At school, Emma Swann wasn’t great at math or science, but she loved art. “Because I was so bad at the academic subjects at school, it knocked my confidence,” she admits. “But I was always creative and excelled at art.”
With a jewellery restorer for a mother, and an antiques dealer for a father, she grew up surrounded by fine jewellery in her mother's London workshop - designing her own jewellery was a natural progression.
Receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art in London, Swann honed her craft. Her tutors were practicing designers and artists, who taught the likes of Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen before her. It was at college that Swann realised it was actually possible to have a successful career in the creative industries.
After graduating, Swann worked as an assistant stylist, wearing her jewellery pieces on set. It wasn’t long before her designs appeared in magazine shoots and people started asking to buy them.
Back then, she shared a studio with 10 other creatives in East London and worked at Hatten Garden, London’s jewellery district, making tea and delivering mail to the stone setters. “I was still young, I felt like I had a lot to learn so I worked for other jewellers in Hatten Garden before finally launching my label Recreational Studio in 2012,” she says. “By then, I had the confidence to go out on my own, to do it, and to know that I could pay my rent in London.”
“I’m all or nothing, so I poured all of my savings into setting up my website and studio,” she says of the beginning of Recreational Studio. The name is an anagram for "real creation" and that’s exactly what Swann creates: fine diamond jewellery.
When Swann moved to Sydney, she didn't know if there was a market for her work in Australia, and decided to try her luck at the Bondi Market. “I was really nervous. I was worried I would stand there all day and not sell anything,” she says. Her first stall sold out in 1.5 hours.
Since then, Recreational Studio has blossomed into a jewellery empire with a warehouse in St Peters; the business turns over $2 million annually, and has a main collection and bespoke wedding line. Swann’s pieces have been worn by Alexa Chung, Kate Moss and Rosie Huntington-Whitely - not to mention everyone in Bondi.
“Doing those markets was the best thing I did. I still have clients from those days and it blows my mind,” she says.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t great at school. Here’s how she did it…
Secret to success: “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises; don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Protect your work and if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. Its going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but its all worth it”. This is a Patti Smith quote and I like how it encourages integrity.
Breakfast of champions: Weekdays: avocado on spelt toast and a green juice. Weekends: almond croissant from Bourke St Bakery.
Best advice: Fortune favours the brave.
Top interview tip: I look for people who have a sense of curiosity – it’s essential if they are to adapt to the ever changing business world.
Studio sounds: Bon Iver and Massive Attack.
Studio style: Celine and Common Projects.
Coffee order: An extra hot soy latte, please.
Wind down: A little yoga, a little meditation and a little red wine.