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Charm personified

Lily Lee, founder of Lily Charmed, talks about standing out in the jewellery industry, personalised products and her quest for a work-life balance

Charm personified: Image 1 Tell me a bit about how the label was started.

It's a well-worn tale! I had two very young children and was working in live TV, which meant I worked long hours away from home on shows like Strictly Come Dancing, so I made the decision to start my own business and try and find some of that work-life balance that you hear so much about.I approached a cousin who owned a chain of jewellery shops, and suggested I run an online store for his business, and after some brain storming we came up with the idea for Lily Charmed. My sister wore a cluster of vintage charms on a necklace and that was part of the initial inspiration.

What was the aim of the label when it was first established?

Our aim was to tell a story with jewellery, adding sentiment to each piece with a message card, so that when it was gifted, the design had meaning and a connection to the person receiving it. Bead charms were everywhere at the time, and gifting and collecting charms has always been a wonderful way to collect jewellery, so we merged these ideas into a new charm jewellery concept.

How were the initial products developed, and what was the response?

The first range of charms was small, around 10 charms in total, including three heart designs. However, the collection as a whole was large because there were so many options of message cards - too many. We kept to three design principles for the charms; they had to be silver, small and beautifully detailed, all with quality being the main focus. We used various wax carving methods to create the first designs and the response was great. We knew we had something special as we were picked up by and we established a way of personalising each message card for our customers - the perfect way to add sentiment to a gift.

What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out?

Working from home surrounded by family life was tricky, but workable. However, early on we were horrified at being burgled, and losing most of our jewellery - which wasn't covered by home insurance. An alarm and a safe were quickly installed, and when we grew and moved premises, security was at the top of our agenda.I also learned that it's very important to have a business agreement among directors and to set objectives for what you want to achieve as a way of measuring success and ensuring any changes in direction are effectively managed. When the other original shareholder left the business, it was a steep learning curve, as I found myself running all aspects of the business including becoming the principle jewellery designer. However, it now seems that this is the role I love the most in the entire business, as it allows me to put my creative hat on, and I work with my sister, an artist, to move forward with designs in a much more creative way.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

The quality of our jewellery is phenomenal, and it's very reasonably priced. This gives us great loyalty with both retail and wholesale customers - as once they find us, they keep coming back. Our quirky designs, such as our custard cream, flying pig and balloon dog charms, give us the edge when the jewellery landscape can seem a little samey.Offering personalisation on message cards, for both retail and trade markets also gives us a point of difference. All of our customers can use the bespoke message card printing service for their choice of jewellery or occasion - it could be for a friend's birthday or a thank you to bridesmaids. People love to receive a gift with their name on it. We're often moved to tears by some of the messages we receive on orders; we're very lucky to be able to see kindness every day!

How important is the location and history of the company to its success?

The location of our studio has changed three times in five years, and as we grow I'm sure we'll move again, so the actual location of our premises doesn't affect our success. Lily Charmed is an online business, which gives us great flexibility with location. The history of the company is important - we started as a family business, and continue to be. We also have strong ethical standards which we stand by. All our charms are made with recycled silver, and are cast in Bali by a cooperative, with each worker getting a profit share. I visit all our suppliers regularly and will continue to do so; I think it's really important to stay connected to every part of the jewellery-making process, in order to maintain both quality and peace of mind.

How has the product offering changed over the years and how would you describe your current collection?

Our presentation has changed, after customer feedback. Our trade customers asked not to have a white box, as it was too easy to get dirty in store. So we changed to a soft grey. We also changed the format of the message card, and updated the font styles to keep up with contemporary tastes, and my own passion for typography! The charms themselves have also become slightly larger and more detailed as we try new 3D printing processes, alongside more traditional techniques. We use the theory that if something doesn't sell, we stop selling it and move on with other lines. This keeps our charm designs fresh and relevant. We also use Facebook and Instagram to get suggestions and ideas from customers, which really helps. Our newest collection is inspired by the magical, including mermaids, unicorns and a frog prince! Each year our designs seem to follow a theme, biscuits and baking was last years.

