Donna Kruiper, Dans la Lune
29th August 2016
Every month we speak to women entrepreneurs who have just launched into the business world.
In the hot seat for September’s Women Who Launch is Donna Kruiper, Dans la Lune
The Elevator Pitch
Creator of “Dans la Lune” (“Daydreaming” in French); handmade jewellery made using polymer clay, Swarovski crystals, cubic zirconia and sterling silver.
I am a sole trader; the business is 100% owned and managed by myself, and I hand-make all the pieces myself from my studio in south Belfast.
I finance the operation entirely with my own savings.
Fashion conscious women from the age of 18 upwards.
Brands You Love
IKKS (French clothing brand), Catimini (French children’s clothing brand), Burel (Portuguese wool products), Moschino, Jimmy Choo, Jo Malone, Lexus, National Geographic, Smeg, and almost all things Scandinavian.
Biggest ‘Win’ To Date
I think that my first ever sale to a complete stranger (i.e. not to friends/family) was a very special moment. It was a lady who bought a pair of my “Sofia” earrings. It was so exciting, the idea of a complete stranger buying my work and knowing that she was buying it purely because she loved the piece, rather than being influenced by a personal connection to me. It felt like a complete endorsement of the product and confirmation that after ten years of trying I had finally managed to produce pieces that people want to purchase. I remember trying to remain calm and professional as I was wrapping the earrings for her, but inside I was squealing with happiness!
Biggest ‘Slap in the Face’
When I started out making jewellery ten years ago, I presented it to some retailers and the feedback was that the pieces “looked like something a child would wear”. This probably reflected my love of bright colours when making my pieces, but it was upsetting at the time, as I had been trying so hard to produce pieces for a women’s market and felt that I had completely missed the target. I began doubting myself, and lost a lot of confidence. In hindsight, however, when I look back at some of the pieces which I was making at this time, the retailers were actually correct, and the pieces were more appealing to a much younger market than that which I had been aiming for.
As a result of tackling this criticism head-on, I feel that I have now managed to reach a point where my pieces are fun and colourful, whilst at the same time remaining “grown up”, so to speak. This has not been an easy journey but I feel that, after a lot of trial and error and listening to both positive and negative feedback, I have finally achieved this balance.
Are You Social When It Comes To Media?
I am not a big social media user; I think that I am the only person I know who does not have a Facebook account. I am, however slowly embracing the world of social media, as I think that in today’s world it is essential – not only to get my brand’s name out there, but also in terms of following trends and understanding what it is that clients want. I have just created an Instagram account, since I think that this is an ideal media to showcase my products, as the main bulk of their appeal is their appearance. I will be placing regular pictures of my pieces on Instagram, and hopefully the number of followers will steadily increase!
I am also planning to start a Facebook site, to allow me to reach customers further afield and also to gain access to the benefits of Facebook advertising. The population of Northern Ireland is approximately 1.5 million, so if one considers the fact that the population of Birmingham alone is also 1.5 million, it demonstrates the need to use both this and similar methods of increasing the reach of the brand, rather than confining my brand solely to local shops in Northern Ireland. I am also hoping to extend my brand to the south of Ireland later this year, and also have plans to launch in France in November of this year – specifically the Brittany and Aquitane regions, where I have contacts. In both cases social media will be absolutely vital for these next important steps.
Technology & Innovation
It is essential – I have had a really steep learning curve in this respect since starting “Dans la Lune”, as I was the most non-technical person you could ever hope to meet. With the support and advice of my husband, Igor, who is a software engineer, I have learnt an astonishing amount over the past few months: how to create my own website, how to design business cards, personalised packaging and brochures online, how to order materials, tools etc. online, creating an online survey for market research, as well as getting into the world of social media. I have basically been dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world, but am realising that it would have been virtually impossible to achieve what I have done without this.
Despite my eventual embracing of all things digital, I remain strongly against digital overload. I have a dedicated time each day for dealing with emails, my website etc., and resist the temptation to work outside this time, as I feel it is disruptive to family life. I have two young daughters (the oldest aged 3 and the youngest 10 months) and am determined that they don’t grow up being glued to smartphones/tablets, which unfortunately seems to be all too common in today’s world. I have very strict rules to try to combat this, such as no smartphones/tablets at the table, or when people are visiting, and limited screen time for my 3-year old daughter, with no screen time in the hour before bedtime, and no screens in the bedroom. (I will confess though, to surviving family meals in restaurants unscathed thanks only to “Peppa Pig” on my iPad for my 3-year old daughter!)
