AztecCity – Vintage and Artisan Handmade Jewelry

Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…

I consider myself an artist, as I came from an arts background, but also love the crafting aspect and would like to continue to learn more about the more technical aspects of jewelry making – there is always something new to learn! I got started after doing a degree in Fine Art (as a mature student) and then having a child straight afterward. I wanted to keep the art going, so starting looking for opportunities in illustration and graphic design. So I did that for a few years, and sometime during that period discovered eBay, and decided to sell some of my collection of antique jewelry, which I had accumulated after years of visiting a local antique market. I was amazed at how much interest there was in the jewelry! I fell in love with the design elements of certain periods, like Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and also the Retro period of the 30s and 40s. At the same time I started to make jewelry, so had a mixture of Antique, Vintage and Artisan jewelry on sale.

How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?

I had heard of Etsy and loved it, but there was so much great stuff on there and at the time my skills were minimal, so I had doubts about putting anything on there! But I put a few things on Etsy, not expecting much, and within a few weeks had a sale. Then a few more sales, so I started putting more Artisan jewelry on there. I liked the idea of selling crafts online, and it also suited my situation very well. I called my shop Aztec City because I loved the idea of just being able to drop into a hidden city in the jungle to find all kinds of treasures, old and new.

What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?

Ideally, I would like to be selling more lovely vintage jewelry pieces, as well as the artisan, but this is where time is a factor because it takes time to do the photography and listing, so have ended up focusing more on the artisan jewelry. The materials have evolved over time, but I have always used gemstones and precious metals, as I wanted to produce a quality product, that would have the potential to last years. During the war years and afterward, in the Retro period, gold was difficult to obtain, so instead the designers used gold fill as a replacement. This in turn gave them more freedom of design. So there are lots of wonderful pieces by makers like Van Dell for example, which are in absolutely mint condition, with no wear to the surface even after all these years. So I started off being inspired by that period and also the Art Deco period and used the same materials, ie 14ct Gold Fill and Sterling Silver. So today I have a selection of vintage-inspired designs and also modern. I also started using 9ct gold, which is lovely to work with, as I wanted to do some original design 9ct gold, which is reasonably priced. I do a lot of work featuring Opals, both natural and manmade. The manmade opals are very good – each one slightly different and with a lot of fire.

Sterling Silver Cubic Zirconia Art Deco style Aurora Borealis Ellipse crystal on 18 box chain
SALE - 9ct Gold long chain earrings with Swarovski elements Siam Red heart crystals
Retro style faceted Baltic Amber, Garnet & Silver Shadow crystal drop earrings in 14ct Gold Fill

How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations

It was a natural progression for me, from studying Fine Art and learning about painting and sculpture, to then move into the more practical use of art in graphic design and jewelry design. The same skill set is used. As far as the crafting elements I am basically self-taught, but would love to learn more and improve on these. I always have lots of ideas, and you find that one idea flows on from another, so even if you are not satisfied with a product, there is always the next time!

What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job, or extra income to pay for your hobby?

I just really fell into online selling – it was a happy accident, lol. But there wasn’t that much time to spare, so I found that as time went on it expanded gradually and sales increased. It’s now more or less a full-time job, although I still treat it more as a hobby sometimes! But it’s important to enjoy what you do. It’s important for me to have some kind of creative outlet, and I absolutely love running my own business, although it can get busy at times. There are just so many different things you have to do, but overall it’s a very positive experience.

Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?

I had heard or had read somewhere, that Etsy was very competitive, in that there were so many different crafters and sellers, and that it was difficult to be seen, especially when you first started. I was selling on eBay at the time but wanted to try Etsy so put on a few items. I was really surprised when I had some sales, so put more items on and it developed from there.

How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever think you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was the goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?

I put about five items on and got a sale within a week or two. After that sales gradually grew. I started off with several selling platforms – the main one being eBay, and was hoping for more sales on Etsy. Currently, my main platform is Etsy, and on average I get about five to ten sales a day.

Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?

Since I started off small and low key, the business has had a lot of time to grow. Which I think was a good idea, as you have to learn to cope with the extra work if your business is doing well, so you probably couldn’t just jump in with high production from the beginning – you have to find your feet. A small business can exist on many levels, after all, and ideally, your skillset should be naturally improving as far as speed of execution and time management, as you go up in levels. When I started the online platforms were continually making changes, which has slowed down now to an extent. It was sometimes difficult to keep up with it all, and you have to learn to adapt to change – if fees increase, or a product just stops selling you have to roll with the changes and adapt. You also have to be realistic about which products sell well. A typical day would consist of getting up early (which I don’t mind, being a morning person), checking emails and messages, and starting on the day’s orders. Then there is the packing and posting. My husband usually helps with the mail, which does save a bit of time. We usually have to fit in a dog walk as well for our long-haired chihuahuas, although being chihuahuas, they really don’t mind missing it if it’s raining. As orders have to take priority, once those are done, then the rest of the time can be used for things like designing, photography, and listing. For some reason, I like packing but don’t really enjoy photography or listing, and so this is where time management is important. I’ll be honest here and say that my time management for these aspects could do with improvement, but that is probably true of a lot of online sellers (at least the ones I have spoken to). But again, it’s important to maintain interest and enjoyment in your job, and also important to take breaks if necessary. Orders come in seven days a week, and you can find yourself working seven days a week as well, so probably better to schedule a few weekends off!

How does your manufacturing process look like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are the tools that you are using in the manufacturing process?

