Hi, this is Amy, the designer, creator, maker, pretty much everything behind AJJ.
I get asked so many times how I came to live and work in Thailand…
How and why I started a jewellery business…
Whats it like to live so remotely…
Well I have a list of pros & cons for every answer, but let me give you a little bit of an insight into my world on a small tropical island.
First of all thinking back, I'm in awe of how much can happen in just a few years, how far I've come in creating my jewellery brand, and how much support I have gotten from my family, friends, loyal customers, and other local businesses.
Sometimes I feel like this cannot possibly be my life, every time I glanced out my window to the ocean it felt surreal- even after years of being there.
As I write this in March 2019 my time in Thailand is coming to an end. But I am here to tell you about the beginning…
4 years ago TO THE DAY I arrived in Thailand. This wasn't my 1st, 2nd or even 3rd time being there but it was the time I decided not to leave. Koh Tao is the smallest island in the archipelago islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Its an island famous for scuba diving, hideaway beaches and backpackers with a heart full of wanderlust.
Returning here was like a long hug from an old friend.
The magic of the island is something residents of Koh Tao constantly talk about and its something only people who have lived here understand.
It had been my dream since a teenager to live somewhere tropical, it was also my dream to have my own jewellery business.
Step one was done what about step two?
With a background in jewellery as a goldsmiths apprentice from 14 which lead me to study Metalwork & Jewellery at university, designing jewellery was all I wanted to do with my life.
If I was sticking around here I might as well double down on my hopes and dreams!
Voicing my aspirations to my boyfriend he immediately got excited and enthusiastically told me to go for it. I made the point of telling him straight away this means I will be working from home... I would be there all the time making a mess.. making lots of noise… there would be no escaping me.
Let me explain our living situation at this time…
We had what was possibly THE most island-y house you can think of. A tiny bungalow up in the hills of Koh Tao, surrounded by jungle with a palm tree interrupted view of the ocean. This little house had 1 room with 3 walls… the 4th wall was a sliding wooden door that we only closed for storms. The roof was thatched and the bathroom has a tree trying to grow inside of it. Overall the experience of living there was that closer to camping than living in a house.
Yet we still decided it was the perfect way to start what was to be my brand of tropically influenced jewels.
Once I had decided this is what I was going to spend my savings on things started to get real. I had a notebook I had travelled with for 2 years around Australia which had notes, sketches, designs, inspirations for this jewellery business I had been dreaming about. The process of acting on your dreams is really really scary.
But I knew then just as much as I know that everything you want is on the other side of fear.
The process of gathering the items necessary to start a jewellery business starts at building the workshop. I wrote a list of all the things I think I needed, researched the prices then revisited what I ACTUALLY needed. The temptation to get carried away was always there, but I had a tiny house and a limited budget. The beauty of making jewellery is you don’t need high tech machinery to start. I chose to build my workshop one tool at a time.
At the beginning I really had no idea what I was doing and relied heavily on new friends who had businesses to let me know how things go around here. I had the local carpenter build me a bench from scratch that I designed myself which is now one of my most treasured possessions — and I’m so sad it wont be able to come with me when I to leave. There were many many tears of frustration at extortionate shipping costs for my new tools from Bangkok.
The worst parts about being a jeweller in Thailand is not having access to reliable jewellery tool and supply companies. Simple things like having the correct item shipped or even getting an email answered don’t always work out. Shipping can take weeks even months if you are ordering internationally. We are very lucky in the west to have suppliers with sensible office hours, next day delivery and clear organised websites
5 months later I was ready to start selling
When I first started selling in December of 2015 I was blown away by the power word of mouth has on a tiny island. I had barely made any collections and already I was getting emails for pieces, as at the time there wasn’t much to offer on Koh Tao in the way of quality handmade items. Also, it was the Christmas season.
Word really got around fast and I didn’t have to spend too much time on marketing back then. After I built up my inventory I decided to host weekly or monthly ‘pop up’ shops, where I would grab a table at one of the beach-front dive shops for an afternoon and give tourists and locals a chance to check out my jewellery. Sometimes I would even ‘borrow’ my friend’s little bamboo juice bar when she was closed on Sundays. It was great to build up my brand and reputation this way and meet so many people who were extremely supportive.
My time in Thailand was a gift. This time allowed me to really understand what I needed and what I didn’t. I moved away from the excess of western life and lived with just the basics. A (leaky) roof over my head, cheap simple meals, sunshine, love & creativity.
This shift in lifestyle was not only eye opening it was liberating! The less I had the happier I was and I finally knew what all those old quotes about money & happiness where talking about.
The people around me didn't care what car I used to drive or what university I went to. We all had the same brand of flip flops and at the end of the day would all drink the same local beer to watch the sunset.
It gave me a fresh perspective on how much we waste back home and our obsession with excess. Its not to say the way I used to live was particularly extraordinary, but convenience is the way of life in the UK. If you take away convenience you really get to the bottom of what we can live without.
I have plenty to say on the benefits of living simply but I will save that for another blog post.