Kate Sutton was a TV producer who travelled the world, leaving her tiny baby daughter at home. She had a passion for crafting jewellery and eager to find a way to keep her child close to her heart while half a world away, Kate used a set of vintage stamps to hammer her daughter’s name into the metal of a silver circle she had handmade in a silversmith class. Whenever she was away from her baby, Kate would not let go of this circle, and so the Ubercicles were born.
Starting out of their very own Sydney studio in 2003, Kate and her husband Adam, used the Ubercircle design as the launch pad to what is now one of Australia’s most recognised jewellery brands, Uberkate. What started as a passion project to wear her story around her neck, kick-started the global demand for personalised jewellery.
In 2015 the duo won “Best New Product” award at the Australian Jewellery Industry Awards and now have over 10 collections.
Behind the Brands spoke to Kate about her epic journey so far…
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur and start Uberkate?
I had been making jewellery as a hobby since I was a kid. I was working at Channel 9 Sydney as a TV producer and my hubby (then boyfriend) was working on the same show. The show was axed and we were both out of work with a baby on the way. Adam is the one who made us take the leap of faith while I was pregnant and we put our savings into starting a website for the jewellery I made at nights and on weekends. We were saving to buy a house, but he gave me the confidence to start a business instead. The word “entrepreneur” and “start up” didn’t really exist in 2002 when we started. My friends and family thought I was mad as I had just landed my dream job.
Initially, what difficulties did you face with the business?
Every difficulty you could imagine. One person doing everything, being a self-taught jeweller (with no Youtube), Australian’s not yet buying online. We had cash flow problems as we were wholesaling to shops in the beginning. I worked out at the end of my first year that I had actually been selling my signature Ubercircles set at a $30 loss on each set as I hadn’t factored any labour into the cost! I made every single mistake you could make I made in the first 3-4 years in the business. My blind faith in what I was making and my lack of knowledge went in my favour because I wasn’t scared to “ask people for help” because “I didn’t know, what I didn’t know”!
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
My dad, my sister, my hubby. My Dad and I did my first silversmithing course together and as the business took off Dad would be at the polishing machine with me encouraging me and backing me up as the workload increased. My sister came to work with me and ran our retail arm for 6 years. She grew that part of the business and always had my back as I made brave and risky decisions. My hubby Adam who is now my business partner, gave up his career in TV and is now our Chief of All things Amazing. He brings an outside the box perspective to our business and together we run the business as a lifestyle. We have adapted, evolved and changed as needed to mould the business to suit our family’s needs as our kids have grown. We now have two very entrepreneurial 16 and 12-year-old kids!
Your husband is your business partner, how do you manage the working relationship?
He knows I’m “the boss”! Ha! No really, we worked together in TV before being in business together. We have a couple of rules that work for us. No speaking badly to each other no matter how stressful the situation and keep the same level of respect you have for other staff for each other. At the end of the day you go home to the same house so you want it to be peaceful and nice.
Adam doesn’t have any ego and gives me plenty of room to dream up crazy ideas and only reigns me in if he can’t see my vision. We have very defined roles and we are both good at different things. I find if I give him time during the week to surf, play golf or go mountain bike riding and then I ask him for approval on something after he’s got his endorphin hit…it usually ends in my favour!
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
To stop doing jewellery as a side hustle and commit to the life I wanted to create. Don’t get me wrong there have been very tough years in the 17 years we have been in business. We have seen the rise of globalisation, the increase in copying of our designs, we rode the amazing Facebook wave where we organically reached up to 500-thousand people a week without spending a cent. Since then we have adapted to the changes in selling online and we are forever grateful to our large group of loyal clients who are almost like a salesforce out in the world for us!
The best decision we’ve made in business is to adapt and innovate to keep being able to run our business.
Uberkate is sold worldwide, how did you make the leap to a global brand?
We started to notice lots of USA sales coming through the .com.au website and at the same time I was invited to exhibit in New York with an Indie trade show called Metal&Smith. We launched at the show last August and while in New York we hosted a cocktail party of one of the oldest Cocktail Bars in the world The Back Room.
As our cocktail ring range seems to be really resonating with women who are responding to our hashtag #buyyourowndamnring. The cocktail ring was born in the USA in the 1920’S as a symbol of female empowerment. Bought by young women who were finally earning their own money and buying bright sparkly rings to wear on their RIGHT hands…to show the world “they bought their own damn rings!”
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Flexibility, Being a dreamer and never taking no for an answer!
What do you think your key to success has been?
Doing what I do, and not looking around me. I have always designed from my own imagination. I’m not influenced by other jewellers or what they are doing. Being innovative and creating designs that resonate and are the things that people would save in a fire. We create future heirlooms to be worn for generations. We are not fast fashion or even ‘trendy’.
My goal is to express each client’s life story through the jewellery we make for them. We wear our stories on our fingers, around our wrists and necks. That large aquamarine stone your grandmother wore will always remind you of her. We take that stone and craft jewellery that you will wear and love and YOUR granddaughter will want to wear and will always remember you by.
How have you personally measured your success?
That’s such a great question. I measure my success by how I feel about working within my business and how the people who work with me respond to me. It’s taken years to build a team of people who are all independently brilliant at what they do. When you bring that team together, that’s when the magic happens.
My success is measured by how we all feel about the work we do. When everyone is in sync we create incredible jewellery which then sells incredibly well and we all feel amazing about what we do. I’ve never measured success by how much money we make, the money is necessary so we can pay our staff, ourselves and do cool things like travel and shoot our designs in amazing locations. (I have a little obsession with travelling)
You have a family, has that had an impact on your business?
Starting a business when my daughter was in my belly was both empowering and terrifying. The thing about running a business is that sometimes you get so far in that you can’t back out. I’d spent our house deposit on starting the business so I knew I had to make it work. Since then I’ve always made decisions about the business based on what was best for our family. We worked from home for many years which worked for our babies as both of us were around to care for them and nurture the business when they were young. Adam and I have been quite interchangeable as parents which is something he gained when giving up his career to work within our business.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The freedom I’ve finally managed to create. I get to wake in the morning and create what I want to create that day.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I LOVE other Australian brands that have built their own unique brand. I adore Zimmerman, Spell, the Gypsy Collective. The minute you see something online from either brand you know it’s their DNA. They do what they do and others follow.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
We are just about to open our first Flagship store in Willoughby 10 minutes from Sydney’s CBD. I want to give people the full experience of what is inside my mind. I’ve been planning on opening a Store for so many years and I’ve finally gotten around to it! We’ve designed our own drop from the ceiling cabinets to display our jewels so I’m very excited about how it’s all going to look. In 10 years time I see us in a few other locations. New York is definitely on the list! I will keep dreaming and manifesting until I get there!