Vanilla Ink: Making Jewellery Work

As jewellery design collective Vanilla Ink prepare to exhibit for the first time at the International Jewellery London show, we speak to founder Kate Pickering about building a network for emerging creatives

Feature by Jessica Campbell | 02 Sep 2013

In the heart of the Dundee’s industrial quarter hides Vanilla Ink, a creative community committed to nurturing the fresh and exciting jewellery designers of tomorrow. Vanilla Ink offers so much more than a jewellery design course. They believe that the difference between having a dream and making it a reality is understanding the market, and to be successful it is important for a designer to discover where they belong within their industry. Unfortunately, by only focusing on creative practice, many university courses fail to provide industry insight or teach business skills. This makes it increasingly difficult for young designers to establish themselves independently and take their first step on the professional ladder. Having experienced this lack of guidance first hand, Kate Pickering set up Vanilla Ink to help fellow jewellery design graduates find their way and make their mark in very a competitive industry.

"I graduated in 2007 from Jewellery and Metalwork," she says. "As with most graduates, I returned home and tried to plan my life as a jeweller. Turns out it was a lot more difficult than I thought. Having never been prepared for the outside world I felt lost, and missed the support of my peer group within university. I tried seeking advice from the usual business hotspots, but as soon as they see a creative coming they start hyperventilating."

After completing a Masters in design and gaining a new set of skills, Pickering was feeling more confident about venturing out in to the industry again. However, the same apprehension that followed graduation still lingered, and she began to wonder if other jewellers felt the same. With this in mind, she spent a few years researching and talking about the concept of creating a business that would help jewellery designers like herself bridge the gap between education and industry. With the encouragement of the Cultural Enterprise’s Starter for 6 Programme, Pickering began putting this business plan in to action, and in 2009, Vanilla Ink was established.

With the motto ‘Making Jewellery Work,’ Vanilla Ink provides expert one-to-one mentoring, tailored business advice and support for their designers. Pickering describes it as "a space where they [jewellery designers] can think about how to put their learning into practice but still in a supportive environment," with the aim of enhancing the jewellery designers’ skills and knowledge, and providing the time to find their feet. This friendly environment creates opportunities for collaboration and instantly forms an essential network of like-minded creatives.

The first set of Vanilla Ink designers has just completed their year-long journey with great success. "It has been a really interesting process watching the Inkers for the past year," Pickering explains. "They have focus and a drive to succeed and their confidence has grown incredibly. They have refined their practice and carved a path for themselves and I am really excited to see what they do in the coming years."

With the Vanilla Ink designers (Audrey Reid, Filipa Oliveira, Joanne MacFadyen, Leanne Evans, Robin Bell, Ruth Morrison, Sally-Anne Fenton, Scarlett Erskine and Victoria Kelsey) having already achieved industry awards and funding while having their work featured on established fashion blogs, stockists and in magazine and newspaper features, their future looks very promising.

Having grown attached to her first set of ‘Inkers,’ Pickering explains why it will be hard to let them go: "They have shaped the programme and helped me to build it to what it is now. I will be forever grateful for their support but they will be happy to know that they played an integral part to Vanilla Ink."

Before embarking on their own encouraging career paths, The 2012/13 Vanilla Ink designers will be showcasing their hard work at the prestigious IJL (International Jewellery London – Britain's largest jewellery trade show) in early September. Pickering describes the journey from the beginning of the programme to ending at IJL has been a "rollercoaster." With the support of the Dundee community and other unexpected areas, Vanilla Ink were able to crowdfund their way to IJL. Showing at IJL will be an exciting yet worthy challenge, especially as it will be the first for the ‘Inkers.’ 

"Go big or go home!" jokes Pickering. "It will be a great platform to showcase their new careers within the jewellery industry and could not have come at a better time. It is daunting but we have each other to support us."

Later in September, the first set of ‘Vanilla Inkers’ will be holding their End of Year Show back at home in Dundee. "We can’t wait for our End of Year Show," Pickering says. "Plans are beginning to take shape and it is open for the public to attend – that’s who it is for. The Inkers have been in the space for a year, and it’s now time to showcase what they have been up to in that time. IJL is great exposure for us, but we are very keen to bring that back to Scotland and go a bit wild." 

The show opens on 13 September with a monochrome, jewellery-packed frenzy of catwalk shows, an exhibition of the Inkers work and a pop-up shop. The event will be open daily from 10am-6pm until 17 September.

As Pickering says goodbye to her first set of Inkers she will soon be welcoming in her new, exciting crop of talent for 2013/14. "We have just completed the interview process for the new Vanilla Inkers. We had 18 interviewees and we have to cut it down to just 8. It is a tough decision but we are looking for individuals that show determination, dedication and an openness to keep learning. And beautiful jewellery helps of course." 

With the new Inkers waiting in the wings, Pickering says she is looking forward to "a new challenge." She explains: ‘"The thing with Vanilla Ink is that it will never stand still, there is no formulaic plan, it has to be able adapt and change to it’s surroundings. The new group is very different to the first and I think that is going to be the case every year. That’s what excites me."

With their innovative programme and ideals, Vanilla Ink is leading the way for other creative industries. With the importance of teaching young creatives business skills and offering the support needed to succeed at the core of its ethos, Vanilla Ink is destined to prosper and create industry professionals of the future.

End of Year Show, 13 Sep, WASPS Meadow Mill, Dundee

For more information on their End of Year Show and to hear about the new 'Inkers' follow Vanilla Ink at: