Interview with a founder: Natalie Fitch of Natalie Marie Jewellery on engagement rings, flagship stores and the Meghan Markle effect
If you’re a 20- or 30-something with an Instagram account, it’s likely you’ve laid eyes on one of Natalie Fitch’s designs at least once. More likely, you’ve spied one weekly.
That’s because the Sydney-based jeweller has become the go-to guru for elegant, modern engagement rings and covetable dainty jewellery.
She’s often the first port of call for confused, lovestruck men looking to bend the knee. She’s also the designer behind the delicate rings, necklaces and bracelets most young women put on their wish lists for Christmas, birthday or “just because” gifts.
Never has Fitch’s influence in the fashion world been more evident than in October 2018, when visiting royal Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, chose to wear one of Natalie Marie Jewellery’s earring designs for a day out on her and Prince Harry’s royal tour of Australia.
Here, we speak to Fitch about her game plan for her brand, her genius approach to social media and her key mentors.
J+B: When you started your business, what was the end game? Has it changed?
NF: When I first started NMJ, my goal was just to create. I didn’t have a business plan or a long term vision, I just wanted to make jewellery. My journey with this brand has been a very organic one as a result and the goal posts have continued to move.
Rather than an end goal, the current goal is to continue our growth while ensuring we sustain the core principles and values that have gotten us this far. We are focusing on bettering every aspect of our practise and procedures internally and with our customers, prioritising sustainability in our supply chain and in our studio and maintaining the core ethos that has been the driving force behind the brand from the beginning.
How much has your business grown since its inception? (in terms of staff members, head office size, countries you ship to etc)
The business started with me at my kitchen bench, with a handful of tools that I had collected throughout my time at University. I then moved to our garage, expanded my studio and equipment set up and started to increase my production ability. Three years on, I moved into to a shared studio space and employed my first staff member to help me with production. Fast forward seven years from inception and we have our first flagship store which also houses our extensive studio set up and head office. We have a team of seven jewellers, three retail staff, three admin staff and my husband and I run the business together. We stock with over twenty retailers, have a thriving online store shipping all over the world, and our far reaching bespoke service helps clients from all over the world create one of a kind, custom designed pieces.
Would you say you've "cracked" the international market or do you still feel there's a way to go there?
We have a strong international customer, though predominantly limited to the USA, Canada, UK and Europe currently. We still have a long way to go in terms the global market. Partnering with international retailers such as Farfetch has been beneficial in this regard, in terms of making our product readily available to the Asian and Middle Eastern customer and beyond.
What have been some major milestones in your professional life that have shaped where you are today?
The biggest defining moments have been those in which I have chosen to take a risk in one way or another. I worked full time alongside building the brand for the first four years. This was hugely beneficial as I worked across a variety of industries including architecture, design, fashion buying and retail and absorbed as much information and knowledge as I possibly could to equip myself for what was ahead. The biggest risk and biggest turning point for the business was finally taking the plunge to say goodbye to employment and take this venture on as my full time job. Finally being able to pour all of my energy, time and passion into this work was integral to our growth and development and instigated a rapid and continuous chapter of traction and expansion.
Biggest ‘pinch me’ moment to date?
We recently had a photographer come to document the new flagship store, studio and team. Gathering our team of fifteen for a group photo in our newly custom built retail space was an ultimate pinch me moment. Stepping back and seeing a room full of dedicated, passionate and talented people, who choose to spend their days pouring love and energy into our pieces and our customers was overwhelmingly humbling. Its not often that I get the opportunity to pause and reflect so it was a poignant moment for me in which I felt truly grateful and proud.
If you had to define your overarching strategy in a sentence, what would it be?
To create, maintain and nurture connections with all of the people that we work with day to day. Be it suppliers, customers or anyone that we interact with as a business, we always emphasise the importance of a positive relationship and experience on a core level.
How do you engage with your customers, on social media and in person?
Customer experience and communication is paramount for me. It was one of the hardest transitions for me with the growth of the business, as I went from having one on one contact with every single customer; managing their experience solely and holistically; to handing each stage over to the relevant team members with every level of growth and subsequent increase in volume. Embedding in our team the essence of our core values around customer experience has been integral.
As a company we take great care to engage with our customers with particular care and consideration. The nature of our work is that its extremely personal and often holds sentimental value, not just in the finished product but the experience itself. This is held in high regard in every level of engagement and communication whether that be via social media, email or in store.
What do you think makes your brand special?
There are several elements that set us apart. Our approach as a company is one which puts the customer and their experience at the forefront at all stages, and our environment is one that focuses on transparency and ease. Visiting our showroom is a far cry from your traditional jewellery store experience, we offer a relaxed, comfortable setting which is not sales focused, but where you can talk directly to the jeweller designing your piece and even glimpse the world of production through the glass doors into our studio.
The Natalie Marie aesthetic is unique, combining a minimal style with traditional details and embellishments. Our seasonal collections are a natural evolution of our own design vision, rather than following current trends. Pairing this with our use of ethically sourced, custom cut stones and local materials, our pieces speak their own distinctive language.
What was a mistake you made early on that you learned a lot from?
Early on, I had a difficult time assigning appropriate monetary value to my work. I tended to undervalue and undercharge for fear of negative feedback, and thus undermined my own creative integrity. A big learning curve for me was finding the courage to put value in my own time, work and technical ability and have confidence to present that without doubt.
What was a decision you made that changed your business for the better?
Deciding to partner with my husband Daniel to run the business together was a really positive decision. Dan has had a long career in fashion design and production and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the back end of the Natalie Marie brand.
Who are your mentors?
There have been a couple of really important figures throughout my journey who have offered valued insight and knowledge into the workings of the industry which is usually closely guarded, competitive and secretive. These individuals offered up this support to me purely out of generous spirit and faith which was invaluable to me as a young, inexperienced woman, in a predominantly male dominated industry. I continue to work closely with them and couldn’t have come this far without their guidance and decades of experience to call on.
Can you speak to the Meghan Markle effect? How important is it to get your jewellery on people other people care about?
Meghan has been a wonderful support to NMJ. It’s invaluable to have someone that truly loves and supports the brand wearing our pieces, as this translates very honestly and authentically to our collective following. I think Meghan’s appeal is that she is a very genuine and open individual, who speaks very truthfully and sincerely about all that she supports and backs, and only wears things that she feels personally connected to in a considered sense.
How important is word of mouth advertising for your business?
Word of mouth is everything. Before we ever had a following on social media, or had any support from retail outlets, every customer that came through had been recommended by a previous customer. This is really where the importance of the customer experience was embedded in me as the vital force that it is.
What's your most popular piece?
For our bridal customer, our Signature Solitaire and for our online customer, our Rutilated Quartz ring. These happen to be two of our longest standing designs which we have been manufacturing in our Sydney studio for over five years.