Emirates Woman Magazine - November 2020
The Perfect Balance
"Limelite Jewellery combines quality craftsmanship. We spoke with founder Ilke Shah about strategically smart price points and aesthetically pleasing design.
How did you know it was the right time to launch your own brand and what were the stepping-stones to that point?
After years of collecting brand name pieces, I found it was getting a bit ‘same-same’ everywhere you go – everyone had the same pieces. I started making fine jewellery for myself and received great feedback from friends about my designs. Creating the LimeLite name, logo and website was a family affair – lots of help from my kids and husband. Initially I made a collection of 30 pieces and organised a trunk show for close friends. Overall it was a great success. We sold 25 pieces and the feedback was invaluable in helping me find the right positioning for my brand.
You’re based in the UAE, how has that helped or hindered in growing your own brand globally?
Firstly, my workshop is in Dubai, which allows me to be very agile. This also allows us to make pieces very competitively and in turn enables us to offer really good value to our clients. We can make custom pieces within a very quick turnaround, like our name necklaces, which are very popular for birthdays and anniversary presents.
One of the key factors about being based in the UAE is the market intimacy, people are so supportive. In the early years the business was entirely dependent on referrals from friends and some key influencers in the region. The UAE is also a real international hub, so all our Dubai clients end up being a surrogate sales team as they travel.
Do you feel more drawn to the creative or the business side of the brand and how have you grown the team to support this?
I’m definitely on the creative side. I’m constantly experimenting with new designs – only about half of my ideas ever make it out of the workshop! But as the business grows you definitely need to build a team if you want to scale. I’m very lucky to have a business partner, Minna Bussey, who complements me very well. She handles the ‘business side’ such as the ecommerce platform and finances but of course in a small business, we are all in sales! We then have a small army of support staff including models, photographers, social media ambassadors, and of course most importantly the workshop team who work all hours to get pieces made sometimes with only an hour’s notice before a client is catching a plane – yes, it happens ALL the time!
What has been the biggest hurdle since starting your own brand and how did you overcome it?
Finding reliable and trustworthy suppliers for precious stones is really tough. When you start out it is really difficult to make sure the stones you source are not only genuine but also ethically sourced. Add to this the complication of sourcing unique colours, materials and finishes that will amaze customers, collectively this is a huge challenge.
Do you have any mentors or guides and how does this help you navigate the right path?
I always say my husband is my biggest mentor, supporter, and navigator. He is a serial entrepreneur and also teaches entrepreneurship at Insead Business School in Paris and Abu Dhabi. It’s great to bounce ideas of him and he can always see the silver lining in every cloud. I also have a strong network of other ‘women in business’. It is wonderful to see so many women setting up their own businesses and collaborating with each other to everyone’s mutual benefit. We regularly compare notes and support each other with cross marketing and resource support.
You have clients the globe over – do you see any buying patterns based on regions or countries and have you seen any changes this year as a result of COVID- 19?
I think COVID has forced people to rethink their buying habits; how important is a brand name versus value for money or individuality? In recent times, we’ve seen that only a few brands in the luxury segment retain a genuine value that stands the test of time. I think in these times, people are more interested in products with meaning. Limelite’s pieces are all made with 18 carat gold and premium quality diamonds. They have genuine intrinsic value as well as being beautiful pieces in their own right. Clients are also looking for ‘everyday wear’. They want to enjoy their jewellery rather than having amazing pieces that only come out on rare occasions. In fact I even do ‘jewellery makeovers’ for my premium customers; this involves taking their entire set of old, unwanted or mismatched pieces and re-making a completely new collection of Limelite pieces that they can mix and match on a daily basis.
How has social media affected the fine jewellery business and which platform has been most useful?
Social media has made the world so much smaller for us. We do not think in terms of regional markets, rather we think about target segments – mums wanting to buy their first jewellery for their daughter, in- dependent professionals looking for a unique piece, a ‘thank you’ gift for a special friend. We use social media to attract target groups rather than to target regions. Instagram is by far the best platform – it is super easy to use, and very easy for us to engage.
Which piece of jewellery that you own is most special to you and why?
That’s easy; it has to be my moon necklace made with rose cut diamonds. This is the piece that started the whole journey. My mother had given me these incredible stones as a 21st birthday gift but I had them sitting in a box gathering dust. I finally got the inspiration to make them into a moon-shaped necklace and the piece was so lovely. That’s what got my friends to push me into launching Limelite.
What is the most interesting bespoke piece you’ve created for a client?
I had a client with a 5-carat Tifany diamond wedding ring that had sat in her safe for 18 years – it was a family heirloom but not relevant to wear in modern times. Obviously being an heirloom it was really important to her to respect the integrity of the piece and we sketched a number of design options before she was entirely satisfied that our recreation balanced both the style and sophistication of the piece but also aligned it with the rest of her collection.
Which Instagram accounts do you follow for inspiration?
@sevanbicakcijewellery – his application of Istanbul architecture into jewellery is exquisite and in a similar vein @nikoskouilisjewels is equally impressive.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Follow your passion not your business plan. I think too many people look for a business that will make money, but ultimately that just becomes another job. If you follow your dreams and do something that you love, you will see success.
Which pieces would you recommend from Limelite that suits everyone?
Diamond chokers are back in fashion but Limelite’s pieces are ‘just right’ – beautiful interpretations of the classic design that you can wear every day, and our prices are exceptional. Our Pinky ring has been a bestseller this year – each one individually made with your own choice of stones and gold finish, it’s truly unique piece.