Sophie Hughes, a local business owner and jewelry designer in Boston, is a prime example of what businesses can do when they have their own social impact in mind. In the interview below, she talks about her journey, which all started with a passion for jewelry design in high school, and has led her to operating her own retail shop and jewelry line. Her shop, Ore, was opened in November 2013 and provides a relaxed, boutique vibe that features local, female jewelry designer-makers who prioritize sustainability.
What was the impetus behind starting Ore?
For 6 years, I was selling my own collection, Sophie Hughes Jewelry, from my studio in Boston’s SOWA artist building before I decided the time was right to reach a larger audience by opening a retail space. I also wanted to give more visibility to other local designers, whose work I really admired and felt wasn’t getting the exposure it should. I loved the way all our work related together, and I wanted to show it together. There’s definitely something special I share with female designers regarding our relationship with jewelry. We approach jewelry in a unique way because we’re wearing as well as making it. We design for ourselves in a way — I have nothing against the boys — but female designers are my community and I want to focus on supporting them.
I was very lucky to find my current space in the South End, where I could also set up my studio, which is lofted above the retail shop. It’s wonderful to be able to create and to show the jewelry in the same space. My jewelry is all made on site with hammers, anvils, and torches by myself and a couple (amazing!) assistants. The designs and the shop decor are all extensions of myself and my personal aesthetic, and both the jewelry and the line have a distinct unpretentious yet special feel to them.
What were some of the initial decisions that went into making this a sustainable business and how does that impact your decision making on a daily basis?
It’s little known that 20 tons of earth have to be moved to mine enough metal for one ring band. And we’ve all heard about the atrocities in the diamond industry. I really didn’t want to contribute to either industry’s social and environmental mess. I use completely recycled metals, and reclaimed stones whenever possible my favorite are old mine cut diamonds! I have an excellent, solid supplier of recycled metal, so that one is a non-issue for us, thankfully. Sourcing reclaimed stones can be tricky though. There are fewer style, size, and quality options than with newly mined stones, so it’s hard when I’m looking for something specific. Black, grey, and champagne diamonds colors (which I love) are now gaining popularity, whereas previously they may have been cast off as industrial diamonds. This makes it super hard to find those colors secondhand; they’re just recently entering the first-hand market. So, it forces me to make some concessions in that case, which typically is on design (using less of the tinted diamonds), but sometimes means ethically sourced stones instead of reclaimed. I believe in being authentic and honest in your designs, motivations, and brand. Don’t try to be anything other than yourself and be straight-forward about it.
What are you proudest of?
I am really proud to be supporting a team of creative young women through my business, including myself. Our company mission includes supporting the empowerment of women, which I’ve begun by building and supporting our core team. As a team we’ve begun a wider reach to support women’s empowerment on a local level by supporting other female entrepreneurs. Ultimately, we aim to encourage less empowered women, whether because they’re just younger or because they have fewer resources, and we’re looking for ways to connect with our community on that level. I’ve been supported by so many incredible women in my life who always believed in and encouraged me, even when I could have become a potential competitor. Their support helped me immensely to build my business (as well as my sense of self), and I believe in paying that forward. Spread the love.
How can the community best support Ore and businesses like yours?
Shop local and shop small! There are so many amazing small businesses many founded and run by awesome ladies just in the South End alone; we hope people look to the options within their neighborhood instead of resorting to big box stores or chains. From our perspective, it’s so much more rewarding connecting with our clients one and one, whether they are looking for a simple, everyday necklace or a one-of-a-kind custom engagement ring and we hope they feel the same way!
What advice would you give to other women aiming to start their own business?
Take risks – the bigger and cheaper the risks, the better. And subsequently, if you’re going to fail, fail fast. Learn, move forward and grow. Don’t let yourself get caught up in something that isn’t working. Think big and act small; move just a step at a time towards lofty goals. It doesn’t have to all happen at once, but continual growth is completely necessary to avoid feeling stagnant and to stay relevant.