Co-founders Bartozs Wozniack and Sally-Ann Dunn set up their online business Baltic Beauty in 2014 (www.balticbeauty.co.uk), which sells stunning amber jewellery pieces. In a time of disposable fashion, they are dedicated to creating beautiful, one of a kind jewellery that can show off your individuality and last a lifetime. I spoke to them about what inspires them and the challenges – plus joys – of running their own online business.
SR: I wanted to start at the beginning and ask you how you came up with the idea for Baltic Beauty and what made you decide to set up the business?
BW: The way it started really was, I was born in Poland and grew up for the majority of my childhood in Poland so obviously I have strong ties to Poland as a country and the Polish culture and my parents are both Polish. So one of the things that my dad did was start up his own jewellery business in the UK and that inspired us to try and maybe do something for ourselves. Basically, we’ve always been really creative, both of us, I’m a photographer and I’ve been into photography a long time, and Sally is a designer and enjoys writing. So together we have quite a creative set of skills. In 2014, we started our connection to Gdansk, which is the European capital of amber. We went there on a small holiday, we really enjoyed it, being by the sea and the atmosphere. In the town centre we spotted there were loads of shops, stands and stalls selling amber jewellery and we really liked it
SD: It was then that we thought of how it was very strange that amber jewellery isn’t really a thing in the UK, it’s not very popular. It’s mainly the older generation, 40 to 50-year-old women that loved amber. I know my nan absolutely loved amber, and it’s so weird that all this beautiful jewellery just wasn’t really on the market in the UK.
BW: And the younger generation doesn’t really know about amber.
SD: So we decided that we wanted to make that happen in the UK, and promote this beautiful and natural stone to younger people.
BW: That was the idea behind what we wanted to do, then came the time to come up with what we going to call our business, how we were going to run it, the more technical side.
SD: We just started with that idea that we wanted young people to share in the beauty of it.
SR: So how do you balance that very classical material, something that older generations used to wear more, with keeping it contemporary in how you design it?
SD: Yeah that’s quite a tricky one, we try to follow jewellery trends as much as possible and also what people want. More now, it’s a case that people want personal keepsake jewellery, people don’t want to wear just manufactured stuff that has no personality. For example, with Pandora, its stackable and you can have your own charms
BW: So everybody’s Pandora bracelet is different – they have the charms that have meaning to them
SD: It’s all about creating a personality behind the design, we do that with our biography collection, which features symbols and signs, like infinity signs, hearts, hamsa, butterflies that all have a meaning behind the symbol to portray a personality behind the piece and appeal to the younger generation who really like personal accessories. We also try to use Instagram to promote how it can be worn in a modern way, we have a little phrase “Is your style timeless?”, and we create jewellery for the modern women, so we try to pair it with fashionable clothes. It’s very tricky but very rewarding.
BW: We’re trying to create something that wasn’t there before, so our social media and photographs that we take are all about showing how you can wear amber jewellery with a fashionable look. That’s really a lot of what Baltic Beauty is about.
SR: So when you use social media, do you see that as more of a creative expression or do you see it as a way of promoting your business?
BW: Definitely more creative I think.
SD: Its one of the best ways to target younger people, because that’s where they all are, they’re all on social media, tweeting.
BW: It’s definitely not got a business feeling, it’s got a creative feeling
SD: Because it’s not something that people know that they want, you can’t just advertise and expect people to be happy with that, you’re trying to create a community where you’re not just pushing adverts at people.
BW: It’s a difficult balance, when we first started a few years ago we’d never had a business. We started out with more group marketing, infographics, prices, offers deals and that didn’t really work for us. So we tried to analyse why and we decided that approach is great for mainstream jewellery, or people who sell technology, and things people need and know they need. We needed to create a completely new lifestyle, new need and new look.
SR: Could you tell me a little bit about what you both do in the business, do you both come up with designs together or is one more involved in the design side and one in the business side?
Both: It’s very mixed…
BW: We definitely have strengths and we definitely do divide the work to try and be optimal in terms of time because there’s only the two of us.
SD: That’s quite an important thing really because everything Baltic Beauty is and everything we do it’s just the two of us, from marketing photography, the jewellery, modelling.
BW: What I would say, Sally’s definitely more creative than I am.
SD: I’m the brain, you’re the tool (laughs)
BW: Yeah, I think I do a lot of the legwork in terms of things like product photography that can take hours on end and be quite repetitive. Whereas Sally’s a bit more the creative, so product descriptions and outreach to other companies, new ideas and collection design. There is a divide but we do definitely mix it up.
