Heidi Helyard is a leader in the popular contemporary polymer clay earring movement. She’s a lifelong artist, a graphic designer, and now an innovative polymer clay earring maker. Make sure to see her latest collections on her website and subscribe to her premium weekly newsletter for polymer clayers called Studio Scraps.
Q Tell me about your business. What do you sell, and where can people buy it?
My business is Heidi Helyard Handmade Jewellery. I make and sell small, one-of-a-kind collections of polymer clay jewellery. I usually release new work every month. My work is sold on my website, through a select number of retail shops, and at design markets here in Australia.
I also have a subscription newsletter called Studio Scraps. This is a weekly email that covers different topics including polymer clay tips and tricks, and small business (and life!) hacks.
Another aspect of my business is a one-on-one mentoring service for polymer clay (and other) makers.
Q What’s your career background and what was the path that took you to where you are now?
A I studied graphic design at University and did an honours thesis in typography. I have been (and still am!) a freelance graphic designer. I started working as a graphic designer in 1998, and freelancing in 2003.
Q Do you feel that your background prepared you for your current work?
A Absolutely! In so many ways.
Q In what way? Specifically, how did your existing skills fit into your current work?
A My training as a graphic artist constantly informs and supports my jewellery making through things such as the basics of good design (don’t be afraid of white space!), colour theory, object design and usability. My graphic design skills have also enabled me to design my own branding, earring backing cards/packaging/business cards/website/stall design.
Q What have you found to be the most challenging thing about starting your business?
A It started slowly, alongside my ‘day job’ of graphic design, so the pressure to be successful immediately wasn’t there. It was nice for the business and my customer following to increase organically. Definitely the most challenging part of the business now is the ‘selling’ on social media. I’m very uncomfortable doing the “you need these earrings!” thing, and “talking up” and building “hype” about my work.
Q How would you define your style of work and what makes it different from others?
A Always changing but always obviously my work. I hope my work is instantly recognisable as mine even though I am always trying new things. I may eventually settle on one ‘style’ or technique, but I suspect not! Generally, I aim to create contemporary jewellery pieces that are also timeless; pieces that can be purchased (and collected) and worn year after year.
Q What are your favorite and least favorite things about what you do?
Favourite: coming up with, or discovering, a new technique and running with it until I want to make something different. Sharing my discoveries with my followers and writing about them, and sharing fails and tips in my subscription newsletter. Meeting customers in person at markets.
Least favourite: creating a sense of “hype” online around a new release – the “selling” of the work. While I love interacting in the social media space generally, for some reason the “buy my things” part of it I don’t love.
Q I know you have children, so how do you manage the work/life balance? Is there such a thing?
A Hahahaaha, no, I don’t think there is! We all do the best we can, don’t we! When both kids were born and my freelance career was taking off I couldn’t stop working as it was only me. I vividly remember working feverishly during their day sleeps and in the evenings. It was a game changer when they both started school. Now they are much older and it is easier. I try really hard to “switch off” from work at the end of the day and focus on the family (this doesn’t always happen though, and that’s ok!) The most challenging thing I’m finding is the travelling part when I am doing a design market (usually over 3 days). This entails so much organising on my and the family’s part – husband needs to take time off work, kids need picking up, etc. My immediate extended family help out, but it is really hard! I would love to travel the country attending all the amazing markets we have here in Australia, but it’s just not possible at the moment.
Q What are some of your defining values in life and/or business?
Slow fashion. We live in a throw away culture and we can’t sustain that. I make pieces I want people to wear year after year; I don’t follow trends. Quality over quantity.
Humility is a big one for me, I always have more to learn (hence the hard sell online is difficult for me).
Q What’s the most important advice you’d give to earring makers trying to get started today?
A Be patient. Refine your pieces, your packaging, your branding, and photography before opening an online shop. “Level up” organically. Sell to friends and family, then start an Instagram page, and when people (that you don’t know!) start commenting and messaging you about where they can get those earrings you just posted a pic of, then you know you may be ready to open an online shop. Don’t follow only polymer clay earring accounts on social media, but follow all kinds of makers! Don’t let anyone tell you what is ‘in’ or ‘out’, discover that for yourself.
Q What’s one weird thing that nobody knows about you?
A I always find this question soooo hard to answer! Am I boring? I may get back to you on this.
Q Do you have any upcoming projects you’re looking forward to?
A I’m looking forward to lots of projects, including collaborations with other makers, upcoming design markets as well as new issues of Studio Scraps. I am also excited to see what I end up making in the months to come, even though I have no idea yet what those collections will look like!