Like her jewelry, Sheila Fleet’s roots on Scotland’s Orkney Islands go back generations. In this exclusive interview with the award-winning designer, she opens up about her past, present and future.
What is your own ethnicity/heritage?
I was born in 1945 on a small farm in Hoxa, Orkney. Growing up on the farm surrounded by history, sea and nature has given me lifelong inspiration.
What is the company’s history and mandate?
After graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 1968 I worked for 21 years in the jewellery industry as a designer and modelmaker before setting up alone in 1993. We now employ 97 people between our 5 retail locations, office and jewellery workshop where all our jewellery is designed, made and dispatched. We are one of Scotland’s leading designer-makers silver, gold, platinum and enamelled jewellery and look forward to celebrating 30 years in business in October! We aim to provide high quality jewellery that is designed and made in Orkney.
How has it grown over time?
The business has grown steadily over the last 30 years thanks to my loyal customers, digital developments and an ever-growing tourism industry in Scotland and Orkney. We now have a worldwide customer-base which is amazing! We continue to develop new designs and collections each year expanding our selection for new and long-term customers. As the market grew for my original designs, a new larger workshop was built to keep up with the demand. I gradually built up a skilled team of craftspeople and embraced new technologies alongside the traditional jewellery making process. As demand continues to grow, we employ local people and offer in-house training. Teaching the skills of jewellery making is something we constantly work hard on achieving. This creates local full-time employment and an alternative way of learning for younger people in the community which we are proud to do.
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
After setting up my business on my own, ‘I’ very soon became ‘we’ as I began to take on employees to help with the demand. As creative director I get to co-ordinate all departments, from origination and creation of new designs through to the marketing. Our ever popular ‘Meet the Designer’ events within our shops in Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews are a great way of keeping in touch and connecting with our growing customer-base and are a fantastic way of seeing in-person how my designs are being received by customers.
What are the challenges of the job?
There are many challenges that come with any job, but in a world where people tend to move around within jobs and opportunities more often, the training process is often difficult. It can take 2-5 years to fully train within the business, depending on the role. Running a business from an island also has its difficulties. Everything has to be shipped in and out by either boat or plane, so we rely on our transportation services. This can attach added costs, but thankfully so far connectivity is fairly good as Orkney has a very vibrant, hardworking community that pull together to help make things work.
What are the rewards?
It’s always rewarding to see people happy with their purchase and seeing people wear my jewellery! Meeting customers who have been a fan of my jewellery and who have collected designs over the years is very gratifying. We often have customers visit Orkney from all over the world just to see our workshop and how our jewellery is made which is fantastic. We’ve even had people travel all the way from Australia! It’s always lovely when our customers can experience Orkney and visit some of the places that are the source of inspiration for my collections. Working with the team at our countryside workshop is also rewarding every day. It’s great to rest our eyes on the surrounding green fields and sea along the shoreline!
What are your core products & services?
We offer our unique designer rings and jewellery in silver, enamel, gold, and platinum, many designs handset with diamonds and precious stones. I have curated an extensive range of ring and jewellery designs and collections within 30 years, suitable for all occasions from formal to daily wear. My collections have been inspired by many aspects, from the strong Orkney seas to the historic runic inscriptions found inside Maeshowe, a chambered cairn in Orkney, built around 2800 BC. With a range of contemporary and traditional designs, we hope there’s something for everyone!
How do you differ from the competition?
We are currently one of only two jewellers in the world authorised to make and sell Scottish Gold from Cononish Gold Mine, Scotland’s only commercial gold mine. You can find out more about Scottish Gold on our website!
What are your future plans for the business?
There are always something happening at Sheila Fleet! We’re currently developing a new premises for our Kirkwall Gallery in Orkney, which is very exciting, as well as working on new designs to launch later this year. As mentioned earlier, we are celebrating 30 years in business in October which will be an amazing achievement. I hope to continue to support my son Martin and his wife Mairi in running the business as well as handing on my skills and knowledge of jewellery design and making to our talented craftspeople. Visit our website, social media or sign up to our mail list to follow out latest news!