Chana Baram
Chana Baram is an Analyst at Mintel focusing on the Retail sector. She harnesses her previous experience to analyse and write reports on the UK market.

Brits are gearing up to splash out on luxury items such as jewellery this Christmas after a difficult year, as Senior Retail Analyst Chana Baram explains to The Telegraph. This is likely to benefit jewellery brands like Astrid & Miyu, which was founded by Connie Nam in 2012 from her small flat in Notting Hill. The brand has moved from a purely e-commerce venture, to a business with a successful wholesale and high street presence. Astrid & Miyu has since grown to a £10m turnover business with around 80 members of staff. 

It has developed a cult following and has been worn by the likes of Jessica Alba, Sarah Hyland and Pippa Middleton. However, the brand is best known and loved for its ‘instagrammable’ piercing salons which now also offer micro-tattoos. Connie Nam has started to use her influence and knowledge to support small businesses and is particularly keen to empower female-owned and operated businesses. This year Astrid & Miyu launched a mentorship programme, supporting small and black-owned businesses, and the brand was also placed 9th in the prestigious Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100. At the start of December Connie Nam received the Fashion & Beauty Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and won in the NatWest everywoman Awards.

Chana Baram speaks to founder Connie Nam to discuss her inspiration for the jewellery brand, find out more about the mentorship programmes, discover how the retailer has been dealing with the pandemic, and her future plans for the business.

Founder Connie Nam

Source: Astrid & Miyu

Chana Baram:

CB: Can you tell us about Astrid & Miyu and how you came up with the idea for the business?

Connie Nam:

CN: After university I went into investment banking, but when I came to London to do my MBA I knew I wanted to do something in fashion. When I graduated, I saw that there were so many cool jewellery brands in London, but there wasn’t that much in the way of affordability that was also innovative. Until recently, the jewellery industry was lacking in terms of innovation compared with other parts of the fashion industry. Many specialist jewellery retailers are family-owned traditional ventures. 

When I first had the idea for the business, my mind kept going back to this little jewellery shop in Korea [where Connie was born and studied at university] that was really affordable and the person working there was just so approachable – she knew all of her customers and the jewellery offering was fantastic. I wanted to recreate that community environment here in London and opened pop-ups to test the physical concept of Astrid & Miyu.

Astrid & Miyu on Neal Street

Source: Astrid & Miyu

CB: The fashion and retail landscape has changed massively over the last few years, but 2020 has been particularly challenging. How has this impacted the business? 

CN: Due to the disruptions the pandemic caused on our supply chains, we had to start doing all of our sampling via 3D printing locally. In terms of sales, we have continued to do quite well throughout – people have just been shopping more online. Throughout the lockdowns we have offered online styling, with store managers doing online consultations for new and existing customers. Rather than shopping for fashion, we found that many people are investing in jewellery, and this has been reflected in our sales. During the lockdowns we were bombarded with messages asking when our piercing service will be restarted – it definitely helps that we have built a community and we offer a service that draws customers into stores. 

Additionally, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to talk about things that weren’t just product-based. Instead, we took time out to think about wider issues including diversity, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and self-care. When we realised we wanted to do more to help various causes and initiatives, the easy thing to do would have been to simply donate money to a cause of our choice – instead, we decided that we wanted to work on a mentorship programme. I picked three small businesses to mentor behind the scenes and this was something that was easier to do during lockdown when it could have more of my focus. When the BLM solidarity protests happened in May, I felt that I wanted to offer this programme to black entrepreneurs who otherwise might struggle to have the resources or networks. We are providing a monthly mentorship as well as a speaker series with investors to let them know how to get investment, how to pitch a company, and how to build a consumer brand. At the end of the programme the businesses will get a grant to help them get started. 

CB: What effect do you think the most recent lockdown will have had on Christmas jewellery sales?

CN: Despite the second lockdown ending following Cyber Weekend, it’s very likely we’ll see more consumers purchasing jewellery online throughout the Christmas period. As well as providing jewellery products, retailers must continue to prioritise the customer experience online. The services usually offered in person in jewellery stores, from personal shopping to piercing, are diminished this festive season therefore retailers need to devise ways to give online customers something more than a few clicks and then a check out. 

We saw a spike in store traffic and sales between lockdowns and, with Christmas around the corner, our online sales have soared during lockdown, particularly during around our Black Friday promotions. Our marketing campaigns and strategies don’t differ significantly from previous years, beyond promoting our online appointments.

CB: What is next for Astrid & Miyu?

Astrid & Miyu in Selfridges

Source: Astrid & Miyu

CN: We plan to open more stores; we are all about providing a community and experience. People continue to come into stores to get piercings, tattoos. We also offer a popular personalised, made-to-measure welding bracelets service that people need to come into stores for. Therefore, we are planning on opening another store at the beginning of the 2021 that will be more lifestyle/experience driven than our other stores and we will also sell some other brands within that store. 

Due to the fact that we had such a strong voice and presence throughout lockdown, standing up for issues we believe in and launching our Brand Lab podcast, we have created a stronger community and we intend to enhance that feeling for any future plans.