Cassandra Goad is the founder and CEO of her eponymous jewellery brand. Founded in 1985, Cassandra Goad started as a passion project at the kitchen table and is now located on Sloane Street. Cassandra kindly sat down with me to discuss her experience as a female entrepreneur and her advice to the future generation of designers.
Kasinia Wetter-Sanchez: You studied Pharmacology and Toxicology at university and yet you have created a career in jewellery, how did you make your way into such a different world?
Cassandra Goad: A university degree is more transferable than you might think. For me, university was about training my mind to think logically and clearly (and improving my time management). A science degree in Toxicology and Pharmacology and working for Pfizer in France was a rigorous, organised and structured course that has been very useful in my career as a jeweller. Weirdly, I often find my science background incredibly useful when understanding the science behind gemstones and what their strengths and limits are.
The most important part of working life is about being passionate about what you do. It isn’t always obvious to marry up your passion with your skills but when it works it makes a great combination – at least for me it has!
KWS: I am sure as a female founder you must have encountered resistance and barriers from others. Could you tell me a little more about what challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?
CG: Thirty-five years ago, it was very hard for a young woman to work and set up her own independent business in the world of jewellery. There were a number of hurdles, amongst them:
1. Hatton Garden with its strong traditionally Jewish links to the trade was still a very male scene.
2. My bank manager was unsure whether to lend to a woman (though my brother got a loan to buy a motorbike and take it to Africa!) and to loan to a woman going into retail on her own.
3. I was young and inexperienced. I had no family history in this trade. I was going at it alone.
Looking back, I think it was my straightforward approach, always offering to pay for things upfront that helped me to slowly build strong, trusting and long-lasting relationships with many professional contacts – many of whom I still work with today.
KWS: What are the best words of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
CG: Be organised (don’t waste other people’s time)
Be Polite (thoughtful & considerate)
Be passionate (love what you do)
Be authentic (be truthful to yourself)
KWS: Were there any words of advice from others that were helpful to you when you were starting out?
From my best friend: Anya Hindmarch
From my father:
‘If you want to get on, get up’
KWS: Starting a new business alone is a daunting task. For you, what were the things or people that made it possible for you?
CG: Huge moral support from my family and boyfriend (now husband).
The early clients who trusted and believed in me.
The committed craftsmen who interpreted my sometimes crazy requests and insane timelines.
And sharing a house with friends made the long working days a lot more fun.
KWS: You have always been the sole designer at Cassandra Goad. Could you walk us through your design process?
CG: The pieces begin with an initial idea that transforms itself into sketches and mind maps of several iterations over time. Then I often cut out shapes in paper before cutting them out in silver. In some designs the weight of the metal is important to give the feel that I want, or to keep the cost within budget. For other designs the size, shape, type and number of stones is critical. With an initial prototype I take time to think about how and who will wear the piece and whether to create a collection around the piece. I am always impatient at this stage – I want to see the designs, set and polished, and to try them on-the workshop team endlessly ask me to be patient!
My jewellery collections are themed on my travels. The whole design process of a new collection usually takes four years: a couple of years of research, reading books, talking to contacts, thinking and dreaming about the uniqueness of the country, their people and traditions and a couple of years to make the jewels and prepare the launch.
I will try to visit the country several times over the four years of the collection and this is when all the other parts of launching the collection come to life from the press gifts and launches, the creative stories in the photo shoots, the front window displays and the design stories retold in digital and print media.
KWS: Being the sole designer of Cassandra Goad, you must need a lot of confidence in your creative vision and designs. How do you ensure this?
CG: I often think that the design process is like being a chef. Like a chef it is important to experiment and try out new ideas. Then try them out, show friends and be brave and ask them for their honest opinion. It is important to be ruthless about what you think will sell and what you can afford to make (in both time and materials). And consider how the story behind the recipe/design might affect who would buy it. Probably most important of all is that I love the design and that I am proud of the design.
