Moldavian Kiwi Cristina Figursky, designer and founder of Wild Wagon, talks building a jewellery company online, how her early beginnings in business centred around paper and what it's like dealing in precious gemstones.
What does your business do?
Wild Wagon started as greeting cards but it has evolved into a jewellery business. I plan and design jewellery pieces for my collections, and the other side of the business which I am working to grow is offering bespoke pieces for clients who want something special. My collections that retail online are mostly plated silver with gemstones and the bespoke offering is mainly gold, diamonds, platinum and precious gemstones.
The business started towards the end of 2020. The plan was to launch at the beginning of 2020 but because of the Covid lockdowns everything was delayed. We relaunched the website after the second lockdown in August 2020 and I had the first collection out.
Where are you from originally?
I'm from Moldova originally, a tiny little place in Eastern Europe. At age 15 I moved to the US on my own to do an exchange student programme, but I ended up staying for six so I bounced around a little bit and then went back to Moldova, and then from there I emigrated here to Auckland. The year 2022 is going on our eight year here.
What was the motivation for starting it?
My background is in fine arts, that's what I did in the US. I was living with a couple of artists, one side was ceramicists, the other was painters and together they blew glass, so I was. One flatmate was sitting on the university board, one was in ceramics, one was an art teacher so I was very much surrounded by art and galleries and openings and shows, and when I moved back to Moldova there was not much of that going on.
I had always wanted to put my drawing skills into a different medium, so when we moved to New Zealand that was my platform to start producing stationery goods. For the first couple of years I would illustrate greeting cards, gift wrapping paper, journals and then get them made so that was beginning; putting pen to paper and figuring out how do you make a product, even if it is a folded piece of paper, and going into sourcing and figuring out all of the backend of that. So I did that for a few years and then it slowly started shifting internally for me, I think it was year three or four and we took a big trip back to the US and Europe and when we got back I got pregnant with Leo and it was around that time that I was feeling internally that I was to shift things. During that trip I had a loose diamond from our wedding and when we went back home my mum's friend runs a jewellery studio so I designed a ring for myself to set the diamond in, and that was my first experience in designing and that really stuck with me, so I took the leap.
I did some classes at what used to be called the Peter Minturn Jewellery School up until my due date, then had Leo and slowly started working on sourcing things, taking things apart to put them back together. Slowly I gained more knowledge in the industry and met more people and it evolved from there. To me, jewellery is like sculptures on a smaller scale.
What's your current focus right now?
I'm working to grow the bespoke arm of the business. I'm wanting to show more of the twist I have on bespoke, which comes with having more opportunities, clients, building their trust to let me go a little bit more wild with designs. Bespoke is growing, I only started offering it in July last year and now I have a local jeweller to work with.
Ideally, I want to be designing a couple of collections each year in a retail shop, and be able to focus mostly on bespoke clients and working with a team of goldsmiths.
How big is your team?
It's just me, with a helping hand with my husband here and there, alongside the jeweller.
The business is e-commerce based - do you plan to expand into traditional retail also?
I'm selling online direct to clients right now and I'm looking at getting a couple of boutiques to stock our products. I'm also considering maybe offering some of the bespoke pieces for display but as of how things are currently, I'm not looking into having our own space just yet - playing it safe for now.
How are you getting your name out there?
I started working with a PR agency last year, I can't say it has been very successful. Because we are still self-funded I have to be really cautious of how we distribute and cashflow so I've been reaching out to people myself, and gifting pieces to influencers with an active following and engaged audience. Word of mouth I hope is where our exposure picks up once I start making more bespoke pieces.
How do you envision the business in five to 10 years time?
Big goals, I'd love to make big statement pieces, work with really unique stones and cuts, and push more into the art world to create a bridge between jewellery and art. My internal drive is to give back. I haven't figured out a way to do that yet but I'm thinking long term I'd like to be involved with charities and organisations that enables to give back to the future generation. Moldova is full of orphanages and since becoming a mother I've become hyper aware of how important those first years of life are and how much is lacking - even in New Zealand, on the poverty and mental health levels. To give back and make a difference is my personal mission through Wild Wagon; to use it as a base for beautiful things but at the core contribute to give back to children.
What's been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?
Sometimes it has been knowing what the next step is, a lot of time it comes down to the "chicken or the egg" thing or Catch-22s - especially when you are self-funded. I have people now that give me advice and a business mentor. I've never had issues with the creative or concept side, it has come down to struggling to put the cogs in the right places and making sure they work. I don't have a business degree so everything i have done until now is learning as I go but it gets to a point where eventually you will need a helping and an extra pair of ears to create the right motion and offer advice.
What advice do you give to others looking to start their own venture?
Any challenge is an opportunity to learn. Keep pushing through your failures - failure is just an opportunity to learn. Most people who succeed learn to work through failures. Have a good support system around you.