizabeth was credited with successfully modernising the brand’s design direction and steering  the company through the next stage of  growth and design evolution at the forefront of the British jewellery retail  scene.

As a Board member she contributed to taking the turnover  from £45 million in 2006 to £79 million  in 2009 and was responsible for directing store design, advertising campaigns and the full creative portfolio.

In 2010, Elizabeth was named in ‘Who’s Who of Britain’s Business Elite’ and was nominated for the ‘Women  to Watch’ Award; a cultural leadership programme celebrating the achievements of some of the most ambitious and talented women in the cultural and creative industries. Her  reputation grew globally as Creative  Director of Links of London with profile pieces in publications such as Elle Japan and Vogue.

Her latest venture, Elizabeth Galton Studio offers an exclusive new platform for established innovative, luxury jewellery & accessories brands and a new generation of design talent and is reflective of  Elizabeth’s fundamental and ongoing commitment to bring  unique, sophisticated and distinctive design to women around the globe. She won The Next Women Pitch Event in Amsterdam recently.

We spoke to Elizabeth about why she bought out her Dragon's Den investor after a year; about the lessons she has taken from such varied sources as Confucius and Sir Hugh Walpole; and about those she learned the hard way!

How did you come up with the idea for online marketplace elizabethgaltonstudio.com and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

Prior to launching elizabethgaltonstudio.com I was the Creative Director of Links of London where I was credited for modernising the brand’s design direction and steering the company through the next stage of it’s growth and design evolution at the forefront of the British jewellery retail scene.

I was responsible for directing store design, advertising campaigns and the full creative product portfolio. The experience of working as a Board Member for a global brand such as Links of London gave me a great insight into the jewellery market as a whole.  

At the end of 2010, I identified the opportunity for a jewellery marketplace that pooled international, emerging jewellery design talent in one place, together with the predicted growth for jewellery in the online environment. As a result, I decided to take a leap of faith and step off the corporate wheel in order to work on realising my vision and in June 2011 Elizabeth Galton Studio launched.

What makes your company different from your competitors?

The business aims to unlock the great potential of what is currently a fragmented marketplace offering the customer a one-stop online retail destination for the hottest Jewellery & Accessories talent. It is positioned between the upper echelons of the high street and the less accessible Fine Jewellery market.

Customers can access unique, handmade products and new emerging global designers, which have a relevance and meaning to their lives. The curated marketplace pools the best emerging designers and retails over 1,500 products across 75+ Brands. The site has a luxury feel and with average price points of £20 - £350 as well as a selection of aspirational pieces between £900 – £35,000.

As a renowned Creative Director I was uniquely placed to use my experience of working for a global brand to assemble design talent providing an expert endorsement that people trust and respect.

I am the only player amongst the competition who is formally trained in my area of expertise, having worked as both a Creative Director, Designer, and Entrepreneur.

What is your business model?

Elizabethgaltonstudio.com combines a marketplace style business model and low inventory with the strength of the traditional retail model comprising branding, curation and merchandising control. It represents a scalable global business in a high growth market online.

Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?

Our customers are high net worth women aged between 25 – 65 years with a high disposable income and an interest in fashion, accessories and jewellery.

Our first customers were primarily from North America and Asia, the site has had visits across 119 countries and 40 per cent of all transactions are transcontinental.

Since our launch, our marketing has comprised primarily organic search, traditional PR and social media tactics to develop brand awareness. We haven’t invested in paid media in these markets, so it showed that even as a new brand we already had global reach and strong potential.

Who are your customers and partners now?

Our traffic is increasing steadily by 10% per month and we are working with a variety of media partners to drive sales going forward.

What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

Since it’s launch elizabethgaltonstudio.com has largely focused on social media to build awareness of the brand.

We’ve found that Facebook advertising is one of the strongest drivers or traffic to the site and community style platforms such as thefancy.com and fashionlista.com have also been influential in gaining a following.

We have built strong relationships with influential bloggers, celebrity stylists and writers with our online guest curations on our blog, which provide customers with styling and shopping tips from the experts.

The focus is now on PPC (pay per click campaigns), affiliate marketing and enhancing the customer experience with new editorial content and features as the business grows.

What is next for your company?

Later this year we will be further enhancing the online offer by launching our own brand collections, which I’m currently in the process of designing and our key focus now is on growing our customer base and sales.

My first book on Jewellery Design is being published by AVA Books in October, it covers all aspects of a career in the Jewellery Industry and is tailored to those looking to enter the market. It includes a selection of interviews from leading players in the Industry and dynamic imagery from many of the designers on Elizabeth Galton Studio. I’ve really enjoyed my first foray into writing and this complements my mentoring and keynote speaking work.

Our mid-term aim is to have a bricks and mortar presence in London, to showcase our higher ticket items.

So still a great deal to do!

What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?

My motto is ‘It can be done’.

I also believe that, trite as it may sound, failure is the greatest teacher, ‘Our greatest glory lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’ – Confucius.