SD: We do everything together.
SR: Do you ever find that you have a conflict between being creative with the designs but also creating something that is commercial and that people will want to buy?
SD: Yeah it’s very challenging. Just the other day I was very confused whether what we were doing was working but it’s always going to be very challenging and there’s conflicts when you’re doing something so novel. Sometimes it can feel like we’re pushing jewellery that’s not wanted but then that’s the beginning of everything. At the very beginning when Pandora started, or any of these odd accessories started, people didn’t know that they wanted them. So it’s just getting it out there and trying to see what people want but then also maintaining integrity and beauty of amber because we’re not a standard fashion brand. We don’t produce fashion jewellery. It’s more like timeless accessories, you buy it once and it lasts you rather than disposable jewellery. It’s difficult because you have to find a balance between making them stylish enough for young people to wear but also encouraging them to keep it forever and have an affinity to it.
BW: It’s really tempting sometimes to stray from our original idea and conform and start creating pieces, like little pendants which weigh a couple of grams that are really thin, stick a tiny poor quality piece of amber in it and sell it en masse for eight pounds. It’s unprofessional to compare to other brands who do that but which a lot of high street fashion shops do, you can walk in and get earrings for three or four pounds. Sometimes it’s tempting from a profitable point of view to go that way.
SD: That kind of thing does sell, but we don’t want to conform to that.
SR: Do you have concerns about the sustainability of using an organic material like amber which can be mined?
BW: Amber was created from tree sap, about 400 millions of years ago, and then the way it becomes the resin that we use is through compression. It gets buried underground, a lot of it under the Baltic sea. The polish Baltic Amber rarely gets mined, usually it’s collected on the shore of the Baltic sea after a storm, there are hotspots that people visit regularly after storms because this tumbles up a lot of it. It washes up on the shore and people will collect it. A large piece of amber depending on its weight and integrity can cost 30 or 40 pounds per gram, which can cost a small fortune.
SD: All of our amber is from the Baltic sea, that’s where it’s sourced.
BW: I know that there are places that mine amber, it often has slightly different properties, and that’s not the amber that we use.
SR: Do you think that the amber from the Baltic sea has the best quality for you and what you want to achieve?
SD: The choice of Baltic Amber was originally based on Bart’s heritage, we have been to a couple of conventions about amber and there is a slight difference in quality, but I don’t know if you can say it’s better or worse.
BW: It’s what we started with and we loved the look of it, something that’s really important to mention is that we never use dyed amber. A lot of big companies, those that mine the amber and modify, add artificial colour so you can get bright red and bright pink, whereas we try to stick to its natural properties and its natural colours.
SR: It does have different natural colours that come out doesn’t it, it’s not just the classic orangey-colour people tend to think of.
SD: Yeah, this is another reason why I think it’s got so much potential for younger people. It’s not just in one colour, if you’re not a big fan of the classic cognac tone we also have white, yellow, green, red. We have dark reds that are like cherry, purple colours. It’s just so versatile. And it’s all just natural variations of amber but also the way that its polished.
BW: Yeah and the way it’s set as well, if we create a pendant which has a solid silver back, it will have a completely different colour and it will react to the light completely differently than if it has an open back. There’s a lot of things you can do to play with the colours, but naturally without actually modifying the stone.
SR: When you design, where do you start gathering your inspiration from?
BW: I think a lot of it is inspired by the natural shapes, we do a lot of floral inspirations, nature inspiration, waves. But we do also look to fashion, I think social media, things like Instagram and Pinterest can’t be underestimated. Fashion shows, Paris fashion week, New York fashion week. I mean, I’ll confess I don’t know anything about fashion; that’s more Sally than me, but I do try to keep on top of it.
SD: The biggest inspiration is definitely the natural ideas. We’ve just got a collection that’s in progress that’s nothing to do with that, and that’s with princess crown settings and was inspired by trends. It’s quite difficult to explain creative process but that was a different one we came up with.
SR: I know you do use Etsy to sell some of your designs, how do you make your products stand out on a platform with so many different designers?
SD: It’s very tricky with Etsy because it’s a marketplace so it spreads out exposure equally between all of the shops and designers.
BW: Even a few years ago it was a bit easier, but since there’s been a new CEO and he’s taken an even more balanced approach, so it’s hard to become dominant even for an established shop, or even one like ours which has made over 1500 sales.
SD: The biggest thing we’ve got is the photography, Bart is a photographer and has been for a long time and he really shows off the jewellery well. Also we try and have stylish graphics, banners and keep up to date with social media and shop updates.
