It’s not too often you come across a jewellery design studio on a family farm, but for Linda O’Brien both go hand in hand.
That said, after her husband, Donal, and eldest son, Danny, transitioned from suckler to dairy in January of this year on their farm in Ballykilmurray near Tullamore, Linda swore she would “not get involved, because once they know you can do it, you will have to do it every day”. Seven months later and she finds herself racing to the milking parlour after a day’s work in her jewellery cabin, for some cow therapy.
“I love throwing on my old clothes and heading out to the cows. It is so relaxing and a lovely change from dresses and heels,” she laughs.
Linda reverts right back to the early 2000s, when little did she know that her business was coming to life.
“It started off as a hobby. I was working in a bakery full time and this was just for me. But after doing a couple of night courses, I really got interested in it. I ended up with all these boxes of jewellery that I didn’t know what to do with. I had never even tried to sell it, so I decided to host a ladies night and I sold everything,” she explains.
“That’s when I realised that my hobby had the potential to be a business and so I started going to farmers’ markets and craft fairs. I was still working from the spare bedroom at that stage, so in 2006 I decided to build the cabin. I stayed working in the bakery for another year, to pay for it. I took appointments in at nighttime and specialised in jewellery only at the start.”
As a first generation jewellery maker, one might wonder where Linda inherited her creative skills?
“I always liked making cushions and dolls’ clothes as a youngster. Mammy used to make all our clothes when we were younger, she was very good at it. And sure Daddy was a printer his whole life. I suppose they were quite creative.”
After some time Linda built up the confidence to develop her little business, broadening stock and providing a one-stop shop.
“Women used to come out here with their dress and say: ‘Well I have to go get shoes and a bag, so I will come to you then.’ Now I have everything here when they come. So they have their shoes, bag, headpiece and jewellery all in the one place. Once I did that I realised that I would need to employ someone else and so now I have Anne and Marian working with me.”
Having made it through both boom and bust, Linda understands the consequences of a wedding invite on people’s pockets.
“I started during the good years. People were coming for a wedding, but wanted something for the day after as well. So they would have two rigouts for the one occasion. Nowadays people find it hard to afford a different outfit for every wedding they are invited to. I often help a lady re-style the same dress for two weddings. It is amazing how different a navy dress can look when you match it with a red wrap and shoes, versus mustard. With a change of accessories, it’s a totally different outfit.”
With wages to pay, cows to feed and a busy household to maintain, one might expect the cost of Linda’s handmade designs to be high. Keeping prices down is key to maintaining her business, however, as she aims to build a long-term relationship with her customers.
“The price range is everything. If you keep the price down your customers will keep coming back. You have to think of the woman who is coming in to buy a headpiece, shoes, a bag and jewellery, it all adds up. So I try to keep it as reasonable as possible.
“Ninety per cent of our shoes are under €39 and very little of the stock here is hitting €50. When I go on my buying spree, I am thinking about those women who come in to me here, looking for the whole outfit. I don’t want them to have to spend a fortune. I would rather they leave satisfied and happy to return.”
There is no such thing as standard design at Linda O’Brien Jewellery, with every customer given one-to-one advice, as well as a complimentary homemade brew and treats on arrival. To maintain her sparkling reputation, Linda opens from Tuesday to Thursday, with no appointments necessary. Operating for the rest of the week on an appointment-only basis assures Linda’s personal attention to every customer.
Redesigning her career at 40 presented plenty of challenges, Linda admits.
“The biggest challenge I face is using social media. When you are living in the middle of the sticks and have no Wi-Fi connection it is very difficult to get stuff out on Facebook and Instagram. It makes a big difference to me because I don’t have passing trade. It is an out of sight, out of mind kind of business, and so keeping up with social media is essential for me.”
But with a little bit of courage and a lot of hard work, Linda has learned to walk in both wellies and heels.
“I started this with two young children and absolutely no experience. It is never too late. Whether making jewellery or milking cows, if you think you can make it work, go for it. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. You won’t regret trying.”
“Bright and rich colours are sticking around for autumn/winter 2018. Wine, burgundy and mustard are very popular this year, but you still have the old reliable royal blue. Navy is the new black. You can put any colour with it and it always looks well. Wedding season lasts all year now. Fur wraps are great for winter weddings.”
For further information, visit www.lindaobrienjewellery.ie/, follow on Facebook, or call 087-8255041.