bailey of sheffield

“My lightbulb moment”: Scott Bailey reveals the inspiration behind his Portland Works jewellery business

Makers

It’s far from a traditional jewellery business – financed through a crowdfunder, focussed on local materials and intent on growing its business online. But Bailey of Sheffield is a huge success story, exporting its stunning stainless steel bracelets to 44 countries around the world.

A fascination with bracelets, stainless steel and Gripples (another fabulous Sheffield success story) first led Scott Bailey to start his jewellery business. He explains that Gripples are devices used to join and tension steel wire and that they gave him the inspiration for an enduring piece of jewellery: a stainless steel bracelet that is beautifully engineered, personal and lasts a lifetime. The bracelets are hand-built in the company’s workshop at Portland Works where the first stainless steel cutlery was made following its discovery by Harry Brearley back in 1913. More than 100 years later Scott and his team are continuing the tradition and take pride in sourcing his stainless steel locally and supporting local designers and craftspeople.

“We knew Portland Works was where we wanted to be. It’s the building where stainless steel manufacturing was born, now transformed into individual workshops for craftspeople and artists. It’s a friendly, creative space and we love being part of that.” – Scott Bailey

In 2016 Scott and his wife Adele launched a Kickstarter campaign which raised over £25,000 for stock and tooling. The first CABLE™ modular bracelet collection was an immediate hit. Since then the range has expanded to necklaces, accessories and individual stainless steel beads, enabling customers to customise their jewellery or even design their own.

Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield were involved in research, development and prototyping with the company and developing a new patent pending clasp design. Scott also acknowledges the input of jewellery consultant Judith Lockwood, who was an important mentor in the early days. “Judith has worked with famous names in the industry including Cartier and Gucci and gave us invaluable advice and guidance. We couldn’t have achieved half of what we’ve done without her help.”

From Sheffield around the globe

The company now sells its bracelets around the globe. They are treasured by men and women, aged from 18 to 85. Buying jewellery online was quite an innovation for the industry at the time, which largely depended on a visit to the high street where pieces were under glass and the process could be intimidating.
“It takes trust to buy a piece of jewellery online,” says Scott. “You need a strong story about its provenance and that’s what we had – beautiful, timeless and sustainable bracelets made in the birthplace of stainless steel and produced by local designers and makers. And once people saw how they could be personalised to their own style and how we cared so much about every piece we produced and the service we provided, the five star reviews started coming in.”
The company is a family business: Scott works alongside his wife Adele and his mum and mother-in-law get involved too. It is run as a co-operative. Scott says: “We have access to an amazing pool of talent, which enables us to constantly innovate and stay fresh. We have young designers straight from University working alongside well-established top industrial product designers from the city. It’s our team of innovative designers and craftspeople that bring the aesthetic, the crafting, the approach to design and making that come from people schooled in a city forged in steel.”

The impact of lockdown

Bailey’s also sells its products through a number of stores including John Lewis in Sheffield. It was just about to launch at John Lewis in Leeds and York when the pandemic struck. Scott says: “We had already anticipated being a digital business and that we’d need to grow our business online. But lockdown certainly brought some challenges.”

His team of designers and makers have worked mainly from home studios during this time, while manufacturing at the Works has reduced. Visitors are no longer allowed to visit the premises – something that Scott misses.

“We used to welcome visitors who had made appointments to see our stock and have fittings. Invariably they were fascinated by the building and we loved showing them around and explaining its history. We can’t wait to see them again,” he says.

On the bright side, Scott reports a surge in online sales. “I think the pandemic has made people more thoughtful about how they spend their money. They want to make sure that every pound is spent wisely on something that is unique and will last. There’s also a growing interest in supporting local manufacturers.”

Sheffield is our city

Scott and Adele take pride in supporting fellow makers and manufacturers in the city and working with a local charity, Roundabout, which provides shelter, support and life skills to young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. “Sheffield is our city,” he says. “It’s always had a really strong community spirit. To us, Sheffield means pride, industry and caring for others – and that’s what we do.”

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