BW: But also I would say customer service as well, although that’s something that’s difficult for us to sell to a potential customer. We have both our phones with us at all times because it’s an online business, we literally offer 24-hour customer service. We will wake up in the middle of the night if we get an email with a customer asking a question or asking for a picture of the back of a pendant and we usually respond to any enquiry at any time within an hour.
SD: Because everything is becoming more online nowadays we’re trying to maintain that personal feel of walking into a shop and being spoiled on your arrival. We want to make it a personal experience, when someone purchases from us we write handwritten notes to say thank you and give them a random fact about amber. We’re just trying to maintain a different shopping experience.
BW: It’s all about maintaining relationships, we’ll try to offer returning customers a discount to tell them we value them.
SR: You use a lot of technology in your business, and with new technologies like 3D printing that are coming out, do you think that will influence what you’re doing or do you want things to be handmade?
BW: At the moment all of our jewellery is handmade and hand finished so we’re not using it at the moment, but we’re definitely keeping an eye on that sort of technology because it’s definitely something we could look into using in the future. It’s something we know other brands are starting to use. So with things like cost of production it’s very relevant.
SD: It’s one of those things you have to maintain a balance with, you have to know about the technology and how you can use it to improve different things, but also we do want to maintain a personal, handmade, authentic natural feel rather than mass-produced. It’s important to know about but also be cautious about as well.
BW: Something that is a big argument for our jewellery, in a lot of our products the silver elements are cast so the silver designs are the same, but every item has an amber piece and there’s no two amber pieces, with the resin, that are exactly the same. You can get a product which is unique, and you’re the only person that has one exactly like that.
SD: We also have a one of a kind collection, which are purely one-off designs and fully handmade. We really want to maintain a personal feeling, to give people the opportunity of wearing something completely unique and completely theirs.
SR: Going back to the idea of uniqueness, with your biography collection, you have different symbols which can reflect individual personalities. If either of you had to pick a symbol that represented you, what would that be?
SD: We did think about this, when we first designed the collection we asked people on our Facebook page and our Instagram what their personalities were if they could pick any symbol.
BW: We took a poll, and based on a lot of the answers we based our collection.
SD: I’m not sure [to Bart] I think you’re a sun.
BW: Yeah, I’m quite a positive person so I always try to look for the positive in anything and infect others with my positivity, so yeah I think I’m a sun. [to Sally] I don’t know what you are but you do always wear the butterflies.
SD: I am obsessed with butterflies, but that’s like a transformation thing.
BW: Yeah, but you’re always looking for improvement and to better yourself.
SD: Yeah, I’ll go for a butterfly then.
SR: You guys are both Exeter University Alumni, do you have any advice you would share with current Exeter students who are thinking of setting up their own creative business?
BW: I definitely have. This is something that I say to everyone who is thinking about going to university, is at university. It is so much more than going for the academic side. For me, it was just a wealth of opportunity, from networking with people from such a wide range of backgrounds, people from different countries, cultures and who have different talents. The multitude of societies, sport. It cannot be underestimated how much opportunity there is at university, with thousands and thousands of likeminded people of a similar age, who are often very talented. In terms of anyone with a business idea, look at university as just a fountain of opportunity because that’s kind of what we did. We gained so much more than just a degree.
SD: We would never have been able to set up [Baltic Beauty] without the opportunity of university because we came up with the idea while we were in first year. It gave us that time as well I think.
BW: Yeah it gave us insight into people of our age group, there were societies where we could get inspiration and speak to people. It really, really can’t be underestimated what a powerful tool it is.
SD: We never expected Baltic Beauty to work as well as it did, and we kind of started it as a hobby.
BW: Yeah it was a bit of a part time, maybe we can make a bit of pocket money. That was the idea.
SD: It’s a big argument for trying new things. Try anything you can at Uni because you never know something you try, you might absolutely love, and that might be a better career path for you than the one you thought with your degree
BW: No one ever sees entrepreneurship and starting up a small business as a career path. People always look at a careers as like a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher, the sort of classic things.
SD: I studied Biology and Bart studied Law.
BW: Yeah so our career paths would have been a lawyer and a researcher. But we are looking at this baby that we’ve created as our career path, we’re striving to improve it and its part of our lives now.
SD: And that was purely through just giving it a go.
BW: Yeah, so the best advice is probably just give it a go.
SD: Whatever, just wing it.
– Sarah Roberts
All images used in this article are taken by Bartozs Wozniack.