An unusual obsession with factories led my guest, Kate Stewart (founder, designer & maker of Factory Floor Jewels) to establish her funky jewellery brand using many repurposed objects that can be found on the floors of trade suppliers, manufacturers, instrument technicians! I chat to Kate to find out more…. Hi Kate!
Hi I’m Kate and I’m the designer maker behind the Factory Floor Jewels brand. I’m 54 and I live in Liverpool with my husband Steve and we look after my 90 year old mum and her friend. I have a grown up son who is a musician, sound engineer and carpenter. Just before Christmas we adopted Ella an 8 year old greyhound, after losing our beloved Ruby in November.
My part-time day job is as CEO of a social enterprise in Liverpool and as I have an autoimmune disease which needs regular treatment I’m classed as clinically vulnerable so I’ve been working from home since March 2020. Thankfully I had already set up my jewellery studio in a spare room at home, although I do also have a shared space in town and I have been sneaking in very early on Saturday mornings recently whilst no one else is in.
What inspired the setting up of “Factory Floor Jewels”?
Friends and family would probably tell you I have always been creative, although I haven’talways found it a comfortable label to accept. I guess I’ve always been quite a distinctive dresser, I was a rockabilly in the 80’s and lots of people would now describe me as having a punk aesthetic. If I had the money I’d wear Vivienne Westward all the time, so I guess I have always had an interest in putting looks together and accessories are part of that.
I have always been fascinated with metal and industrial shapes and buildings. I went to a girls grammar school and I wanted to do technical drawing, but they didn’t offer it. I suggested they let me go next door to the boys grammar to do tech drawing but they didn’t like that idea! So I just used to take in parts of cars to draw in art.
I often say if I’d had a different education I would probably have been an architect. I actually went to work in the theatre straight from school and then in 1998 I formed an interior design practice with my husband.
My Dad was a packaging engineer and was very proud of his tools – many he had made himself. As a child I often went into the factory with him on a Saturday morning and his drawing office was above the factory floor with huge windows looking out on it. I was fascinated!
Running an interiors company, we would often go and visit manufacturers and whilst colleagues were fawning over the latest chair or desk design in the 1st floor showrooms I was looking out of those windows onto the factory floor, watching the machines, and looking at the materials used.
When I set up Factory Floor Jewels in 2014 as a small craft business it was my way of experimenting with the materials and waste that is used in the worlds of engineering and the port in my home city of Liverpool.
Now that I’ve established the brand and I sell to a number of retailers and galleries I am making less one-off pieces and some of the ranges still have reclaimed materials but others were inspired by found items to begin with are now made with new industrial components.
I love the mix of materials I work with such as copper, silver, steel and aluminium.
I’m really passionate about independent retail and I get such a buzz from working with my stockists to help promote both our businesses.
Specialising in jewellery crafted from objects found on the floors of factories – I have since found myself looking more closely at the warehouse floors I visit on a daily basis when I am wearing my retail merchandiser hat! I do love the tactile feel of your jewellery -especially the Brass & Steel Necklace and the Art Deco Statement Neckcuff. What items are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?
Well you have excellent taste! The Brass & Steel ‘Nuts’ Necklace is one of my most popular items when people are buying a gift. I always comment how it works with everyone’s skin and hair tones and is a really easy one to wear.
The Art Deco one is more my kind of piece – I love to wear bigger pieces.
One of my most consistent best sellers is the Swarf range which uses brass scraps that are discarded by the milling machines in many metal workshops. I personally have never wornanything with gold tones, but even I love this mix of the silver and brass and how big and sparkly the adjustable ring is. This range was stocked by Tate Modern and Tate Britain last year and was one of their fastest selling ranges.
It inspired me to develop a similar range recently when I discovered a new material to work with – bronze filings which are actually scrap from a foundry that makes huge piece of public art for cities all over the world. I’m using sterling silver for this collection as I feel some customers prefer this.
I recognise that some people are more price driven and others are less so, so I’m trying to offer items for both markets, although I am moving more towards sterling silver for earrings in my new collections and trying to keep the prices competitive. I have a new range using aluminium pieces and the hoop earrings are sterling silver and the pendant is steel.
Out of all your collection, do you have any favourites?
I guess there’s two questions there – I love making the Swarf range, but I am really enjoying wearing the new pieces with Aluminium tube.
As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas?
I don’t currently have any overseas retailers but it’s possible to buy from my website from most countries.
I’d love to find some retailers in other countries though.
When designing jewellery to add to your collection, do you take into account your own tastes, your customer base, requests, traditional pieces, what you have salvaged orbits of all those?
Oh, it’s definitely a mix of all of those yes, but the first thing is the materials and components. I always consider what is emerging from my bench in the context of my customers, the price point I need to reach for them, the season and also sometimes what I have seen on the catwalk. I guess it must also be influenced by my own taste, however this is more likely around the materials and sometimes the challenge of new processes; I have made really popular pieces that I wouldn’t wear because they don’t suit my style. I also consider how it sits with other items in my collection
I’m not interested in fast fashion and I think my pieces are quite timeless, but I do tend to look at a couple of brands that I feel my customers shop at for their clothing.
