STEM background as environmental manager helped student ethically source goods for new business

Former City of Glasgow College student Barbara Shearer’s only regret in setting up her jewellery design business is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Although she enjoyed her previous role as an environmental project manager, she had always wanted to develop her creative talent but didn’t pursue this seriously until she was made redundant in 2015.

That proved to be perfect timing for Shearer as her real passion for jewellery making had been fired during her evening classes and she had started to sell some of her designs.

She decided to develop her skills further and applied for the HND in jewellery design at the College, which offers a wide range of full and part time courses in jewellery making and design. 

They are open to beginners as well as those with more experienced jewellery making skills. Students learn a range of basic jewellery making techniques including soldering and stone setting or can chose a specialism according to their interest or business environment.

Now 63-years-old, Barbara was slightly apprehensive about returning to formal study after so many years working but settled in very quickly. 

“It was a really good experience, very inclusive and I was never made to feel out of place,” said Shearer. “I had not been in a formal studying environment for some time so I was a little concerned but need not have been and I think you are never too old to learn. 

“I very much enjoyed it. I learned to be more open minded about design and it helped me to focus on what I wanted to do and, possibly even more importantly, it made me realise the things I did not want to do. It’s a very broad ranging course so I tried all different sorts of techniques and materials and it confirmed to me that I wanted to work in precious metals and gemstones.”

Her business, Barbara Shearer Jewellery, specialises in silver jewellery using mainly recycled silver. 

She is in the process of registering as a licensee for Fair Trade or Fairmined gold and, due to her previous employment, is keen to use not only recycled silver but also ethically sourced gemstones to try to limit the damage caused to the environment. 

“I don’t use a lot of gold but when I do I like to have the option of using Fair Trade or Fairmined gold as a premium goes back into the mining community for social development and environmental protection,” she said.

All the pieces are designed by Shearer using techniques honed during her time at college and she has even secured a commission from her alma mater which she is working on at the moment. 

“I enjoy doing special commissions. Although you are still working to a budget, they are more personal and more satisfying. 
And what advice would she give to other students going into business? 

“It’s a slow build,” she said. “Setting up is fairly straightforward as well as registering with HMRC.  

“However, I found that focusing on markets that will work for the individual is best. You have to be realistic and be ready for hard work.”

Shearer has pieces in a few galleries in Scotland and was invited to exhibit at the Henley Arts Trail which also helped boost her business. 

“The biggest challenge is marketing as you need time and money. Social media allows you to reach a very large audience but you need to devote time to that to make a real impact. 

“I have set up a website and I’m in the process of developing it further to help grow my contacts and show off my work.”

She added: “I have no regrets about not having a 9 to 5 job. I just wish I’d done it sooner. There are no office hours and I sometimes have to work very late but on the upside if the sun is shining and I don’t have deadlines I can take the day off. 

“I should have been brave and returned to college ten years ago. It really was worth it.”