Poppy Norton’s statement jewellery speaks for itself

Discover how Poppy Norton discovered her love of jewellery through experimenting
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Poppy Norton is one of those designers whose work you can’t help but covet. Colourful and bold, mixing geometric shapes with strong lines and using a variety of different materials, it’s statement jewellery that really makes a statement. With a background in product design, Poppy has always had an eye for detail and composition, recognised by none other than the revered art and design writer Caroline Roux who gave Poppy her first styling opportunity at The Guardian. I caught up with Poppy to discover more about her transition from styling into jewellery, her design process and her recent collaboration with People Will Always Need Plates. Poppy also has some great tips for anyone wanting to start a business and in search of their thing.

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How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Pared-back, graphic and bold. Having trained in product design I’ve always believed that if something is designed well it doesn’t need a lot of additional adornment, it should really speak for itself. 

Can you tell me about your background? Did you always know you would have a career in design? 

I grew up in London, surrounded by good design and I was taken to museums and galleries a lot as a child. I was always into art at school, although I leaned more towards textiles and sculpture. I was never terribly good at drawing so I was always looking for alternative ways to get my ideas across. I originally wanted to be a fashion designer ‘when I grew up’. 

I think that my jewellery designs are heavily influenced by my design training. Much like my styling work, I feel that if a design is ‘good’ it shouldn’t need tons of other stuff around it, it should look great on its own and should speak for itself.

You studied product design at Central Saint Martins, going on to work as a stylist and trend reporter, before moving into jewellery. Can you tell me about this journey, and how it has shaped your jewellery practice?

Well, my original thinking was that I wanted to work in fashion, but the Foundation course at Central Saint Martins gave me the opportunity to try out all sorts of design specialities that I had never really considered before, including Product Design. I really enjoyed the course and felt that the other students who also wanted to do product design were a more friendly and collaborative bunch. Fashion wasn’t the course for me! Then during my degree, I did a work experience placement at Space Magazine, The Guardian’s wonderful design and architecture supplement. It was there that I was given the opportunity to try my hand at styling and I loved it! Thank you, Caroline Roux! I did work in Product Design after graduating but I somehow fell back into styling for both television and magazines — the era of Changing Rooms. I always loved interiors as you never had to look a certain way or be a certain size to take part and I actually think that the same goes for jewellery. I think that my jewellery designs are heavily influenced by my design training. Much like my styling work, I feel that if a design is ‘good’ it shouldn’t need tons of other stuff around it, it should look great on its own and should speak for itself. So I keep my designs clean and bold. 

I knew I missed hands-on making and being in a workshop, rather than spending most of my time on a computer, so I tried a number of short courses in printmaking, ceramics and, as a bit of an afterthought, jewellery.

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Was there a moment that made you realise you needed to move jewellery, or did it feel like a natural progression?

I had my first child just as the financial crash hit and sadly the magazine industry never really recovered as people moved over to online. The world wanted everything instantly and everybody became a stylist thanks to camera phones and Instagram. So after working as a freelance stylist for a while, and having another baby, I decided it was time for a change, although I wasn’t really sure what was next for me. So I took the opportunity to try different things again. I knew I missed hands-on making and being in a workshop, rather than spending most of my time on a computer, so I tried a number of short courses in printmaking, ceramics and, as a bit of an afterthought, jewellery. Rather unexpectedly, I loved being in the jewellery workshop more than anything. As a mother to young kids, I think that there’s something terribly appealing about a ‘dangerous’ workshop where there are no kids allowed and there’s something incredibly meditative about hands-on making without a computer or screen. So I signed myself up for a jewellery diploma course at Morley College and the rest is history! 

You recently did a collaboration with People Will Always Need Plates, designing a range of unique keyrings. How did this collaboration come about?

I met People Will Always Need Plates during my early styling days and we hit it off pretty instantly, and over the years our friendship blossomed. We actually exhibited side by side at Midcentury Modern and realised that a lot of our customers have a similar design aesthetic, as do we, so when they asked me if I’d like to work on a collaboration with them it was a bit of a no-brainer. 

Can you tell me about your process when designing a collection?

Well, I constantly take photos of things that I find interesting when I’m out and about and I experiment a lot in the workshop. I have a box of samples that I play with every time I start designing and I think it gives my work a sense of continuity.  I also give myself a brief and a deadline as I tend to work better under pressure. 

Who or what inspires you? 

I think there’s inspiration everywhere if you just open your eyes and really look. I also won’t put something out there if I don’t really love it. If I don’t want to wear it, why should I expect someone else to? 

What do you like most about working for yourself?

Being able to manage my own time and having the power to say no to things is really important. I also really like being in charge of my own design decisions. 

A huge part of starting and growing a business is having the right mindset. What are some of the things you do to stay motivated?

It’s not always easy. These last couple of years have been a bit like wading through treacle, but I try and aim to have something new to shout about on a monthly basis. Be it a craft fair, new exhibition or a new piece of work. But I’m definitely still learning as I go. 

Don’t be afraid to try lots of things! I also don’t think that there’s a ‘job for life’ anymore. Times change, people change and life changes. 

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We’re really keen to talk about failures more and how much they shape us, perhaps even more than our successes. Can you tell me about a failure, and what you learnt from it? 

After working as an in-house stylist on interiors magazines for about 13 years and being very much in control of my shoots from start to finish, I don’t think I worked terribly well as a freelancer. I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much. I think this was when I decided that whatever came next, I wanted to be in control. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting on their journey?

Don’t be afraid to try lots of things! I also don’t think that there’s a ‘job for life’ anymore. Times change, people change and life changes. 

What’s next for you?

Oooh, now there’s a good question. Is it ok to say I don’t know yet? I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to real-life shows this year after two years of online!

Finding it hard to start? If you’ve got an idea or want to grow, book a strategy coaching session or look at our studio work.

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