Last week I spoke to Emma Cahill, founder and owner of Emma Cahill Jewellery. She describes her designs as “spooky jewellery for spooky babes”. The modernism and innovativeness of her processes stands out; the spiders and skulls, her 3D modelling software, and her hallmarking generated from Dublin castle. Her Instagram page is littered with webs, wings and the colour black – it is art of the grunge aesthetic.
Cahill studied in Colaiste Dhulaigh, where she prepared her design portfolio, and later went to the National College of Art and Design to study metalwork and history of art. “I grew up in Dublin. I’ve always had an interest in being creative and learning new skills, when I was younger I always entered the Art and Hobby shop art competitions.” Her creativity stemmed from a young age: “I used to go to beaded jewellery classes so the interest in jewellery was always there, I think it was something that came from my parents being so encouraging and bringing me to museums also.”
After NCAD, Cahill moved to London to do a master’s degree in Design from Central Saint Martins, and jewellery was the route she intended to follow. “I just fell in love with the materiality, jewellery can last a lifetime and I love the sentimentality it holds”. When in London, Cahill worked for a major online retail company and spoke fondly of the work. She developed her design skills, but envisioned her own collection. “When Covid hit, I was lucky enough to still be working, but had a lot more time on my hands, so I decided to focus on making a small collection of pieces”. Anyone who works with their hands understands the calling to craft and Cahill uses its physicality to harvest tranquillity. “Whenever I felt anxious or my brain was going a million miles a minute, I always tried to shift my focus to my jewellery designs.”
“Starting the business is something I’ve always wanted to do. I just never had the time or confidence to get started.”
Cahill left her job in the UK and returned home to Dublin with her fiancé in November 2020. “We missed our friends and family so with everything going on with the pandemic, we thought it was a good time to move. I decided it was the right time for me to start my small business.” She spoke about her family’s encouragement: “starting the business is something I’ve always wanted to do. I just never had the time or confidence to get started. Once I made my collection during lockdown, I thought: right, if I do not do it now, I will never do it. I think being in lockdown gave me the kick in the ass I needed to just try it. My family are so supportive and have always encouraged me.”
Establishing a brand online is challenging in this decade, especially with multiple businesses competing on the same social platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but Cahill explained the support she received. “The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland have great free webinars covering a wide range of topics, I’ve found them very helpful, and you get to know different Irish Designers. I also did the Start Your Own Business course with Enterprise Ireland, which was virtual and so helpful, it covered everything you need to know to get started, and I met other business owners! It was great to have that support.” Cahill uses Etsy to sell her rings, necklaces, and earrings, and with 60.27 million buyers as of 2020 on the platform, it’s not a bad place to start. “They make it so easy for you to get your shop set up. The customer sees your work when they actively look for products. There are some fees, but very small, I would recommend it to anyone with handmade products.”
I asked about the designs specifically, authentically sketched by Cahill. “I’m drawn to a darker, more spooky aesthetic and a lot of people I follow on Instagram have that same interest,” she said. “It’s a niche market filled with some amazing creatives and I think it’s really important to know your customer when designing a collection.” Cahill also mentioned the fascinating process she uses to model pieces. “I design all my pieces myself, I then model them using a digital 3D software and send them off to my supplier in The Netherlands to be 3D printed in wax, cast in silver and finished.” Her silver comes from the 3D printing suppliers, and she supplies chains from a jewellery wholesaler. “I get my jewellery hallmarked in Dublin Castle’s Assay Office, it’s a quality guarantee that all my pieces are 100% sterling silver.”
“Know your customer, It is so important to know who you are designing for, what they like, what other brands they buy, what is important to them.”
Cahill offered some advice to students, looking to lay foundations for their own small businesses. “Know your customer! It is so important to know who you are designing for, what they like, what other brands they buy, what is important to them, and so on”. She suggested making a mood-board, gathering statistics if you can and getting to know the market. “Identify where the gaps in your knowledge are; what you need to know to make your business work. I knew I needed to learn the practical, business side of things so I did the Enterprise Start Your Own Business course.”
She reflected on what makes small businesses so special: “When I see how much a customer loves a piece of jewellery I’ve made for them, it makes me so happy that I can create something they love, especially if it’s a gift. Jewellery can last forever, and it holds so much sentiment. It’s so rewarding to be a part of that.” Often social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, perpetuate cliché images, songs, beats, dances, trends. So it is beyond refreshing to listen to the authenticity of Cahill’s inspirations and grunge aesthetic designs, however spooky they may be.