For Fiorina Golotta making jewellery was a passion, but unlike many business owners, she never dared imagine the success her business could achieve. Coming from a fashion background, Golotta had worked with clothes designers and as a make-up artist, but it wasn’t until she was 24 that she started taking private lessons in how to make jewellery.
Golotta started out making jewellery from her kitchen table and selling her creations at local markets. Before long she was being commissioned to create pieces. Through word of mouth her brand, Fiorina Jewellery, started to establish itself.
Golotta’s fashion connections served her well and before long she had started wholesaling her products. When the business launched 15 years ago, she says it was a different retail environment and “the more you had, the more you sold”.
Golotta ran the business through a wholesaling model “for a long time”, but now she owns a shop in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale and she employs eight people. While the business now turns over $1 million annually and she hopes to see further growth through the upcoming launch of her online store, Golotta intends to maintain the “intimate environment” of her small business.
SmartCompany spoke to Golotta about her transition into eCommerce, the inspiration for her designs and an endless copyright battle.
Name: Fiorina Golotta
Company: Fiorina Jewellery
Location: Armadale, Victoria
No different to the majority of the adult population, Golotta suffers from a coffee addiction. Her morning is not complete without a cup of joe.
She arrives at the store between 9:30am and 10am, and starts tinkering with possible designs.
“My first point of reference in the morning is just to come in and play with the stones and see what speaks to me. Some days it doesn’t happen, but other days there is a trigger point where you see something.
“I’m very emotional so whatever is going on in my life will translate to the business and my work is based on an exchange between the wearer and the jeweller,” she says.
Owning a now well-established business, Golotta is able to spend the majority of her time designing.
“As the business has grown, I don’t have to do everything anymore. Time is what makes the business function and now I have that luxury of time I get to design, although sometimes I get side-tracked when there are practical things to do.
“For me it’s a strange blessing that I can be creative and still make money. To call yourself an artist is a luxury and there is the notion that you have to be starving, but when you’re running a business you have to let that go,” she says.
On the day of the interview, Golotta was preparing to go to Hong Kong the following day to source materials.
“I do travel often to source materials, but it’s an excuse. There is a big world out there and it’s inspiring. I love Turkey and Italy, I’m Mediterranean so there is an immediate affiliation with their coins and their culture.”
Golotta’s designs are inspired by her travels and she takes influences from a variety of other cultures, such as India.
“I love its aesthetic and its an opulence,” she says.
Golotta’s original mentors were old jewellers and in her creations is the careful precision and artistry taught to her by the “true craftsmen”.
Golotta is currently building an online store, although she says it’s the exclusivity of her creations which has allowed her to avoid the pressure placed on retailers by the growth of online businesses.
“Thank god what I do is not that accessible online, it’s a specialty product, it’s bespoke and people are still responding to something handmade.
“The designs are also not really seasonal fashion-based, I’m still making pieces which have been in the range for 15 years,” she says.
Golotta resisted the online push at the outset, but now says it’s the way the industry is going.
“It’s a way of testing the water internationally. We are always getting international enquiries and I post orders to America and to England because there are a number of Aussies there.
“It will be an interesting way to see who responds and whose nose the business comes under. It will take a bit of time to really kick off, but I think it’s the way to go, although I still want to service the local clientele as well,” she says.
While Fiorina Jewellery grew at first through word-of-mouth, in the past few years Golotta has started to invest more into marketing.
“At first it was worth advertising in magazines, but now it’s about investing in social media. It’s become a fun process and it’s something we can control. It’s always worth letting people know about your brand.
“We’re on Facebook and Instagram, and people just love our story. We invested a bit in PR, but there was no tangible response or reward, but with Facebook and the email newsletter, there was an immediate reaction and the community grew just through sharing – it’s very dynamic,” she says.
With the email newsletter, Golotta says she’s not “offensive” in her approach.
“We don’t want to harass people, we could up the ante if we wanted to, but I’d rather wait until we’ve launched online in September.”
Golotta’s creative personality lends itself well to the design elements of the business, but she says she recognises the necessity of the “practical” tasks.
“It’s important, but it can’t get me out of bed in the morning. For me there is a happy medium. I feel like if I get too caught up in the money and the bottom line stuff I will be depressed, it’s not the money which scares me, it’s what if the customers don’t like what I do.
“I’m not frivolous – I started from nothing, so it’s all a bonus,” she says.
Rather than delighting in monetary success, Golotta is fulfilled when one of her pieces of jewellery “goes to the right home”.
One of Golotta’s greatest stresses throughout her business journey has been an ongoing copyright battle which began in November 2011 against another Melbourne jeweller, alleging it copied up to 20 of Fiorina Jewellery’s designs.
“Stressed is an understatement. There is so much frustration and I don’t feel protected, my intellectual property is just wide open.
“This battle has become a frustrating exercise and people feel like they can make money off what you do. I’m just as offended when people copy Tiffany’s or Bulgari’s designs.”
Golotta says the current IP laws need to be updated to more suitably provide protection for artists like herself.
“It scares me that parts of the industry base themselves on products which aren’t theirs and it’s kind of accepted. The legal process is expensive too, it’s kind of a waste of money,” she says.
Like many entrepreneurs, Golotta doesn’t follow a 9am to 5pm schedule.
“Because I’m a night owl, my hours are all over the shop. Sometimes I think, why can’t I do 9am to 5pm, but if you have a job to finish I stay and I do it.
“Around Christmas it’s full on and I may as well move in here [her studio], but it’s a real luxury. For me, it’s always about when there is work and I’ve never resented that,” she says.
Aside from jewellery design, Golotta’s passions are travelling, food, music and art.
“I love just being active and being fit. I love walking and I live by the beach. There is also always a dinner on, so food is a huge thing. I love music, I love sub-cultures. I have a lot of artistic friends so there are always gallerys to visit,” she says.
Looking forward, Golotta says the shift online will be “an interesting transition”, but physical expansion plans are also on the horizon.
“Being a bespoke jeweller where there is a real interaction with customers, it will be interesting to see how my product translates online.
“I think I would like to open another shop too, and the bigger picture to me is to open a store in America – I would love that to be a reality. I think it can happen, but I don’t think it’s now,” she says.
Golotta says patience is important and she trusts the way the business is going, in time she’ll be ready to expand to America without jeopardising the quality of the product.
She also intends to expand her product range by creating a junior label.
“Although they’re not revolutionary, these are the bigger-picture goals,” she says.
Reflecting back on her 15 years in business, Golotta says the necessity of thinking about the future proved to be one of her earliest lessons.
“I didn’t understand that what I was creating was actually really good, I didn’t value my own gift, so I never thought about the bigger picture. I needed to be more commercially minded in hindsight,” she says.