Women in the arts: a letter from the founders

by Ilana Lever on

Dear friend of Motley, 

For those of you who don’t know us, we’re Cecily and Ilana and we founded Motley. We’re on a mission to transform the antiquated jewellery industry. You’ll often see us talking up our talented designers from our digital soapbox or sharing out-of-the-box shots of our jewellery. We want Motley to be inclusive and uplifting, because we know buying jewellery has been daunting for many. Today’s a bit more serious. In fact, it’s time to take us seriously - because not everyone has. This International Women’s Day, we thought we would share our experiences as two women building a business from scratch.

Raising money for a business is hard. Raising money for a jewellery business - an industry many see as more part-time hobby than $500 bn global industry - is even harder. And raising money as women for a jewellery business? Rife with horror stories, and here are but a few.

We probably pitched Motley to 100 angel investors. You can count the women amongst them on two hands (with no thumbs). Many looked bemused at the thought of a jewellery business as an investment opportunity. Many said they’d need to check with their wives. It’s no surprise that only 1% of VC investment in the UK goes to women-run businesses (and this isn’t disaggregated for women of colour), while male-oriented businesses with male founders clean up. Erectile dysfunction has raised millions on huge valuations. 

We’ve certainly had our fair share of it. “What do your boyfriends think of this?” was one gem we heard from a potential investor. One supplier we didn't end up working with asked us when we wanted to have children. More recently, 10% of applicants (and climbing) opened their cover letters for a new job posting with “Dear Sirs”. 

Those early encounters only made us more determined about the brand we wanted to create. One that empowers creative minds, turns jewellery shopping into a kinder experience, and cares about quality. There is so much wrong with the industry - filthy supply chains, outdated marketing, silly prices, sloppy fast fashion chuckables. The designers at the heart of it all are either white labelled (so they don’t get credit for their work) or have to sell at high-tier prices because of production costs. As a result, the choice for consumers was either an affordable product that breaks or high end pieces most can’t afford.

There are plenty of challenges, but also endless potential. To us, the best jewellery designers are sculptor, engineer and artist all in one. Making something beautiful is one thing, but making something that’s functional too is quite another. It might seem trite, but wearing great jewellery is the bees knees. Whether you’re bold right off the bat or a little quieter but no wallflower, your most cherished pieces express who you are. Jewellery is one of the only things you’ll own that you can pass on to someone, who can have just as much fun wearing it as you did. The soles on your shoes will wear out, moths will get at your cashmere, books soak through when the basement (inevitably) floods. But your jewellery isn’t going anywhere. 

So, thought we. To use a Motley update of an old adage: if something’s broke... FIX IT.

We put great designers where they belong, which is front and centre. To us, they embody a trait that’s endemically human- creativity.  Through Motley they are uninhibited by restrictive briefs, and unrestricted by production costs. The collections you’ve come to love are deeply personal and innovative because of this reversal of the old power structure. Charlotte Garnett’s own experiences with mental health inform the pieces she designed for us, and that’s why they resonate with so many of you. The playful, inquisitive nature of Christopher Thompson-Royds collection calls on his childhood memories of playing with paper dolls. It’s not the kind of thing you can bottle, and that’s why we are so passionate about it. 

We’re lucky to have found the right partners and investors to work with, who care about changing the industry just as much as we do, and who don’t seem phased in the slightest about our genitalia (or lack thereof). We believe challenging an antiquated industry with a new, better way of doing things has transformative power.

And we’d like to thank you for supporting us, and for loving the pieces the designers create just as much as we do- it wouldn’t be possible without you. 

Cecily and Ilana 

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