Our family emigrated from South Africa, initially to Melbourne and then to Perth where I grew up. Perth is similar to Johannesburg in many ways. My family is very creative and I always had the opportunity to express myself through art and crafts. My mother is very spiritual and earthy and was always painting and she’s a photographer, and we were often doing something artistic together like pottery classes or painting or beading. My grandmother was a milliner and my grandfather was very crafty and made beautiful ornaments that he turned in jewellery. So when I finished school I knew I wanted to do something creative or in a creative arena but I wasn’t sure which direction to explore because I had such a wide range of interests. In school I used to paint and write beautiful poetry over the paintings, so I think that’s where my love of literature and poetry evolved into art, and I’m now using words in all of my pieces. Every piece of my jewellery tells a story, it’s all about meaning and connection and they all have beautiful engravings to empower the wearer. So without me even realising the connection, my vision started a long time ago.
I went to University and studied Design and Interior Architecture. After graduating I decided to follow my dreams and moved to Melbourne on my own, leaving behind my family and friends. My grandmother was living in Melbourne and I had holidayed here many times and felt a connection with it immediately. I love the culture and it’s so alive. I was on a mission to find a dream job and a new, exciting path filled with passion. It was difficult, I was on a Uni budget and a bit naive thinking I could score myself a job with a world-renowned architecture firm just by calling them up and sending in my CV, but with a lot of persistence I did find the dream job at Bates Smart, one of the oldest architecture firms in Melbourne. I stayed there for a year working on amazing projects like the interior of the Crown Casino, Clemenger Advertising Agency and The Alfred Hospital. I did an internship that became a full time job, and I was over the moon! I’d pinch myself, but somewhere deep down inside I knew it was meant to be. I am very determined and I never give up, which has served me well in my own business. You have to have a real sense of determination to get through the hard times.
All during this time, and when I was at Uni, I was always doing beading and making things, and selling them in a few stores to make some extra cash. I loved making things with my hands and I was self-taught with everything I made. When I make my own pieces of jewellery I can see results straight away, compared to studying or working on big commercial interior projects that take a long time to come to fruition. By day I was in the corporate world and at night I was beading – and I started having a few jewellery parties to help fund my dream trip to New York. It just grew organically, with complete strangers calling me to make special pieces for them. I remember thinking, just imagine what would happen if I put 100% into my jewellery instead of 20% . Where could it lead? I realised I could go back to interior architecture any time, so I decided to leave my job, give the jewellery all of me for six months and see what happened.
After six months, I had put in so much blood, sweat and tears, there was no turning back. The business had become my baby with sleepless nights and working all day. Sometimes I just wanted to switch off and work a nine to five job instead of working late into the night every night, but I couldn’t give up. I went on that trip to New York with my mum and it was so inspiring. I remember going to Barneys and seeing pieces of jewellery that cost thousands of dollars, I would have loved to own them but they were just too expensive, but they inspired me to make my own versions. I got home and made them and they were my biggest sellers for years. I mixed pearls and silver and metals together. A few years after that I went to a trade fair in Hong Kong and found my first manufacturer, so that’s when I started making more elaborate metal pieces in silver, gold and brass. That was when it turned from a hobby into a real business. It all just grew into a wide collection of pieces and I was selling to a number of stores in Melbourne. I did everything myself, sales, accounts, design. And for some reason I just thought I could do everything, so I did. This was my livelihood and there was no room for thinking anything else.
I think the most difficult thing about my business has been starting it without capital. I was envious of people who had money that they could spend on staff so they didn’t have to juggle every single element, the escalation of a business would happen so much more quickly whereas it has been a slow process for me. It has been great because my business has grown organically and I really understand what my customer loves, but everything that I made went straight back into the business. It has taken a very long time to level itself and allow myself to invest in my first staff member so that I could focus on sales and design. Up to that point I was chasing my tail doing a bit of design, a bit of sales, a bit of admin – as much as I could stretch myself to do. It was a big decision to take on a staff member and now we have eight girls working in the business, from operations, admin and sales to marketing and social media. I still do all of the design and manage the creative process. It’s taken a long time to find the right team, it’s hard to find dedicated staff you can trust and who can see your vision and help you execute everything in the way you want it to be.
I have been working with Channel Ten wardrobe for many years now, they even hosted a jewellery party for me at the Channel Ten offices in South Yarra when I was starting out. Carrie Bickmore and Chrissie Swan have been dressed in Nicole Fendel Jewellery for years through Channel Ten wardrobe. Before the series of Offspring started, Channel Ten wardrobe contacted me as they thought the brand would suit their main character (Nina Proudman) perfectly. That was the turning point in my business. Nina was dressed in Nicole Fendel Jewellery for the entire show and the response was amazing. The bar necklace worn by Nina is now an iconic pendant and has been renamed the “Nina Necklace”. For the last series, Channel Ten engaged me and asked if I would be interested in running a competition via an advertisement on every episode, giving away the Nina necklace to a lucky viewer. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be featured on a Channel Ten ad on prime time TV. We have sold thousands of this iconic pendant and customers are still asking for the “Nina Necklace”.
Now I have Zac who is nearly three and Aria who is only four months old. When Zac came along, it was a very big change. In a way it actually helped me to have a better work / life balance. Looking after him made me separate the two, whereas before my life and my business were combined. It made me really be present at home, because for me the most important thing having kids is creating that balance. I want to still have a career and have a business but at the same time. I don’t want to miss out on my kids growing up and all the special moments. Life just goes by so fast.
The biggest challenge is that there are not enough hours in the day. My motto is to be present and be in the moment with them when I’m at home with them, but sometimes when I’m so exhausted from being up all night I just want to turn on the TV for Zac and just zone out. But my rule is no technology – no computers, no phones. Zac knows I do work on my computer, but when I’m with him I have one-on-one time with him. We have day care for Zac three days a week and my husband is a stay at home Dad on a Monday. My husband has been an amazing support for me.
My designs did evolve a bit when I had children. I wanted to focus more on personalisation pieces. All of a sudden I wanted to make initials and wear a Z for Zac, so that’s something we are moving towards – with an alphabet collection, and where mums can have their kids names engraved.
My baby girl Aria came along a few months ago. Running a business and having two little ones means I have to be super organised, prioritise my time and be a great multi-tasker – you know, breastfeeding and cleaning the fridge at the same time, or doing five things at once. Being organised does not come naturally to me but I’ve been working on it for the past few years. I have a calendar for every person in the household so I know what they’re doing and when they’re doing it.
The best piece of advice I can give, from someone who has a business and a new born and a toddler, is you have to be passionate about what you’re doing and have a strong vision. You have to love what you’re doing because there’ll be a lot of sleepless nights, and there’ll be a lot of amazing moments and a lot of hard times too. There will be times when you’ll feel like it’s too much, but if you have that passion inside – you will continue and you will follow your dreams.
One of Australia’s leading jewellery designers, Nicole Fendel is famous for her hand crafted signature statement earrings and sentimental engravings designed to empower the wearer. Inspired by various cultures and decorative elements from around the world, the collection features the highest quality of rich hammered metals and semi-precious stones. Her designs have captured the hearts of A-list celebrities such as Jennifer Hawkins, Isabelle Lucas, Ashley Hart and international bloggers such as Margaret Zhang.
While it you can start a business with no capital, having the right funds behind you can accelerate your business growth. With a Business Mamas Diploma of Business, we’ll help you put together a strong financial plan and explore opportunities for investment and funding, so you get your business of the ground just that little bit faster.
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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