Rosie Fortescue talks empowering women, business during COVID and her jewellery brand’s fifth birthday

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  • Rosie Fortescue is the definition of a ‘boss woman’, taking her hard-earned savings and investing it into her dream, Rosie Fortescue Jewellery.

    It was a risk, and it has certainly paid off, with it clear from the get-go that Rosie Fortescue lives and breathes her brand, and loves what she does.

    The luxury demi-fine jewellery brand is known for its bright colours and accessibility, with the Instagrammable pieces being a firm favourite among celebrities and influencers.

    As with every business across the world, RFJ has had to pivot during the uncertainty of COVID, but with her hard work, determination and sheer love for the job, Rosie explains that ‘there was never an option to fail’.

    As the brand celebrates its fifth birthday this week, RFJ is launching a stunning new collection of colourful tennis bracelets and necklaces. In a word, they’re gorgeous – and if a piece of jewellery is destined to bring you joy over these turbulent times, it will be one of these.

    Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers, shaping the future for us all, and Rosie Fortescue and her determination to do what she loves and empower the women around her is that in a nutshell.

    Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the wonderful Rosie ahead of the anniversary to talk jewellery staples, how COVID changed her business and what we can all expect from the new fifth birthday collection…

    How have the past few months been for Rosie Fortescue Jewellery?

    It’s been crazy, but I’m so lucky that the business has kept going and the sales have been really good. I think people have really been online shopping – they are considering their sales a lot with smaller businesses and there’s been so much more customer interaction. It has kept me sane – I’m so lucky that I love what I do, otherwise I think I would have just gone mad. I mean, this brand is my baby – I feel like it’s my first-born child and I work so hard on it. I actually only have one employee (she’s amazing and she literally loves the brand), so it’s a lot of work. But, I didn’t start this just to be a bit of fun, I started this to be what I’m going to do for life, so there was no way (if I could help it) that I would just let it go.

    How did Rosie Fortescue Jewellery initially come about?

    I have always been a magpie for as long as I can remember and would always try on my mum’s rings. It’s weird, when I was on Made in Chelsea, I always used to get asked by magazines, ‘What’s your favourite body part?’ They expected people to say, ‘Oh I love my boobs’ or ‘I love my bum’, and I always used to answer: ‘I love my hands’. I’ll just be honest, I’ve got really nice hands. I always have cool manicures and I always dress my hands. It makes business a lot easier too because we shoot on my hands all the time and we don’t have to outsource and spend money on hand models. I notice and read a lot into people’s hands, I find them super interesting and for me, jewellery has always been my love.

    Rosie Fortescue Jewellery

    How did you turn it into a business?

    I started it five years ago and I live and breathe it. I’ve actually never studied jewellery design – I did a degree in History of Art and I draw like a five-year-old, but I’ve got all the ideas and I understand the maths side of the sizing of everything, so I just kind of make it work with the factories. One of them asks for very simple drawings and the other literally does cad drawings from my really crappy sketches. I am across absolutely everything – for me that was the only way to get my business off the ground and start making money. Also, that way you can learn everything and nothing can happen without you knowing. I was just really focused on making it work and getting past the first year, then the second and then the third because there’s such a small percentage of brands that even get through year three. I mean, I work like a dog, but I genuinely feel really fortunate to do a job that I love.

    Were you forced to adapt over COVID?

    I managed to launch a new collection during lockdown, which was crazy. I use two different factories and both of them closed for periods of time during COVID. Our main factory emailed us three weeks before it closed for two and a half months – and it would normally take 8 weeks to make all the stock! Anyway, despite the three weeks notice, they said they would turn around the stock for us which was amazing. To be honest, I’m just super grateful because I have so many friends with businesses that have found it really difficult. I think I was quite lucky in that I really didn’t focus on wholesale. Obviously none of the stores are buying so that has really affected other businesses. I just really pushed online and interaction with customers, making it personal and showing people what we get up to in our offices. Now, I’m just really working ahead. I’ve already got my samples sorted for my collections next year. It’s just so hard to know what situation this is going to turn into for us and if there will be another lockdown, so I guess the most I can do in this situation is to be extra ahead and planned for every eventuality.

    Gold Rainbow Tennis Bracelet. Rosie Fortescue Jewellery

    How are you celebrating the brand’s 5th birthday?

    So, we have launched an Instagram filter – it’s got a rainbow pastel border, kind of like a polaroid – it’s super cute. I also launched some GIFs last week, we had a rainbow cake delivered to the office that we shot outside with balloons, and then of course we’ve got the new collection. It’s tennis necklaces and bracelets in rainbow and pastel pink – real key pieces for us at the moment, with the original collection being the one we launched over lockdown. Then, we’ve also done emerald cut rings and earrings in the pastel pink, but I am just obsessed with these tennis bracelets and necklaces. Choosing a favourite piece is like choosing between my children, but I think it would have to be the new tennis pieces. They are just so fun, feminine and chic – they just really feel like the brand and are perfect for the birthday launch.

    What are your personal jewellery rules?

    I used to be a real gold girl – I never really mixed and matched the metals, but when I started my brand I realised how fun it was not to be stuck in your ways or have one style. I don’t really have rules for myself, I just wear the vibe of the day and dress for how I’m feeling. Some days I will feel super feminine and wear all rose gold, yesterday I was wearing cute pastel blue and today I am wearing my new charm hoops that are burger and chips. It just depends on the vibe of the day. I would never plan my jewellery in advance, I just get up and see how I feel. Today, that’s burger and chips.

    What has been your biggest challenge?

