Zoe & Morgan Creative Siblings Issue 11

Categories: Fashion-Creative Siblings Issue 11

Zoe Williams, Ruth Sibbald and Morgan Sibbald are siblings, all two years apart, each living in different countries. Together, they’ve run international jewellery brand Zoe and Morgan for the last 13 years.

Zoe: We’ve been split in different countries right from the beginning.

Ruth: For the first couple of years, Zoe was in London, Morgan was in Bali, and I was in New Zealand. Zoe was making jewellery that sold in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. She’d built up a name for herself locally. She was living in Primrose Hill and she used to do little evenings at her house. She didn’t have packaging so she put everything into pink envelopes.

Zoe: Neneh Cherry arrived one time and I was like ‘I remember you from a poster on my brother’s wall!’ Our father was a jeweller so we had already learned a lot. We’d go to his shop after school and hang out there.

Ruth: Morgan had started a label called Dikini Jewel and I was selling in a few shops, too. We were all making jewellery, but none of us was doing it properly.

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Zoe: I was designing millinery in London for Rachel Skinner. We’d exhibit at Paris Fashion Week every season. Morgan came to visit me, and he looked around at all of the other designers, full of confidence, and said ‘We could make something way better.’ He had just moved to Bali. He said he would do all the castings and I’d do all the distribution from London.

Morgan: I’d got inspired during a trip to India where I got a lot of beautiful stones and began using my father’s old jewellery tools. At Paris Fashion Week, I saw a massive lack of original and beautiful jewellery. The place that inspired me was the Louvre, especially the Egyptian section, which inspired an earring that we used in our first collection, and still sell.

Zoe: We were very lucky to be able to get into Paris Fashion Week. They have at least 300 people apply each season and they only have space for about three new exhibitors, because a lot of designers have been showing there for about 20 years. We just showed them our jewellery and they liked it. We could only afford to make orders for 12 shops, because we didn’t have a bank loan or anything. And then the next season our orders doubled, and then doubled again. It just kind of grew from there.

Zoe: The best piece of advice I ever had was from a business advisor in London called Dr Smart. She said, ‘when you’re planning your business, plan your family lifestyle as well, because if you’re happy with your family, then you’ll always be happy with your work’. Right from the beginning, we’ve created the business to support seeing each other and staying in communication, and being able to raise our little beauties.

Morgan: Moving so much as kids, the only regularity in our lives was each other. With family, there is a much deeper level of trust and acceptance, and lots of the cultures that are strong in jewellery are family-oriented ones.

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Zoe: About two years in, I fell pregnant. I called Ruth and said ‘Oh my god, the business is so good now, and I just found out I’m pregnant. Ditch everything and come and live in London with me’.

Ruth:: I was working as a model booker in Auckland. I went straight to London Fashion Week, then did Paris, and then Zoe went to have her son in Bali.

Zoe: I did a house swap with Morgan, so I had his awesome cleaner and cook, and he went to London to run the business. I came back to New Zealand when Ace was two, and I’ve been there ever since.

Zoe: From day one, we have always come together to design. Our accountant complains that we spend quite a lot on travelling around the world. But we grew up travelling and family is so important to us.

Ruth: We were born in England. Our father was Argentine, our mother was English. We moved to New Zealand when we were quite young, on one of the last passenger cargo ships. Zoe learned to walk on the boat and took her first steps on dry land in Jamaica. We went back to England for a couple of years, going through Japan and India, and went to primary school in the Cotswolds, then came back. Travelling is quite a bonding experience. We‘re also just really similar – we enjoy the same food, the same films. We were always borrowing each other’s clothes, growing up. Being close in age, having the same interests and friends, we just loved hanging out with each other.

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Zoe: For our contemporary collection, Ruth and I recently did a sisters’ trip to Morocco. We stayed in this amazing old riyadh that turned out to belong to Richard Branson’s sister. The windows and doorway became shapes for rings; the tiles on the floor were cut-out patterns in big earrings. We photographed in the locations, so customers could see how it all threads together.

Morgan: I’ve found so much inspiration while travelling. We have made destination-focused collections for years and it works well on many fronts. Half our family is in South America, so expect a South American collection soon!

Ruth: The process has changed over the years with technology, but a lot of our design still starts with drawing. We have a wax carver in Bali who will shape something out of wax, which is then carved into silver. We work on that, because often you want more detail, and then that becomes your mould.

We used to have fun sitting around together in a garden or by the pool in Bali with some pliers and wire, putting components together and just experimenting. As our children have grown up and it’s become harder for us all to meet up, a lot of it’s now done with Computer-Aided Design. In CAD, you can get precision, you can set stones really well, things can be very symmetrical — it’s the only thing we would use for wedding commissions. For more organic forms like our falcon necklaces, you would never get that personality through CAD, so that’s all hand-cast.

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For engagement rings, the design is quite different. It’s not such a collective process. Zoe designs a lot of the bespoke commissions that come through the website. I do them in England and I still hand-draw everything.

Zoe: If I’m making something for someone overseas, I really want to find out about them. I ask for photos. It makes a difference, even just to see their hand. Some men write the most beautiful testimonials about their partners. I had an email this morning from a gentleman who we created something for. He secretly videoed himself proposing. She just collapsed on the ground crying, and he kind of tripped up and fell on top of her and they both lay on the side of the road, crying. There are some gorgeous, life-affirming moments that we get to share in.

When you’ve had a business for a while, a lot of your time is spent on the logistics, the accounting, the staffing. But the biggest enjoyment for me is making wedding commissions. They inject a little bit of creativity into my daily life.

Ruth: Obviously we know some customers really well and they come in and buy bits each season, but the majority of what we design is sold in shops and you have no idea where it’s going. What’s lovely about the wedding collection is getting to know the person buying that piece. That was a really special and important step for us, as a business, because it’s helped us understand and get to know who our ultimate customer is.

Zoe: Our latest collection was shot in Nepal. Morgan is busy planning a family tramping holiday through the mountains. He’s decided to become our photographer, because it means we can go to more exotic locations without a massive crew. The business is still growing, but we’re trying not to let it grow so much that it affects our family lifestyle.

Ruth: It’s also about keeping the integrity of the brand, and so we can have enough time to spend on wedding customers and not spend all our time worrying about running the business. I cut down on a lot of the people we were wholesaling to, like ASOS and Amazon. The aim is not to sell, sell, sell. It’s to make beautiful things that will last.

Zoe: And raise these beautiful little people.

Categories: Fashion-Creative Siblings Issue 11 Categories: Fashion-Creative Siblings Issue 11 Categories: Fashion-Creative Siblings Issue 11Categories: Fashion-Creative Siblings Issue 11

Zoe and Morgan