This week ISB speaks Erin Browne, founder of Tinka the Label, a bespoke jewellery business that Erin has taken from a part-time hobby business she did while holding down a full-time job to an enterprise nominated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s FinTech company Square as “one of the finest small businesses in Melbourne”.
ISB: How and when did the concept of Tinka first come about?
EB: Tinka the Label has really been most of my lifetime in the making – as a child growing up on the Gold Coast I had two elderly neighbours who taught me how to make costume jewellery.
I continued to make my own pieces when I moved to Melbourne and worked full-time in administration, and friends suggested I should sell them. So, in 2014, I started selling a few items on Etsy, an eCommerce website dedicated to artisan goods. Such was the interest in them I took the plunge in October 2015, gave up my admin role and threw myself into Tinka on a full-time basis.
ISB: Did you have to borrow money to launch the enterprise?
EB: No, it was entirely self-funded. Once I went into it full time I showcased my jewellery at various markets around Melbourne, continuing to sell online as well via Etsy and, from March 2016, on Tinka’s own website that I launched at that time. I have been able to fund the purchase of the raw materials for the increasing volume of items I make through sales at the markets and online.
ISB: What was the single biggest challenge the faced in going from concept to reality?
EB: The hardest thing was getting the message out establishing a sustainable customer base. In the early days I concentrated on the markets and spent time and money on travelling to and selling at some suburban markets that just did not return a profit.
Today I concentrate on those in inner-city suburbs, such as South Melbourne Market, and in the CBD itself – Collins Place, for example – that have consistently provided a return on investment, both financial and time-and-effort.
ISB: So, Tinka started out very much as a one-woman band, but your output and reputation has grown rapidly – what does the business look like today?
EB: I have a couple of girls selling my jewellery at markets and pop-up stores, and I outsource when I need extra resources, such as a photographer for marketing a new collection.
In March 2016 I launched my own website, which I use as a retail site for my loyal customers. The next phase, which I hope to embark on soon, will be wholesaling via larger eCommerce websites such as Anthropology, so we can make the jewellery available to a much wider audience. I also have a new pop-up store at South Melbourne Market, which opened this very week.
My sales volume has increased four-fold in the two years since Tinka went “full-time”, but I still make all the pieces myself in my home studio, dedicating 20 hours and more a week to designing and creating my jewellery.
ISB: And finally, what was the most valuable lesson you have learned along the way with Tinka that you would pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?
EB: I would urge people not to be disheartened if things don’t work out first time around. You’re bound to make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and make it better next time around.