The Interview: Carrie Dennahy, Founder of Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery
In 2015 Carrie Dennahy took the bold decision to cast off her successful corporate buying role and set up her own e-commerce brand.
Six years on and the leap has proved to be well-worth the risk, with the Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery business booming thanks to a growing list of customers, including high-profile celebrity clients, who are drawn to its uniquely designed pieces and ethos.
Launched to fill a perceived gap in the market for beautiful, ethically-crafted jewellery, at an affordable price point, the brand is powered by Carrie, who together with her small and agile team, are adept at responding to changing customer demands and today’s challenging market conditions.
Please tell us a little more about your background?
I have always loved fashion and accessories, in particular jewellery, and always had a curiosity and love for the business side of retail too. I worked as a buyer for a number of leading high street retailers for over ten years and loved this experience and learnt a lot.
My final role was buying for a big jewellery retailer which allowed me to travel the world and work with suppliers internationally. I really started to understand the business of jewellery. I also looked at consumer trends, and I saw a real need for the jewellery space to offer a more affordable option for unique, well-crafted, beautiful jewellery. I knew it was possible to create something stunning yet more affordable in an ethical way, so I started to plan Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery.
I was able to use the contacts and knowledge I had built over my years as a buyer which have been crucial to setting out on my own.
Did you always have hopes of setting up your own brand?
Yes, I always had huge aspirations and hopes of where my future lay. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and had a vision of running my own company and travelling the world. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of owning my own business and the freedom this would afford me; the freedom to travel, to choose my own hours and place of work and above all the freedom to create beautiful products. I often spoke of my dreams and friends and colleagues would say: “Yes Carrie wouldn’t that be wonderful in an ideal world”.
I think I have unwavering belief in myself though, a belief instilled in me from a young age when my mum told me I could do anything and be anything I wanted.
I have always followed my instincts and when an opportunity presents itself I have had to be quite fearless and take risks. My career has evolved naturally by following this journey.
What inspired you to “take the leap” into self-employment?
Knowing that I can map out my own future was definitely a strong instinct I had and had to run with that. I knew the rigidness and limits of a 9-5 job would not be my forever plan.
I also knew I had to be the master of my own ship and that work at a long-standing establishment isn’t guaranteed anymore. I think this is something many young people feel and even more since the pandemic hit.
What was your biggest fear?
The fear I had was losing the support and spirit of a team and colleagues. I struggled with the loneliness of setting up on my own. I had to quickly learn coping mechanisms and ways to structure my day. I now have a mentor who has been a huge help with guiding me and helping me manage the tough times as a founder and leader. Plus, I have a strong and supportive team around me and I find a lot of comfort in that.
What are your brand’s main USPs and why?
I think more than anything it’s the personal connection I have built with the Carrie Elizabeth community. Jewellery is a really meaningful part of someone’s wardrobe and I love hearing from our customers about how my pieces have given them strength to face challenges in their lives or how a piece has such huge sentimental meaning to them.
It is this personal side of the business that makes a customer feel like they are part of something bigger than just an online purchase. The whole experience and the engagement across social following your purchase means we can be part of our customers journey and the product comes to life, meaning so much more to them.
What was the early response to the brand?
I was so scared on the day of launch when the site opened for business. When the orders started coming through, I felt amazing. I’ll never forget it. I knew I had a clear customer in my mind and that they would love what we offered – it just felt right.
There was also an incredible moment that happened very early on in when I launched the business that felt magical and hugely encouraging. Not long after starting the brand I got a call asking me to show Kate Moss the collection. There I was in Kate Moss’ house showing her my designs, it was a complete pinch me moment. Kate chose some pieces and that really catapulted my brand and gave me the belief and the confidence to aim high. Following this, I then had the platform to talk to retailers and also to start to build my social media presence and following.
How has the brand evolved over the years?
In the first year of launch I did every function of the business on my own from my living room. I now have a team of nine women working across the business and I outsource fulfillment. The brand ethos and culture was clear from my first hire and remains the same.
What are the key pieces in the range and why?
- Engraved locket with diamond detail – one of the original pieces of the collection and something that holds a lot of meaning. You can choose the letter that is engraved on the front (this might be your own or someone you love) and it is a functional locket so that you can keep a tiny photo or memento close to your heart. A lot of people choose this as their first piece from the collection
- The simple star set diamond band is everything that our brand is about. Beautiful, affordable, luxury – a timeless piece – we offer it in 14k gold vermeil, sterling silver, 9k solid gold, 14k solid gold.
- Our gemstones – I love gemstones both for their colour and lustre but also their deeper meaning. Gemstones have special powers unique to each one that help us to face the daily challenges in our lives.
- Anything with a vintage feel – my current favourite is our Ethereal Halo Ring in Emerald & Diamond. Vintage treasure hunting is a passion of mine and I love introducing vintage inspiration into our main collection.
How is the business performing?
We are a multi-million-pound turnover business which has grown over 100% year on year and in 2020, over 150%. We were really fortunate to see significant growth throughout 2020 and as an e-commerce brand we have been in a good position to continue selling during this difficult year. Therefore, it’s important to us to give back financially and also use the brand as a place to share messages that are important to myself and the team through charity partnerships.
What trends and demands do you expect to drive the brand’s future direction?
We track consumer and fashion trends but also know who we are as a brand. Our pieces are unique to Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery and the fundamental vision will never change. We will continue to add to collections and listen to our customers. We launched a new Wedding collection this month, following requests and feedback from our customers on many of our rings that they would love to see in solid gold. We will always be true to the customer and so to keep checking in with them through feedback and social media is crucial to our growth.
Can you describe your most rewarding moment?
I love that my team all work remotely and flexibly (even before the pandemic) as I believe that building a culture that works for your employees’ lives is crucial. When we do come together for regular team meet-ups, that’s when I feel most proud.
Seeing an amazing team of women working on something we’ve all built together. Plus seeing that we all share the passion and vision for the brand is an incredible feeling and I pinch myself that this is a reality I have built; not just for myself but for my team.
How does your company ethos of flexible and remote working benefit the brand?
Having come from a corporate background I knew the structure and limitations of a rigid working day didn't necessarily make for the best results. It was clear the workforce was not happy. They were missing school pick-ups, doctors' appointments and the opportunity to build their own self happiness outside of work.
When I set up my company, I have been clear that remote working is the norm and flexibility is a given. My company has grown to a multi-million-pound business in five years with a dedicated, loyal and happy team who work their own hours in their own environment. They work the way that best suits them and I trust them. The proof is in the pudding!
This ethos must see you well-placed during the first and current lockdown?
Yes, as a team that always worked in this way our communication channels, work-flow and efficiency didn’t change at all when the first lockdown hit. We saw an uplift in sales due to people shopping more online and so had to act quick operationally and also the content I shared across social media had to be more frequent and considered. I really wanted to keep checking in with our customers and the community; we built even more engagement during this time as people wanted the connection and as a brand we were lucky we had built this trust and rapport prior to the pandemic.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted on operations?
It was daunting at first. I felt so lucky to have a small agile team that could act quickly. Our supply chain in India was affected and so we were unable to get more stock for a period of time. However, we reacted to this by working creatively with the stock we had and then planning effectively for the busy Christmas period once our supply base was back up and running.
Delivery times were also affected. We communicated these clearly to our customers and made sure we were transparent about how we were managing our fulfillment and what they could expect when ordering.
Where is the brand currently available and are there any plans to expand?
You can buy the collections at our site Carrieelizabeth.co.uk. We love selling direct to consumer only and this feels like the right strategy for the foreseeable future.