Kiwi jewellery maker Sonia McManus talks about her debut at New York Fashion week, turning her passion into a business and why she has her eyes set on a US expansion.
What does your business do?
My business is Sonia Therese Design, I am an artisan jewellery maker and hand-make jewellery using sustainable materials and processes, such as recycled silver, copper, brass and resin. I also use ethically sourced gold sourced from rivers here in New Zealand, and I make jewellery that shares wisdom and messages of my ancestors, specifically my Māori ancestors. I did my first market selling jewellery eight years ago but I decided to take this full-time about five and a half years ago.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
The impetus for doing it was the Christchurch earthquakes, specifically because of the amount of material that was going to landfill. The earthquakes were devastating and affected me both personally through many close friends and whānau, and seeing all of the broken materials and broken people made me want to bring some beauty back into the world and show people that even the broken things can be beautiful.
How big is your team?
It's me, myself and I, and I'm selling my jewellery direct online through my own website and through a few stockists. I had 50 stockists nationwide prior to Covid and currently have a couple of stockists in the United States.
What other impacts did Covid and the lockdowns have on your business?
The challenges were many of my wholesale customers, my shops around New Zealand, without the tourism they didn't have a market anymore. Some of them folded and a big portion of my market and revenue disappeared literally overnight. The silver lining to that was it forced me to pivot and focus on my end customer. The blessing in that was that I got to tell the stories of my pieces in an intentional way - it's been a journey because I had to design my website and reimagine how to tell those stories, but it has been the right move.
The other opportunity that came out of Covid, crazily, was an invitation to attend New York Fashion Week. I went to New York in the middle of the pandemic to exhibit and showcase my jewellery on a rooftop in Manhattan. I got an email invitation to apply for one of 10 spaces to participate with this fashion collective. I've had links to the States and been looking to export there and use America as part of my business plan for quite some time so when I got this email - I thought it was a scam initially - I applied and was so happy to be selected. It was an amazing opportunity, and I was willing to take the calculated risk.
What's come out of showcasing your designs at New York Fashion Week?
I was able to leverage off of the event itself and gain some PR and media attention here in New Zealand which resulted in a massive spike in sales. It also got me an invitation to have my work in boutiques in Manhattan. That was big for me as getting product into boutiques in America is not easy. I was also invited to showcase again at New York Fashion Week in February this year, but had to do that virtually as I couldn't attend in person, and there are opportunities now to showcase in additional Fashion Weeks and my jewellery is being showcased in magazines in the States. For me as a creative all of these opportunities have been massive validation of my designs and my aesthetic. Putting Māoridom in my designs on the global stage has been huge as well.
What are your long-term plans?
I'd love to be taking on some staff and training other aspiring creatives to put their own [stamp] on the world. I think there is a massive place for art and creativity, and I'd love to build the business to a point where I can start helping other creatives to build their businesses.
I'm not looking for global domination, but the States is somewhere I have a real affinity towards and I would love to build my business there. There is not really a pathway for creatives into massive markets like the United States, apart from the Amazon channel, so I'd like to find and show the creative community other ways they can do this.
What are you focused on right now?
Building my brand new website is taking up most of my time and I have a new collection coming out hopefully in time for an appearance at Paris Fashion Week in October. There are a few roadblocks to showcasing at the moment and I still have to be vaccinated in order to be able to attend but the opportunity is definitely there, which is what I'm working towards.
What advice do you give others thinking to start their own business?
Make sure that you understand what your passion and your purpose is behind starting the business. Being in business is not an easy road to more free time, so understanding and tapping into your reasons for going into that business is vital. Also, surround yourself with inspiring people who will help you get through when it is tough.