It’s always tough building a brand in a competitive and crowded market and even more so in a recession. However, it makes succeeding all the more rewarding and it also makes you just as grateful for the small wins.

Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs? 

You need grit and determination to succeed and an unfailing belief in yourself and what you are setting out to achieve. Women shouldn’t be under any illusions that becoming an entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice; the ambitious are relentless in their quest for new challenges and new things to conquer. It doesn’t make for a quite or relaxed life and entrepreneurs aren’t usually an easily satisfied bunch.

But if you’ve got fire in your belly and a burning desire to achieve, coupled with a unique business proposition there is nothing to beat that feeling of building something from scratch through sheer hard work and endeavour.

Women are frequently more organized and efficient than men, and it should come as now surprise that essential breakthroughs have been pioneered by women, despite many deterrents put in their way. Their stories should serve as an inspiration for any female entrepreneur. For instance, a woman, Grace Hopper, devised the first business software computer programme and the most impressive female scientist of modern times was Dr Gertrude Elion who spent 25 years achieving pioneering works in the pharmaceutical business. Inevitably it was a woman (Polly Jacob) who invented and patented the bra and another Mary Anderson who invented and patented the world’s first windscreen wiper in 1903.

The list of ingenious women entrepreneurs goes on!

Do you have any role models or mentors?

My first mentor was Jan Springer at the World Gold Council whose guidance and advice was instrumental as a young designer struggling to establish myself. I think Nadja Swarovski is a hugely inspirational businesswoman and visionary (who gave me my first commercial break with Swarovski’s ‘Runway Rocks’ collaboration in New York).

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have the benefit of advice from a number of financial and Industry players. Charles Vivian at Epic Private Equity whose personal support has been invaluable, Links of London’s CEO Andrew Marshall who first enabled me to cut my teeth in the corporate World and of course my original investor Duncan Bannatyne (Dragons’ Den) who provided me with an entrepreneurial spring board.

And of course, my friends and family are a big source of inspiration and support during these embryonic stages of the business. 

What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

The greatest challenge has been preparing for and seeking the right investment opportunity, not just financial but also in terms of expertise – If I had to make an analogy it’s like ‘drilling for oil’ with all the hits and misses that entails.

Our business plan has evolved over time through talking with mentors, experts and VC’s – it pays to have a detailed plan and projections and it is worth taking your time to ensure this is right before seeking investment.

Knocking on doors never gets any easier even with experience but it keeps you humble and you learn a good deal along the way!

Is there a moment in the history of your company, which you remember as the highlight so far?

The highlights to date include being named a 'Retail Star' in the Professional Jeweller 'Hot 100' last year and being featured in Who's Who Britain's Young Business Elite, an accolade of which I’m both proud and grateful.

Other pivotal moments include being nominated for the ‘Women to Watch’ Award; a cultural leadership programme celebrating the achievements of some of the most ambitious and talented women in the cultural and creative industries and being named Vanity Fairs Power List of ‘top 50 influential players in the Luxury Jewellery’ Industry was another breakthrough moment.

It was interesting being approached by Eastern Advisors part of Tiger Management in New York who credited us as having a ‘compelling story.’ This was an affirmation that we are certainly on the right path strategically.

Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?

Our intention is to grow our international traffic and further build a global scalable business and look to bring on Institutional Funding within the next 2 years

Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company

To date elizabethgaltonstudio.com has been privately financed and we are currently in the stages of seeking angel investment to take the business to the next stage of its growth and evolution.

In the past, I successfully secured investment for my first eponymous label in a more untraditional route via the first series of BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

I then subsequently bought out my original Dragon; Duncan Bannatyne after 12 months in favour of an increased investment from a pair of Jersey based angel investors.

Do you believe it is better to find customers then funding or vice versa?

I don’t think you can separate the two. Generally, in order to attract significant funding, you need to have a proven track record in your field of expertise and established sales.

What have you learned the hard way through the fund raising process that you wish someone had told you at the beginning?

Never consider selling the rights to your name or brand when seeking funding.

Get as many opinions on your business plan and projections from experts and analysts

Listen and learn from your detractors, they are your most valuable learning curve.

How would you describe your leadership style today? 

I would consider my leadership style to be visionary and democratic, but as a designer I can also be impulsive and stubborn by nature.

What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor? 

A team is only ever as good as the strategic vision of their leader and without this a business cannot ever hope to achieve its full potential.

Sir Hugh Walpole summed it up when he said ‘Don’t play for safety. It’s the most dangerous game in the World’. Leadership and entrepreneurship aren’t for the faint hearted!

What is one lesson you would like to pass on to other women leaders?

Be practical – execution is more important than theory

Work with young talent – the young are more willing to challenge the norm and pre-conceived ideas

Understand risk and embrace it where it makes sense, rather than viewing it as a negative

Don’t rest on your laurels and don’t be complacent. You are only as good as your last success! (Or as a designer your last collection).

Elizabeth is offering The NextWomen community 10% off a first order of her jewellery. Just go to  elizabethgaltonstudio.com and enter code NXTW0010 at checkout.

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