I often remind myself of one of my favourite quotes, “To run your own business you need conviction, passion and positivity (infectious and often to the point of obsession). And to be determined beyond sense.” Anya Hindmarch.
KWS: For many companies, sustainability and transparency is becoming an increasingly essential value. What is Cassandra Goad doing to include these values within the brand’s identity?
CG: We are a very small brand and I personally oversee everything in the workshops and source all the stones. As a small brand with a variety of designs we recycle all our materials to be as cost effective and efficient as we possibly can. It always amazes me how much gold gets collected in the hoover bags every year when we melt them down! We like to work with our clients to recycle and repurpose their stones and metal too. Recently our bespoke work has risen to around 60% of the work we do.
KWS: Where do you see the direction of jewellery going regarding sustainability and transparency and is that where Cassandra Goad is heading too?
CG: The world of fine jewellery is fortunate that its raw materials are literally raw materials, natural resources of the planet we live on. Many of the stones we use at Cassandra Goad are extremely rare and found by some fantastic independent gem explorers that I have known for decades and from whom I can only buy one or two stones at a time. We also encourage many clients to consider recycling their unworn jewellery – both the gold and the stones – into new designs that they will really wear. I enjoy explaining the design process and involving them in the stages. Not every jeweller has their own workshop and skilled craftsmen, and we are very fortunate to be able to be so transparent in all we do because of this.
KWS: You create collections every 3 years, but your brand also celebrates past designs alongside newer designs. What are your thoughts on maintaining the balance between keeping up to date with the fashions of the time and not solely pushing short-lived trends?
CG: I design a new collection every two years, taking four years for it to come fully to fruition. Always in mind is the thought that luxury jewellery should have longevity and not answer to the vagaries of fashion. In a way it was partly why, right from the start, I created my interchangeable designs. These designs allow clients to build on a classic jewel and rework it themselves over the years. For example, my cult Astrea hoops allow for a huge array of pendants to be hung off them.
And in this same theme my bespoke work tells a similar story. I work with my craftsmen applying the skills of the workshop to redesign and repurpose jewels that are looking tired or just unworn and bring them back to life in a new form. I always prefer to recraft an existing piece into something I know the customer will love rather than creating pieces from scratch. I love to create jewels with a history and work with my clients’ heirlooms to integrate their personal taste into the memories and history of their jewellery.
KWS: What are some of your classic pieces you would recommend for your younger clients to invest in?
CG: My quote pendants are jewels that are worn by everyone, every day. Over the years I have added to them so that now there are over 20 different inspiring quotes perfect for friends, mothers, sisters, brothers. I often recommend them to my younger clients as they are simple pieces that can be worn every day but can carry a lot of sentiment. My recommendation to younger clients is to invest in pieces that they love and can see themselves wearing in the years to come. Whether that is something very simple like the Beaumarchais Figaro necklace or one of my wackier designs, I think the most important thing is that your jewellery is a representation of your aesthetic over time.
KWS: DUCFS 2022’s theme is centred around self-discovery and identity. Have you struggled with your identity as a business owner and how do you remain true to yourself and your brand?
CG: Running your own business is challenging because being an entrepreneur you are likely to be a perfectionist and a control freak! Being at the top is lonely and quite scary at times. I think what I have found essential is staying true to the ethos of Cassandra Goad. As an entrepreneur, there are going to be opportunities you have to turn down because they don’t fit with your brand’s message and while it is hard to say no to opportunities, it is crucial. I often remind myself that the qualities that make Cassandra Goad not for everyone are the same qualities that attract and retain our valuable customers.
KWS: Thank you for answering my questions and sharing such invaluable advice with your readers.
CG: My pleasure and good luck with the show!
As part of our collaboration with Cassandra Goad, we hosted a giveaway of a Cassandra Goad necklace on our Instagram page, which we are pleased to announce will be given to Miranda Bird (@miranda_bird). Thank you to everyone who entered!