    I mean, COVID has probably been the biggest challenge, but also just learning on the job every day. Whether it’s to do with the accounting, new stone options with our factories or trade marking, every day is a challenge because something will happen and I will have to learn something new about business. I also want to learn everything – I want to know everything that’s going on. You could call it being a natural business woman, but you could also call it being obsessive and unable to let go.

    Do you find it hard to achieve a balance between work and your personal life?

    I think I used to. I only got my first office about two and a half years ago, and before then I was working from home which is difficult because there’s no line between work and home life. Now, we work in the office 9 to 5 and I really love being there during the day. I always take a bit of work home and sit at my kitchen table doing emails or Instagram, but I don’t see it as a challenge. The tricky part is customer service because people can expect responses on the weekend. They’ll email at 10pm on a Friday night about an exchange and by Saturday night, you’ve got another email asking why you haven’t replied. It’s the weekend and you’re not speaking to ASOS – I’m glad you think I’m as big as ASOS but I’m not. I do sacrifice a lot – most evenings and weekends – but I mean, I could be doing a job that I absolutely hate. This is my dream so I am happy to put in the graft.

    When were you bravest?

    I think the bravest thing I’ve ever done was probably believing in myself enough to start the brand in the first place and to put the money in that I had earned. It was all my own money and it was a risk to take with my savings. It wasn’t borrowed from a business loan or anything – it literally came out of my pocket and I had worked hard for it, so in my head there has never been an option to fail. From the beginning, I was like ‘I will make this work, I will put in the hours and I will bloody do everything I can do’.

    What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

    The best advice is to do what you love and you’ll love what you do. I know it’s difficult to say, ‘Oh just do something that you love’ – it doesn’t always work that way, but I am lucky to genuinely absolutely love what I do. I love coming to the office everyday and feeling inspired. Follow your passions.

    Silver Emerald Cut Hoops with Light Pink Stones. Rosie Fortescue Jewellery

    What is your mantra?

    To believe in yourself, be a girl boss and own it. I’m not the most confident person ever but you don’t have to be. You can be humble, quietly have a business that is doing well, take each day as it comes and just really enjoy yourself. I’m not very competitive and I don’t add pressure by comparing myself to others. Focus on your brand and your own personal journey, as opposed to focusing on others. I think it’s so easy to compare yourself to other people these days, but it’s never going to make you feel good.

    Have you ever felt discriminated against?

    At the start I did feel as if people were like, ‘Oh really? You’re going to have your own business?’ There were a lot of ‘Oh really?’s at the beginning, but I think the only way you can prove people wrong is by showing your hard work, growing and continuing to do well. I guess only down the line is how you prove people wrong.

    What is something you would like to change for women?

    I would like for women to have the courage to ask for more. I want for it to be a normal thing to do. I feel like we shouldn’t be scared to ask for more, we shouldn’t be nervous in the workplace and we shouldn’t feel like the underdogs. I would like for all women to feel like boss women. I think it’s so fed to us that we’re lesser humans than men and it’s so promoted in the press that we aren’t equal – it’s engrained into us. You’ll go into an office and think ‘Oh there’s my senior – he’s a man’. And actually, if amazing women doing this, that and the other were promoted in the press more, we could make real change.

    How can we all ask for more?

    I think it’s really important to never have regrets in life. So, if you’re in a position where you need to ask your boss for more or you want to find out how you’re doing, as difficult as that looming conversation is, you’re going to feel amazing once you’ve had it. Plus, you’ll know either way. Are you going to progress in this career and get to where you want to be? If the answer is no, well great. You’ve found out, as opposed to not knowing and putting off the conversation for another year. So, I think it’s just really important to believe in yourself enough to have that conversation, no matter how awkward you think it could be – and it is awkward and difficult to say that you deserve more. It’s tricky but I think the more frequently the conversation is had, the easier it will get and the less of a taboo it will be.

    Let’s talk inspirations…

    I love listening to podcasts for inspiration. Everyone should listen to the ‘How I Built This’ episode with Sara Blakely, the founder and owner of Spanx. Oh my god. She owns 100% of Spanx still and she’s the first female American billionaire. She is literal girlboss inspo – she’s amazing. I love being inspired by other people’s ups and downs and just the honest truth about brands and building businesses. I just find it so fascinating and her interview in particular really touched me.

    How do you celebrate success?

    I do treat myself to the odd thing. I bought some rainbow shoes from Chanel the other day because I felt like it was just meant to be. I think it’s important to treat yourself, and if I’ve had a rough few weeks, I will be like, ‘You’ve worked and grafted for these – now get back into the office and everything will be OK’. I think it’s also important to give yourself the night off and just listen to your body – If you feel like you need to go out and be with friends and not work one evening, then go and do it. Just stopping and spending an evening with my sister for example – that’s a treat in itself.

    What will you never compromise on?

    I will never compromise on quality, creating amazing pieces that people can wear and enjoy, and in business I will never compromise on my thoughts and visions. I think you always have to trust your gut.

    Rosie Fortescue Jewellery

    What has been your proudest moment?

    My proudest moment was about two and a half years ago. Olivia Palermo went to an event with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in New York and she was wearing my hand cuff. It was a complete surprise and another jewellery brand that are super lovely messaged me on Instagram to tell me. I remember being on the bus on my way to a meeting with the Tom Ford beauty girls, who thank God are like friends and really sweet because I was crying with happiness to them. It was just the way she was really showing the hand cuff off – it was amazing. It just makes those late nights and all the hard work worth it.

    What could we all achieve if we supported each other?

    If we supported each other, we could all achieve all of our dreams. We could all help each other to learn and achieve whatever we wanted.

    Visit Rosie Fortescue Jewellery to shop the new collection and find out more.

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