In 2013, Fabienne Costa founded Gold Coast-based brand YCL Jewels. Since then, YCL has grown to serve a loyal customer base across more than 90 international markets. Here Fabienne shares what it takes to work with overseas business partners and build a community of dedicated customers.
Can you please introduce us to YCL Jewels?
YCL Jewels is a global jewellery brand that specialises in timeless, high quality jewellery at an affordable price range.
As the sole designer of our jewellery, I intentionally integrate well-thought-out practices and elements into our designs. I consider energy centres of the body and add in different crystals for their metaphysical properties.
We really like to create and evoke a lifestyle out of our jewellery. We don’t want our customers to just choose a piece of jewellery because it matches their shirt. We are about really allowing our customers to harness the inspiration that surrounds them and ensuring they have pieces that integrate well into their daily life.
What was your journey leading up to the foundation of YCL Jewels?
YCL is actually an abbreviation of ‘Your Core Light’. It all started as a wellness blog in 2010 as a way of developing a stronger relationship with myself and delving into what spirituality meant to me. Wellness goes beyond the common realm of green smoothies and yoga, and really is about self-love and self-appreciation.
I had been working as an aged care nurse since I was 15 years old. For me, nursing was a really beautiful facet of my life that I felt called to do. Although I had been making jewellery since I was 13 years old, I still felt the need for a greater creative outlet.
In 2013, with no business training or capital, I had the crazy idea to start a jewellery brand. I quit my high paying secure job as a nurse and my university studies to follow this new path.
Those first couple of years were extremely challenging and months would pass by where I didn’t receive any orders. It was definitely a difficult time – one that has offered me a lot of insight into not only what running a business truly takes, but also where my mind and my body needed to be to run this brand in a way that aligns with my heart.
What is involved in the process of designing a collection, from initial concept through to product launch?
Designing a collection is a six to nine month journey that begins with the initial concept. I typically start with a budding type of concept and work to expand on that. My job allows me to often travel overseas to really beautiful places, and I always love seeing how my surroundings and the landscapes around me morph into the designs that I create.
From the initial concept I will start to sketch it all out. I work with my lovely styling co-ordinator to enlarge the sketches and make sure that it’s all going to work in terms of the weight and the size, how it’s going to sit on the body.
And then it goes into the first stage of sampling. This stage can take months and months to get just right, before we can move into creating the samples.
Once I receive the completed samples, it’s onto conceptualising the photo shoot. I’ll usually come up with the overall idea of what I want, and then work on cementing the location and our models for the shoot.
Then we birth the collection with the help of our marketing and PR team.
The creation and launch of a collection is completely multi-faceted, and without the help of the YCL team, no collection would be possible. The process is beautiful, frustrating and overall enlightening. I learn a lot about myself every time I go through this process. I won’t send anything to our customers that I feel I haven’t put my both heart and soul into.
How do you work with your overseas craftspeople?
When choosing an overseas business partner, it’s really important to be able to set out what’s expected from the beginning. If what you are looking for resonates with the manufacturer, that’s great and if not, then you know there’s always another manufacturer that you can visit.
At YCL, we don’t want to work with just a random factory somewhere in the world with people that we’ve never met. Relationships and a personal connection are both a big part of the intention behind our jewellery. I make the effort to regularly visit our manufacturers in Jaipur, India and Hong Kong, to ensure that I am continuing to work with ethical manufacturers and constantly building the relationship.
When it comes to the factory environment, I always ask the manufacturers to provide me with certifications for work practices. I want to understand the working environment that our craftspeople will work in and know that the machinery that they will use is up-to-date and regularly tested for safety.
All countries have various ways of operating and I think it’s really important to be respectful of that. Sometimes miscommunication and confusion can occur when working cross-culturally. I think if everyone remains patient and understanding, and if the relationship is valued by both parties, you will be able to overcome any issues and the relationship will definitely continue to grow.
What must you consider when sourcing materials for your collections?
