Sunday sit-down with… Kellie Daniels of Salome Designs
After a 2020 that has been decidedly lacking in glamour, we’re craving a little exoticism. Enter Salome Designs: the Newcastle-based jewellery brand stocked in upmarket stores from London to New York.
By Becky Hardy
After a 2020 that has been decidedly lacking in glamour, we’re craving a little exoticism. Enter Salome Designs: the Newcastle-based jewellery brand stocked in upmarket stores from London to New York. We caught up with founder and New Orleans native Kellie Daniels to find out more
Tell us about Salome Designs.
Salome is actually my Mom’s name. She sadly passed away when I was a teenager, but jewellery was one of our things. My Mom was very particular about what I wore – I was never allowed to wear any really short skirts or anything – but she always let me express myself with jewellery. So I’d wear the most ridiculous earrings. I mean, I was a teenager in the ‘90s – it was the ‘Clueless’ era, so you could have earrings on the size of Saturn! But that was the way I expressed myself and how I bonded with my Mom. And she had a really beautiful collection of jewellery: she always liked her jewellery to have meaning and she loved gemstones. So she’s definitely the inspiration for the brand.
But I’ve also taken into consideration everything that the name ‘Salome’ means, because it has connotations of being that really strong woman, a woman who was very empowered. Historically, Salome was the one who called for John the Baptist’s head on a platter – but we can’t hold that against her! I’m sure there was a whole backstory to that. But she was a strong character and I wanted to embody that strength in our jewellery. So I wanted our pieces to empower women and give them the same freedom of expression that I found in jewellery.
Your jewellery is inspired by the power of natural gemstones. How do you find out about the properties and legends associated with each stone?
There’s lots of information online, but there’s also a great book out right now by Carol Woolton, who is an editor for British Vogue and a jewellery expert. She’s just put out The New Stone Age. It’s a great read and coincides with a lot of what we’ve done ourselves. A lot of the stones’ properties come from folklore but have some truth to them. So take lapis lazuli, which is a beautiful blue stone with gold flecks in it. The Ancient Egyptians used to say that it could protect you against the ‘evil eye’. That was because they used to put it around their eyes when they were travelling up and down the river and it protected them against bacteria, because it had natural antibacterial properties. But you’ll find there’s usually an element of truth and science behind the mystic folklore associated with each stone.
You source your gemstones from as far afield as California and the South Pacific. What do you look for in the materials you use?
I’m always inspired by the stones themselves and how they look when they’re on. But we work really hard to try and sustainably source our materials, so when I’m calling a gemstone supplier, I always ask how they function. And sometimes I’ll find a beautiful stone that I want to work with, but when I get to the bottom of how the company behind that stone is producing it, it doesn’t align with what Salome believes in. So we have to be really careful. It’s not a transparent field, to be honest – unless they own the mines themselves, no-one can give you any guarantees. All you can do is ask the questions and hope that they’re honest. So we get our stones from all over the place. There’s a massive jewellery show over in Arizona, it’s one of the biggest gemmology shows in the world, and I’d love to go to that one day. They have these real rocks of the earth in huge chunks and you can just say: ‘oh, I’d like 2,000 cuts of that’ and they’ll just take your order. So that’s definitely on my bucket list.
How has 2020 affected Salome Designs?
Luckily we were already established online, but we were still focusing on sales in stores such as Fenwick, which is still a priority of ours. But we’ve had to change gears slightly and have put the majority of our attention on our own website now. We also used to manufacture some of our collections in Italy as well as here in our Blaydon studio, but we’ve had to stop the Italian connection because they obviously got hit first with COVID and everything just shut down. They were based just outside of Venice, so in one of the worst-hit areas. They are still doing our gold work though; we get everything gold-plated in Italy because they employ artesian craftsmanship and they do such an amazing job, you can really trust what you’re getting. We put 2.5 microns of gold plating in 24-carat gold, so it’s a really thick layer of gold, not like the junk you can get. So we still do all of that with our Italian friends because there’s really nobody else, but we’ve taken the jewellery-making side of things all in-house. Other than that, we’ve just been helping everyone here work remotely. They used to all come into the studio, there was a great vibe and I really miss that! But we’ll get back to normal one day.
You started Salome in Newcastle but your jewellery is now stocked in stores around the world, including in London and New York. What do you think it is about your designs that have proved so popular?
