As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, who better to discuss creativity with than Sarah Meredith, a Brighton-based jewellery designer whose mischievous and heart-warming brand Rock Cakes is selling like…well, hot cakes.
Your jewellery is bold, colourful and playful. Is “being true to yourself” an important element in your designs?
Rock Cakes is an integral part of my life, it comes in a close second after my family. I live and breathe it, and I think that shows in my work. The main ethos behind Rock Cakes is to spread happiness and make people smile. Traditional jewellery can be very safe and mundane so I try to pull in the opposite direction.
When I started Rock Cakes, I’d been suppressing my ideas for so long that they all just came flooding out. This was when I made the “Every cloud…” silver chains and some of the crowned animals and the crowned tooth — these pieces were effortless and are still some of my favourites.
I guess the playful element reflects how I think and behave. It can be challenging to keep that feeling going as the world around you changes — more pressures, less time, and a growing awareness of how other awesome designers are can give me a touch of designer’s block.
My self-awareness is growing: the more confident I become, the less I care about what people think and, in turn, the freer and stronger my work can be — but that definitely takes time. Being yourself within your work is really the only way you can have true uniqueness, create consistent interesting work, and stand out from the crowd.
Do you ever feel you’re taking a risk with a piece of jewellery — that maybe it’s a bit too… “out there”?
I think that risk-taking goes hand in hand with being successful at design and business. I’d say that I take risks frequently, some emotional and some financial. It might sound odd but I think it’s as much of a risk putting something out there that you’re not proud of, as it is putting something out there that people will think is weird or that exposes you a little.
My recent work has quite a lot of swearing in it. I’ve made a Christmas tree with an axe and the tree’s saying “fuck off”. He’s not really into Christmas — he thinks chopping down trees to drag into your house is ridiculous. I wanted to make some of these pieces last Christmas but I didn’t due to the swearing — I talked myself out of it.
I also make “Fucking Medals”. I enjoy making them and love people’s reaction to them, but I’ve received official warnings and had them banned on some of my online stores due to “bad taste”!!
Another risk I took was to make the planet ring in gold. I was pretty broke and it cost hundreds to make, especially as I wasn’t happy with the first one so we made it twice. It sold, so it was worth the risk but I could have been feeding my daughter beans on toast for weeks!
With time I think that knowledge and confidence suffocates risk. You learn what will and won’t work with your audience and which platforms you can’t sell certain products on.
Do you have any tips on finding creative courage?
Don’t overthink anything. If you have an idea write it down, sketch it out and act on it — trust your gut and literally just get on with it. Learning to be self-aware can build your confidence and, really, what’s the worst that can happen…? Overcoming the barrier of making what you really want can be huge. It can expose you, and lots of makers are shy and want to hide away. If you make something that’s precious to you and the reaction isn’t positive, it can hurt, so sometimes it seems easier not to do it. Some of my favourite designers are so true to themselves, I love the work of AdamJK and Cou CouSuzette — you can see they don’t hold anything back.
Do ideas for designs come easily? Or do you sometimes struggle to find inspiration?
I know what turns my creative head on. I’m a magazine, stationery, book and fashion junkie. I’ve been cutting and sticking magazine pages since as far back as 1998 — so I always have inspiration I can reference. I also love my own company. I’m very happy to be alone and this gives my brain time to wonder – that’s when things like Tupperware parties and sharks with severed hands pop into my head. I jot everything down and have a mega list of things that I want to make.
Did you always want to design jewellery? What route did you take to becoming a designer?
It was always going to be either medicine or art for me. Chemistry hurt my brain and art meant that I could party my way through the late 90s and chase boys — so art won. It wasn’t until I discovered metalwork on my art foundation that things clicked and I knew I wanted to study jewellery design at uni.
I completely immersed myself in my degree, I adored the work, the freedom and the parties, and graduated with a first — not that anybody has ever asked…
Getting my first graduate job at a jewellery store in Kensington was a harsh reality check. My days were filled with silver dip and glass cleaner, it was dull and I was frequently spoken down to. My second job was my lucky break: I worked for a jewellery designer in Notting Hill and made my way up through the company until I was the production manager and “second in command”. I got to meet some iconic people, set up a show at the Design Museum, work on a collection for H&M in Stockholm, browse vintage jewellery archives on Place Vendome in Paris, and I was in charge of buying stones worth thousands of pounds.
I was the middleman between the designer, customers and jewellers — which I loved, but it was bitter-sweet. I saw a different side of life, a very wealthy one, but I was pretty unhappy as it could be pretentious. I had to be kind of invisible when at work as there were strong egos in play. I was suppressing my creativity and myself. In hindsight, to be happy I needed to be first in command, not second, and the whole “fashion highbrow” was fucking with my head. After seven years I made a somewhat abrupt exit and moved to Brighton in 2008 where I set up Rock Cakes…
What has been your proudest moment in your career as a designer so far?
I guess my biggest challenge so far was being interviewed on The Bottom Line last year on Radio 4. When it comes to public speaking, I’m a rabbit in the headlights. When the BBC contacted me, my head was saying “no way” but I found myself replying “yes, I’d love to…” I was very nervous and it took me a few weeks to recover! I’m proud of myself that I did it, but I’ll never listen to it again!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of jewellery design as a career — whether a school-leaver or someone considering a career change?
Practical advice is to go to art college or to an evening jewellery course and start learning. I’d also 100% recommend working for a jewellery designer or in a jewellery store — I learnt most of what I know when I worked in London. I was often out of my depth and learnt on the job which massively built up my confidence and knowledge.
If you want your own business, take advantage of online sites and social media. There’s no such thing as 9–5 anymore, and setting up a business is easier than ever — you can work a 9–5 job and from 7–11 to kick-start your own thing.
I’d also recommend joining up with your local creative community. Brighton is uniquely creative but there are Etsy groups across the UK. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can be an awesome support and it’ll spur you on.
My final tip is to take an old-school notebook and pencil everywhere you go — write and draw your thoughts and ideas, cos you never know when they might come…