I usually have plenty of ideas for designs – the problem is having the time to actually execute them. I can carry around an idea for a design in my head for quite a long time though! Sometimes I do write them down but not always. So I make a one-of-a-kind item, make sure it’s practical and durable, then put it up for sale. Some items are unique, and there won’t be any more made, and with some items, if they are popular, will do a limited edition run of them. I am always open to customizing items for a customer, and also do custom jewelry to a buyer’s specifications.

What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?

The biggest impact on profitability are the overheads for your shop. So you have to always take into account things like fees, envelopes, materials, and the time spent making products. Since I use mostly high-end precious metals, like 9ct gold, the cost of materials is the main factor with my shop. I try to offer a quality product, with an individual design, at a reasonable price.

What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?

I always find that one idea flows automatically from another – if you start to make one item, then you will find yourself getting ideas from that for other items. It’s fun! It’s a good idea to sometimes think of using different methods or tools – try doing something you haven’t done before, as this keeps things fresh. Sometimes you can try using a gemstone you have never used before – like Amber or Amethyst, or Opals, and you will find ideas flowing from that.

Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?

Shipping has always been worldwide, with no restrictions, and with a set postage price. Items over about £20 – £30 are sent tracked and signed. Postage prices are kept as low as possible. Jewelry is always packed safely with a box and a gift bag. There is free shipping on some items. Everyone likes free shipping, lol.

9ct Gold Retro style chain drop earrings with Blue Lapis Lazuli drops
9ct Gold Deco Egyptian Revival style chain drop earrings with Swarovski elements Scarabs
WINTER NECKLACE Large Christmas Snowflake OOAK Swarovski elements Aurora Borealis crystal Sterling Silver

Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own standout?

Art has never been about competition for me – it’s about self expression. So in that sense, it doesn’t really matter what others are doing! But I do like looking at other people’s work because it’s interesting and also can be very inspiring. But as an artist, the whole point is to come up with your own creative ideas!
I do try to find a niche to occupy as far as sales go. I started doing a lot of work with 14ct gold fill, which was not really that common in the UK, and so I had to import it from the US. As I was using some lovely chains, I thought I might as well sell some of them, and these were so popular that they really became best sellers for the shop. So I now buy loose chain in bulk and cut it myself. I try to go for the more high quality, ornate or unusual chains. They are always shown with a pendant, so customers can see what they look like, and they are also able to return the chain if it doesn’t suit their pendant. Some of these are so nice you can wear them as a simple necklace. And the durability is the same as gold, so they will last for years. I try to use slightly larger clasps and jump rings as well, as the small ones are so fiddly!

How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?

I think it’s important to be communicative with buyers, and also very straightforward and honest. If you make a mistake, or get things wrong, or (for example) don’t have something in stock at the moment, then as long as you are clear and communicative about it, then most people are fine with that. So you must answer all communications, and do that as promptly as possible. Most customers are lovely – there is a very low percentage of awkward customers, but there is the old adage that ‘the customer is always right’ so it’s still a good idea to remain polite at all times! I have a no quibble returns policy, so buyers are always able to return items if they are unsatisfactory, or even if they just don’t like them.

Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever think you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed about dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?

I have been so grateful to Etsy, and also other online platforms like eBay, as they offered an opportunity to not only be creative but to be more flexible and run your own business. So this frees up more time for children and family. So it did change my life for the better.
You do get a bit stressed sometimes at Christmas, when you get overwhelmed with orders. But overall, much less stressful than commuting for an hour and a half each day on a crowded train, lol.

How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?

I had some bad experiences on the internet early on, which put me off using social media for a long time. So I didn’t really use it. I do appreciate the fact that it’s probably useful! But you will find that other things factor in a lot more than you might think, like always trying to make a quality product and giving as good service as possible. Also, there is word of mouth – if someone likes your work or your products they will tell other people. I have just started using ads on Etsy, and they have already generated quite a few sales, so probably should have done that before, lol.

What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customer satisfaction?

Well, everyone would like to keep fees down on Etsy, of course! I’ve been quite happy with Etsy, overall. I was already aware from having been on other platforms, that the online sales world was subject to changes all the time – sometimes big ones, and I really had no alternative than to just keep adapting.

What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?

I really just sold the things I liked – I liked Art Deco and Retro styles, so I sold those. If you want your business to succeed in the long term, which most people do, then it’s important to enjoy and maintain interest in your shop. As far as possible, make sure it doesn’t become just a chore.
A lesson I have learned the hard way is that sometimes items just don’t sell (for no apparent reason). That applies across the board, to vintage items as well. So it’s a good idea to be adaptable in that way – think of repricing, or remarketing the item more favorably. Or just use the components for something better!

What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?

The advice I would give to new sellers is to have fun! Try to enjoy what you do, as much as possible. Sure, you have to do some not fun chores like packing or paperwork. But actually packing can be creative – I like it! Also, try to streamline your packing so you can do it without thinking – keep all your packing stuff ready and accessible. Then it takes about 5 minutes. Some mistakes are inevitable, that’s how you learn, after all. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them, adapt, and move on. You have to be flexible with online selling because it can be a rapidly changing environment. But it’s always interesting! If you are having trouble with your shop, try to distance yourself and look at it dispassionately, as a customer would. Are your photos great? Are you showing the product clearly and describing it clearly? Always do research on your product and find out the suitable price points etc. Try and be original, and true to yourself, and sell something unique. Lastly, be patient as you cannot expect to have great sales straight away, nobody does as buyers just won’t be aware of your shop in the beginning. This is where social media and advertising comes in, but it will still probably be a gradual build-up.

Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion

I have always enjoyed having a shop on Etsy, and it can be a great platform to start a business – whether that is just dipping your toe in the water, or having more extensive business plans (or both).

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