Sunday Independent Article :  Rather than run for cover when her craft business folded, Jane Walsh simply set up another enterprise, writes Andrea Byrne

By Andrea Byrne

Sunday August 28 2011

If faced with the nightmarish ordeal of having to close their business, I think it’s fair to say that most people would abandon, temporarily at least, the industry that dealt the blow. Not Jane Walsh though, who refused to be disheartened by the craft industry despite the closure of her shop — The Bastion Gallery in Athlone.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity and allowing the heavy financial burden engulf her, Jane set up her own jewellery brand — Button Studio — which a year on, is positively booming. A member of the Craft Council of Ireland, she is stocked in almost 300 shops across Europe.

“It was my brother who assured me that although one door had closed, another would open,” the 28-year-old says of the experience, “And yes, I have a mortgage now for something that I don’t have, but the jewellery company is paying for it so far. And, honestly, it wouldn’t be doing as well, if I didn’t have the experience of the shop. It’s working because I know the retail end of it as well as the craft. So I can go into shops and understand their problems.”

Jane, who is a keen sailor, having spent much of her young years hanging out in Lough Ree Yacht Club, makes her jewellery out of resin, using different objects to complement it and give it texture.

“I started with sweets — M&Ms and Skittles — but I kept eating all of them, so then the buttons kicked in,” she laughs. Jane also now works with fabric as well as offering a commission service.

“I saw a gap in the market for something affordable, because nothing was selling over fifty quid anymore. People aren’t buying for themselves anymore, they’re just buying presents.”

Prices for Jane’s colourful, playful creations, which are presented in lovingly handmade packaging, start from €15, with the most expensive items at €55. Currently, she works on 40 different styles of jewellery, and has big plans for development. “Resin is a interesting material to work with. It’s kind of unknown. I’m constantly playing with stuff, and the possibilities are endless. There’s huge scope for expansion.”

Having grown up with dyslexia, it was in art class that Jane found solace. “I stopped doing Irish in secondary school, so I had two free periods every day, and I went to the art room, and that’s when I got serious about it,” she explains.

Jane applied to NCAD, not believing for a second that she had a chance of being accepted, so much so that she spent six months fundraising to go to Ghana with Raleigh International. But before she finished her Leaving Cert, she got a letter to say she had been accepted and that the place couldn’t be deferred.

All the money she had raised had to be sent back. But, as she says herself, art college was meant for her.

In the second year of her degree, she chose to specialise, much to her surprise, in ceramics (“I thought I would want to do fashion”).

She graduated in 2005, and started out by working in the Design Yard in Dublin, before eventually taking control of the Bastion Gallery in Athlone.

While she is a “one-man band” in terms of production and sales, she does have the help of a “wonderful family”.

“Dad is the caretaker for the studio, Mum does all the packaging, my brother does the website, and my other brother, who is in London, is great for support,” smiles the affable young designer.

Jane currently works obscene hours, seven days a week, partly because her products are so in demand and because of the nature of the materials she works with.

“When I am pouring the resin, you can’t stop at any point, it is five hours straight. And if you stop, it all gets ruined. So that’s why I work nights, because if I get a phone call or email, I wouldn’t be able to respond. I spend the day looking after sales, answering emails, and then start work around eight at night, and work till four in the morning. It is a testament to how much I love it that I haven’t had a day off in six months. I really don’t mind.”

Understandably, Jane has no time for romance. “I’m married to the business. As soon as we’re divorced, I’ll find time,” she laughs.

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– Andrea Byrne