How often do you launch new lines?

I design all the time, and my sister and I are always having crazy ideas about what charms we'll do next. We launch a new charm when it's ready, so some months there may be five new designs, in others only one or two. We don't give ourselves a timetable; when a design is ready, we launch. Some ideas we love but are still being perfected after six to 12 months of development.

What are the current bestselling designs? Tell me about your recent campaigns.

We're running a charity campaign to support Friends of the Earth, donating 1 for every bee or flower charm sold in September. The bee has always been one of our bestselling designs, and we know how important it is to protect our bees. It's a great feel-good campaign, and one that I'm sure we'll repeat. This year we were thrilled to be asked to create branded thank-you gifts for celebrity guests at Lorraine's High Street Fashion awards and ITV's This Morning. It's nice to get the recognition for our jewellery on that level - and we do get a kick out of spotting our necklaces on them! Our current bestselling designs are the flying pig and unicorn charm necklaces, but the rich tea and custard cream biscuit necklaces and cufflinks are still yummy favourites. We developed children's sizes in bangles and necklaces due to customer demand and we're looking forward to seeing how they do this Christmas.

Which trade shows do you attend and which one works best for you?

We normally go to Spring Fair in Birmingham and Top Drawer in London. It's hard to know which shows work best, as you generally only know many months afterwards how successful the shows were. We prefer Top Drawer on a personal level as we can stay at home and it's a shorter, more family-friendly event.

When was the website launched and how does it support the business?

The website was launched in 2011, a few months after we started the business. It is, and will remain, the main retail hub for Lily Charmed. We've developed it, and will keep doing so to make it as easy to use for trade and retail customers alike.Our USP of personalised message cards is a main feature on the website. Retail customers can use our 'create your own charm necklace' page to design a necklace comprising a bespoke choice of chain length, cluster of charms and message. This is so popular, as customers can play and try out different options before they purchase. Due to the success of this, we're launching a 'create your own charm bracelet' page later this year.Our trade customers also use the website to place orders and find out about new lines. Trade customers need the ease of online ordering, as we understand they're running businesses themselves - so we like to make their purchasing as easy and fuss-free as possible! The website's also a great way to give new customers an overview of our business, we use Feefo as an independent review platform to allow customers to share feedback and reviews - our 99 per cent rating gives new customers confidence to buy from us, and keeps them coming back.

What have been the key milestones in the business?

Joining was our first major milestone - it gave us access to a wide audience, business support tools and trend guidance. Supplying John Lewis and Mint Velvet in our first few years made us realise we had potential as a brand. We then worked with the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) to help us trade internationally, a massive step in seeing how Lily Charmed could develop and expand. However, for me the largest milestone - after years of supporting me and the business as it grew - was when my husband left his corporate career in marketing to join the business full time, and help grow the business to its current success. It meant that the business was ready to support our entire family and we could took another step towards a work-life balance for the entire family.

How do you view the current market and what trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging over the coming months?

It's been an interesting time. Brexit has caused our base costs to go up, and, although we haven't increased our prices, this is something we may have to consider in time. Lily Charmed is growing quickly, and we're finding more trade customers internationally especially in the USA and China, which makes us consider these markets when designing new lines. But we listen to all our customers, as we find this is the best way to understand what our market wants. We do look to trend forecasts, Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, but we also look back to vintage charms and designs. Sometimes the best ideas come to us out of the blue and we just cross our fingers that our customers like them.

What are your future plans for the business?

We want Lily Charmed to become the go-to charm company for quirky, collectable, quality charms, but we also want to maintain our original concept, gifting jewellery on message cards - jewellery with meaning. We're planning future international expansion, and working with a high street retailer on some exclusive lines, which shall be in stores for Christmas. We're also launching another brand of fashion jewellery with an accompanying website in 2017 - Scream Pretty, which is currently available exclusively via

Lily Charmed
+44 (0)1753 474 700