Your collections encompass ready to wear pieces, couture pieces, limited editions and one-offs; what was the hardest to make or most unusual request you have had?
I think the hardest to make pieces come from my head…… I have a collection called ‘swept’ which has been ‘on the bench’ for a while now. I was given some skeins of bristles from a brush factory that closed. I knew instantly what I wanted to make, but I wasn’t sure how to. I set myself quite a challenge there! I’ve made some prototypes and love them, but currently they are too complex to replicate in any volume. They will need some refining to get there…… maybe 2021 is the year of Swept!
I’ve recently worked on a commission for two sisters who’s father is an engineer – they’d seen my Swarf range in a local shop and it made them reminisce about their Dad always treading swarf into the house. He’s 90 and still working as an engineer in his home workshop, using a variety of different metals. Swarf comes in all sorts of colours and shapes, depending on the metal and the process it has been part of. Heat changes the colours of the original metal, it’s all about chemistry. I’m making a couple of pieces for each of them and we are playing with the textures and materials, it’s great fun!
As I’ve focused on producing collections that appeal to the retail market in the last few years, I have recently begun to miss creating one off pieces. I’ve come up with a plan which I’m going to launch in February – I’ll be releasing a number of one offs or limited editions and won’t be selling them wholesale. So to buy you will need to join the Factory Floor Jewels VIP Club (www.factoryfloorjewels.com/subscribe) to get 48 hours exclusive access each month . Follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/factoryfloorjewels) for more info. I’m really excited to see people’s reactions.
A couple of hypothetical questions now! Firstly, if you could go anywhere in the world for inspiration to create a new collection, where would you go and why?
I’m so blessed to have travelled a lot in the last 6 years with my day job and I’m constantly taking inspiration from the places and the industry I see. I guess one place still on the list is Detroit, and New York is always such a rich place of inspiration.
Secondly, which famous lady would you pick to be the “Face” Of Factory Floor Jewels and why?
I think that Judi Dench looks astonishing and has such a sense of style. I’d love to see her wearing my pieces.
Growing up, did you always want to be a designer/creative field or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?
I realised in hindsight that I would have loved to have been an architect! As a kid I wanted to be a vet (same length of training for both of those) but in reality I ran away and joined the theatre at 17
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Black leggings about 90% of the year – black cycling shorts in the summer
And although I do wear a lot of black, I have started to wear grey more in recent years and I’ve often got an accent of something bright, like a turquoise cardi
I’ve become more confident in my clothes in recent years. I think that’s probably quite common for women. I was very ‘out there’ in my clothing in my teens and twenty’s then motherhood affect my body and my self image. I would say in the last 10 years or so I’vebecome more comfortable with understanding what works and what doesn’t for me.
Everyone is constantly astonished at my age and I think that’s significantly down to how I dress – and my quite distinctive haircut. (I have shaved the sides of my head and have a flat-top, which pre lockdown used to change colour from scarlet to bleached blonde to turquoise. Now it’s just dark brown and grey. I can’t wait to be all grey tbh).
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)
Well clothing wise, I’ve got very good at Ebay for brands I know work for me, like Vivienne Westward, Bench, Cos, All Saints and Lurdes Bergada.
I’m a big shop local or shop handmade girl and I’d much rather pay for something unique and quality than mass produced. As an example I bought a purse off Camille at Dasprez and loved the material and workmanship so much I asked her to make a pencil case and since then have commissioned a bag from her too. I had a bag I loved the shape and colour of but it was high street and so badly made. I knew that someone with skill could make it so much better and it will last forever.
I’m also a little obsessed with clothes for Greyhounds! They don’t really have much fur or fat and so they really feel the cold. Our last girl Ruby couldn’t sleep through the night October to May without PJs on. And she did wear clothes really well! Again, these tended to be from artisan makers rather than pet shops. We adopted our current greyhound Ella just before Christmas and I’ve already bought her a new waterproof and even though we were told she didn’t really need indoor clothes, she did keep waking up in the middle of the night so we put a jumper on her for bedtime.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I’ve got my eye on a pair of Lurdes Bergada trousers, I think their shapes are very flattering and I have an ebay alert on for my next Vivienne Westwood piece!
Boots or Shoes?
Easy one for me – I’m a boot wearer for LOTS of the year! Although I adore shoes. I really love Clarks and at the complete opposite end of the spectrum I have a slight addiction to United Nude.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Factory Floor Jewels
Subscribe to my newsletter to join the VIP Club and get discounts and early bird shopping on new pieces at www.factoryfloorjewels.com/subscribe
Fabulous chatting to you Kate and I think your designs are fabulous!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kate Stewart.