Greta Kenyon, founder and editor of Together Journal, interviews our founders, Alice and Ed Walsh, as part of its Creatives Lives series, with photography by Genevieve Chapman.
Discussing life as a couple running a business, working with your partner and the foundations of Alice Made This, we invite you to enjoy an insight into the creative life behind our brand.
Plus, a big thank you to Murray Crane (of the eponymous Crane Brothers) for introducing us!
Alice and Ed Walsh are the husband and wife team behind Alice Made This, a British jewellery brand known for its innovative use of industrial engineering techniques borrowed from British factories. They live and work in South London with their young family.
New Zealand menswear specialist Murray Crane was outfitting product designer Jamie McLellan for his wedding when he noticed McLellan’s cufflinks, which were by Alice Made This.
Crane, who has a magpie’s eye for well-made, elegant things, was an instant admirer of the British brand, and has stocked their cufflinks in his Crane Brothers stores ever since.
“I liked their simple aesthetic and use of traditional engineering techniques,” he recalls. “Their products seemed extremely masculine and contemporary.”
Working with materials like copper, gold, silver, brass and steel, the brand uses engineering methods borrowed from British factories to create men’s and women’s jewellery that exemplifies what they describe as “engineered simplicity”.
There are cufflinks made from the same process that’s used to create parts for aeroplanes; ‘nanotechnology’ pieces that are electroplated like electronics components, and pieces made from a ceramic which is engineered to be stronger than steel.
Lately, the pair has also been exploring finishes such as patina. When exposed to the elements, metals like brass and copper will slowly take on a blue-green hue naturally, but this effect can also be replicated by artisans who carefully hand-layer combinations of chemicals onto sandblasted jewellery, which oxidise to create a beautifully weathered look.
There are smoky browns, inky blues and salmon pink tones and although these pieces are created with precision chemistry and expert hand-finishing, no two patinas are the same.
We asked Alice and Ed, the married couple behind Alice Made This, to tell us more about their fascinating work and their life together.
How did Alice Made This begin? We were planning our wedding and searching for accessories, and struggled to find any cufflinks for Ed. We explored the market and discovered that there was a gap for a clean, minimal design aesthetic.
I had always wanted to launch a brand that allowed me to experiment with materials, their properties and production technique. The cufflink (our first product type) provided a platform for us.
I had spent 12 years in product and furniture design, and four years working with Tom Dixon, which instilled a passion for raw materials and a desire to show material authenticity in our designs. I also worked with a design agency on industrial design projects, which exposed me to precision engineering, high tolerance manufacturing and detail.
Some of the processes I came across were fascinating and beautiful and I found it a shame that these parts and pieces were tucked away on the inside of a product, never to be seen.
I love the multidisciplinary nature of design — exploring techniques that perhaps haven’t yet been applied to fashion or accessories before, and using these as aesthetic stories and details in our work.
We work with a number of factories and talent across Britain — aerospace and engineering operations, boutique silversmiths, an electrodeposition factory for precious metal coatings, and artists and engineers — to explore techniques such as engraving, patination, barreling and blasting.
Whether it’s an aerospace factory that precision-turns our cufflinks or a patina artist who decorates our jewellery, each of these techniques has a story to tell.
What’s your workspace like? Our workspace is our garden shed! Well, it’s a little bigger than a shed, but it’s at the end of our garden and it works well at this stage of life. We have three small children so convenience is key.
What is your creative process like? I’m quite pragmatic, so I work to a calendar. We decide on a theme for the year, then get inspired by visiting exhibitions, going to locations, and exploring our theme with new processes and materials. We brainstorm, then work with the sales team to see what our customers want. We sketch, model prototypes and photograph our pieces for trade shows, before loading them onto our website.
What is your average day like? Varied! We are a small, growing team of 10 (four operate remotely), so every day brings something different. One day can be spent in the studio, sketching or sampling; the next at a factory, signing off production, or in the warehouse, counting stock. Another day, we’ll be working on our website, ensuring the customer’s journey is optimised. Our customer is the reason we exist, so we make sure we take the time to answer their questions and listen to their comments.
What is it like working with your spouse? Thankfully, Ed and I have different skill-sets, so we naturally migrate toward different tasks. I take responsibility for the creative elements, while Ed looks after the business aspects, but of course, it is a lot more granular than that.
Ed deals with all the sales — retailer relationships, trade shows and showrooms, online sales, and all of our web management. I look after the designs, the production, and relationships with our factories and artisans. I also look after the tone of voice and the brand strategy, so I tend to take a long view, whereas Ed is more about the here and now.
We started working together at the end of 2014 and spent the next year learning to work together and to embrace each other’s different working methods and attributes. It is so rare to see your partner in their work environment. We definitely have a deeper understanding and greater respect for each other, as a result.
What sorts of things do you take inspiration from? I find travel creates a good thinking space, but a walk, an exhibition or an article in a material science journal can inspire me, too. Last year, our collections were based on geotechnical movement, so we physically explored Britain’s coastline.
What’s been your career highlight so far? Meeting amazing people. The industry is full of open, authentic and genuine people, and we have many lovely friendships from this.
Which Alice Made This pieces would you recommend for a wedding or special occasion? We recently launched a collection of bespoke wedding rings that can be tailored to suit customers’ styles and personalities. We particularly love the subtle statement of the 2mm band width and the beautiful texture of the blasted surface finish.
For wedding guests, we have a full collection of simple and engineered accessories, including timeless copper cufflinks, contemporary lapel pins and statement jewellery.
At the moment, we’re enjoying our new patina collection, which features deep colours and beautiful surface finishes. The Bayley cufflinks, Bayley statement earrings and Bayley wedge rings would all inject some personality into a wedding outfit.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers? Learn from your mistakes and be positive.
What are your hopes for the future? Ed and I dream of a studio in the mountains one day. Waking up every day to fresh air, lakes, snow and spring water would be bliss!