Claire Hammon and Greg Fromont are the talents behind Meadowlark, the ‘decadently dark’ handcrafted jewellery capturing the attention of stars such as Rihanna and Lorde. Exporter tracked their journey to world markets.
When you consider the early direction their personal careers took, it was almost inevitable that Claire Hammon and Greg Fromont’s paths would cross one day.
Before moving to Auckland from Christchurch, Claire had a streetwear brand called Urchin which she started when just 16. She grew the brand quickly, went into partnership, and then sold up around age 24. Claire was also “pretty obsessed” with learning graphic design; she did every creative course she could find, designed magazines and, after moving to Auckland in 2004, worked as a freelance graphic designer. She met Greg the following year.
Meanwhile Greg had completed a visual arts degree at Manukau Institute of Technology, majoring in jewellery. “It was mostly focused on art and contemporary jewellery, so was experimental rather than traditional jewellery making,” he explains.
Greg was also heavily involved in competitive skateboarding and worked for a skateboard manufacturer. His CV also boasts a short business diploma.
The couple met through mutual, mostly musician, friends. “That music scene was definitely part of our initial connection,” Greg says.
They would very soon be connecting from a design skills perspective too. They talked about collaborating on something – then came an epiphany that the ‘something’ would be jewellery.
“I don’t think we were super serious at first,” Claire admits, “but me being me, I had to do things as professionally as I could. So it probably looked a whole lot more serious than it was.” Greg remembers trying to make jewellery his full-time business. “It was kind of taking shape, but I was pretty lost with it really. Claire knew what she was doing from the get go, and I fully trusted her.”
For the first couple of years they made jewellery in their bedroom.
Understandably, a major milestone for Claire was moving into their first commercial space.
Today the couple are extremely proud of Meadowlark and the international profile it has been receiving. “Having jewellery on some really great women has been a great step for us,” says Claire. “And we’ve hit some big financial milestones that I could never have foreseen.
“I guess the biggest milestone is that Meadowlark is our full-time job, it pays our rent and allows us to be creative without boundaries.” Greg agrees. “Our first milestone was being able to live off our own creativity. Certainly the business premises was a long time coming. Having staff to help with all the things we wanted Meadowlark to do really well has been huge, as is having overseas stockists and a massive following of people who believe in what we’re doing.”
Those followers include high profile entertainers such as FKA Twigs, Jamie King, Florence Welch, Chelsea Wolfe, Alison Mosshart, Jamie Hince, Grimes, Bat For Lashes, Alisa Xayalith, Rihanna and Lorde.
Overseas ‘bricks and mortar’ stockists can be found in California, New York, Portland, Texas, Australia and the UK. Local stockists include Walker & Hall, Smith & Caughey and Silvermoon. And there are a number of online shopping sites featuring Meadowlark.
Getting the stars on board, such as Rihanna and Lorde, was largely about being in the right place at the right time, believes Greg. “But, more importantly, they just liked what we made. That’s actually a really important part of it for me.”
“In almost all situations we’ve been really lucky,” adds Claire. “With Lorde, we approached her long before she got international fame. We just thought she was cool and so gave her some pieces.
“With Rihanna, we knew someone had borrowed our pieces for the W shoot, but on the day we got a call from our New York agents saying Rihanna loved the septum ring so much she wouldn’t take it off. Could she keep it?
“We woke up the next day to her being all over the news because of that one piece of jewellery.”
As for their export journey, Claire says they’re really just getting started.
“We don’t have a strategy, we work quite intuitively and don’t do anything in a rush. We started with Australia and found it really difficult; it’s not an easy market to deal with but the advice is always to start with Australia. I knew at the time we should just bypass there but we’d sunk a lot of money into it.
“We’ve been working on the US market for almost two years now, it’s going slower than we had hoped but going well. We were in a Nordstrom pop-up store for Christmas and saw really great sell-through.”
Meadowlark’s founders have had their challenges. For Claire it’s been staff. “I feel comfortable with it now, but for so long I was concerned about being responsible for other people. We haven’t had to let anyone go; we’ve been really lucky to have amazing staff along the way.
Greg’s responsible for managing cashflow and says it’s been a rollercoaster.
“My biggest challenge right now is making time for creativity. That’s the most important thing for both of us.”
There’ve been lessons too
Claire believes the Internet means they’re playing in a ‘new world’. Australia being the next step for Kiwis is “old school thinking”.
“The main lesson, though, is you only get one chance to get it right.”
“You can’t rely on agencies alone either,” adds Greg. “You have to push them, you have to be involved, and be on the ground.”
Looking ahead Claire admits to having pretty loose goals. “We really just want to be creative. So everything we do is based around us being makers and designers, rather than money.
“Our main goal is to be in one or two major US department stores, as well as boutiques worldwide. Our next obvious market is the UK and Europe.”
“I often joke that we’ll take it as far as we can without losing our minds,” says Greg. “Number one priority is to have fun, so hopefully in five years’ time we’re still having fun.
“I think good brand, good product, good service is the key to longevity.”
- Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter Magazine. Visit www.exportermagazine.co.nz
(extract from Spring 2015 issue of Exporter Magazine)