Over the first lockdown I was asking all my friends that exact question, because I wanted to know what it was about the jewellery that resonated with people. And obviously it wasn’t really fair because I was asking my friends, so I knew they were all going to say: ‘oh, it’s because you’re wonderful!’ But what I kept hearing from all of them was that they liked the jewellery because it had meaning. Everybody likes natural gemstones – they’re a real piece of the earth and all have feelings, meanings and intentions attached to them. I really try to give meaning and purpose to every collection too, so I think that significance is what people are connecting with.
Tell us about your new Penelope Collection.
We always start with what stones we want to work with and we’ve gone for pearls and malachite for Penelope. We went with that name because of the story of Penelope and Odysseus, where she waits 20 years for him. I feel like we’ve all been doing that this year, haven’t we?! Just waiting: waiting to start our lives again, to see our families again, to have a dance, just for everything. So for me, it was a perfect representation of where we’re at: that constant state of limbo. But it’s also hopeful, because Penelope remains stoic and is just a total queen for those 20 years. Because she was Queen of Ithaca, she kept having to see new suitors while her husband was away, but she kept turning them down and making up excuses. The story goes that she was making a tapestry and would say: ‘when I finish this, I’ll name what suitor I want to marry’, and then every night she’d unpick it and start again. So hers is also a story of true and unconditional love – that idea that we don’t really mind waiting if that’s what’s going to protect the ones we love.
What would be your advice to any other women in the North East looking to start up their own business?
It’s really scary, I’m not going to lie! But my father always likes to say: ‘she’s a really good jewellery designer, but she’s fantastic with public relations’, and that’s what has helped me the most. You really do need to understand media and marketing. Take as many courses as you can, learn about digital marketing and Google ads and all that good stuff. Because there are a lot of people out there who are very talented, but it’s about transferring that talent into something marketable. I think my PR background has really helped me to turn this from a hobby into a sustainable brand. So that would be it really, just try and educate yourself as much as possible – not so much from a business side of things, because that will come and you’ll learn along the way – but learn how to communicate and network, and understand how to navigate digital marketing in a way that doesn’t cost you a fortune but that means you end up getting a lot back from it. That would be my advice.
What do the next 12 months look like for Salome?
I would normally be able to answer that question very quickly but it’s tricky at the moment. Before Salome, I used to work for The Guggenheim in New York where I ran a lot of events, and I’ve always enjoyed that side of things. We’ve done some pretty exciting events already with Salome – we’ve done events at Kew Gardens, we sponsored the Cross River Gorilla Project, which is an amazing organisation. I’m actually a consultant and ambassador for that charity and we give 10 percent of our Lebialem Highlands Collection to them. If you don’t know who they are, check them out – a brilliant local charity, they’re based here in Newcastle but they help the rainforest over in Cameroon. So obviously we haven’t been able to do any events just now, but we’re going to try and do as much as we can within the limitations that we’ve been given. It will all depend on what the world looks like next year. But if we can’t get back to doing those kind of things then we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past seven months and focus online. We’ve moved from working with really big influencers to working more with smaller, micro-influencers and that’s working really well. I think people feel like they can relate to them more. Whereas when you see a super glamorous girl, you kind of feel like: “oh God, I need to go and brush my hair!” So we’re trying to be more authentic and relatable in that way.
If you could only pick one piece of Salome jewellery for a loved one’s Christmas present this year, which piece would you go for and why?
Oh gosh. There’s one that popped in my head initially, but I don’t know if I should go with that one, give me two seconds to think! OK. I mean, it’s Christmas. And it depends on the woman. Obviously, if she’s not a statement earring kind of girl then that’s a bit of a problem. But I really love our tribal collection, and we’ve got a Stephanie Waxberg tribal pearl earring with fringe. For me, they’re glorious! I have a friend who, during the first lockdown, would put them on to go out and do a bit of gardening, just to feel glamorous. But they really do that, they elevate you. You could be wearing a plain dress or whatever and put these on and suddenly you just feel like a goddess! So if you want to lift them up and help give them a little glamour to what has been an incredibly un-glamorous year, then I would go for those. They’re my personal favourites too. We do make them without the fringe, for someone who’s a little more reserved. But the fringe is so fun!