Business Model You’d Like To Emulate
I think probably a combination of:
The Affiliate Model i.e. someone helping to sell a product in return for commission, while never actually taking ownership of the product;
And The Direct Sales Model – via the Internet as a distribution channel.
If you had a blank cheque
1.I would buy myself a kiln; I really want to get into working with precious metal clay, however this requires to be fired at much higher temperatures, thus rendering a conventional oven insufficient.
2.I would splash out on an advertising campaign as, to date, this is one area which I have not really concentrated on, as a result of trying to keep costs low.
3. I would open a stand-alone shop and employ staff to work there.
Your Traits – Best and Worst
– I have a vivid imagination and seem to have an endless supply of ideas – they just keep coming – so much that I actually can’t keep up with them in terms of making them a reality. I have tried to deal with this by writing my ideas down as they come to me, along with sketches where appropriate.
– I am a full time doctor and this job requires a lot of interpersonal skills; talking to people, but more importantly listening to people. I think that this trait is essential in all walks of life, but in respect to my business, it helps me to hear what people want. I think that there are too many instances whereby people offering a service – be it making a dress, designing a house or even doing someone’s hair – do it as they would like it to be, rather than the way the client would like it to be.
– I am a perfectionist – for each piece that is on my website, there have been about 5-10 failed pieces which have been discarded, mostly due to minor imperfections. I feel unable to offer a piece for sale, and will not settle, if there is even a minor imperfection in it, barely visible. I try to adopt the attitude of “If I wouldn’t wear it, then how could I expect anyone else to wear it?”.
– I often get deeply lost in my work and will sit down for “half an hour” to work on a piece and later realise that 3-4 hours have passed! This is not very conducive to having a tidy house, but I think that it reflects the fact that it is impossible for me to get lost like this in my day job as a doctor, and that my sitting down to manufacture jewellery pieces is such an outlet, and a time where I can forget about timekeeping and just create……
– I have a real love for animals, which may initially not sound like a bad trait, until you speak to my husband, who regularly has to fend off relentless requests to increase the number of pets in our house. At the moment we have a Persian cat named Yoda, a Maine coon cat named Zorro (which is the world’s largest breed of domestic cat and grows to the size of a medium sized dog), and a Panther Chameleon named Priscilla. Requests to date which my husband has (so far!) successfully managed to avert include: a St. Bernard, a Bearded Dragon, 2 Russian dwarf hamsters, a Red Setter, a Newfoundland, a chinchilla, a husky, chickens, a degu and a sphinx cat.
– I find it difficult to take criticism – a reflection, probably, of my perfectionist nature. I am, however slowly learning to deal with this, and am getting better at separating out comments that are well-founded, and where the individual has a valid point, in contrast to (thankfully rare!) comments where someone is just simply being unkind. In the former, I find that at least 9 times out of 10, the point which has been made is completely appropriate if I consider it objectively. I notice that if I do not take comments to heart and take them as constructive criticism, they have actually helped me to better my product.
Best Business Lunch Date
JK Rowling – I have read about her route to success, and how she began writing in a cafe with a new baby. I also read about the numerous rejections which she had, which seems inconceivable today! I found her story, her persistence and her attitude very inspiring and I think that it is testament to the importance of persisting and believing in your work in instances where it feels that everyone around you is rejecting it.
Ideal Business Partner
David Attenborough – partly because almost all my pieces are inspired by nature, and partly because I believe that he would be one of the most interesting people on the planet to meet, let alone work with.
Best business advice
I know it’s such a cliche, but try not to be too upset by rejection or a lack of interest in your product. In respect to the jewellery/fashion industry, because perception is so subjective, one can never ultimately say that a piece is right or wrong. If you are facing repeated rejection, it’s not that there is something wrong with your product; it’s just simply that you haven’t got the right client yet.
One thing that has really helped me, is not the success stories of people who have “made it”, but of the failures. I greatly admire successful people who are able to recount their stories of failure, rather than trying to paint a falsely rosy picture of their path to success (something which serves no purpose whatsoever, other than demoralising people who are still on that path). I think that having the courage to share stories of failure spurs on those who are facing rejection, giving them the momentum to stick at it.