Our pieces are designed with longevity, quality and affordability in mind.
So in that respect, we specialise in 14-karat gold fill pieces using 100 per cent 925 sterling silver. A gold fill piece is very different to a plated piece. Fill is when a base metal or silver is pressure bonded to the very thick layer of coloured gold. With care, these gold filled items have the longevity of a solid item and can last up to 30 years.
Colour is another aspect of design that we take very seriously. It took seven months for me to specifically craft the colour of gold that I wanted. Our resulting signature gold is quite a beautiful, unique, soft yellow gold that has an almost kind of rosiness to it. In some lights it could be seen as a rose gold or a yellow gold in others.
Can you tell us about YCL Jewels’ small batch and responsible manufacturing approach?
Rather than churning out tens of thousands of units with every collection and just creating more you know stuff in the world, YCL follows this philosophy of living minimally and buying consciously.
With a collection, we don’t release a large amount of units. Instead, we’ll order in a small batch and once that’s sold out, we may restock it if there is an outpouring of requests from our customers.
Our constellation choker is our number one selling item. It has been on our website for just over two and a half years now, and customers love it.
We have around ten staple styles of necklaces that have been designed with the weight, length and fall of the piece in mind. Our staples allow the wearer to layer the piece with a work shirt then at the end of the day, move and transcend into a beautiful evening look.
Which international markets do you export to?
We are now shipping to more than 90 countries worldwide. Our top markets would be the US, Canada and the UK, along with smaller markets in Europe and Asia. Each week, roughly 40-60 per cent of our sales originate from the US alone.
It’s fascinating to see how marketing and public relations activities transform into sales. About a year ago, we did a lot of influencer and digital marketing in overseas markets before audience passion in this type of marketing dwindled a little bit.
YouTube proved to be a really good thing for us. We had young women on YouTube share pieces from our collections to their followers all over the world. This global exposure has really allowed us to tap into new markets.
Now that we have established a solid customer following, we are focussing on other elements of promotion like word-of-mouth recommendations, public relations and customer focussed engagement initiatives like our YCL Women campaign.
Can you explain YCL Jewels’ minimal packaging policy?
We decided long ago to adopt a minimal packaging approach. Many of our orders contain multiple pieces in the order, so instead of placing every single piece in a box we usually package one in a box and the remaining pieces in cloth bags. The boxes and cloth bags are then placed into a DHL satchel. If our customers do want a box per item all they have to do is let us know and we’ll happily package it according to their preference.
Our customer base is aligned so beautifully with our sustainable philosophy that we sometimes receive requests from customers to not send a box at all. Some customers who have ordered as many as 15 pieces from us have even gone as far as sending every single one of those boxes back to be sustainably reused.
Before we started to use DHL Express, too many parcels were going missing or they were taking too long to reach their destination.
Our customers were paying up to $200 for a necklace and waiting months for it. I felt that if we wanted to reach these incredible women that are supporting us from all parts of the world, we needed to ensure that our shipping is of the utmost standard.
When we started to offer express delivery through DHL, our international sales started to rise and I think this is because our customers just trust the DHL name. With DHL they know that their treasures are going to arrive safely and in a really timely manner.
Our US-based customers are receiving their items in one to two business days after they order it. In today’s fast-paced society, people do want things now and it’s great that we are able to offer this experience with DHL Express.
Nowadays, I won’t allow any of my suppliers to send my urgent samples with any other courier company but DHL. For me, the process of sending with DHL is so easy. I get a ready-to-use shipping system, a dedicated account manager and the best thing is I know that it’s going to arrive on time.
Since joining DHL, what change have you witnessed in your business?
YCL has been growing 300 per cent year-on-year and this continued growth calls for a greater level of customer service.
With other parcel carriers, we would receive 30 to 40 emails each week from customers enquiring about the whereabouts of their parcel. Since partnering with DHL, that has all changed and we have seen our customer satisfaction rate rise significantly.
When you’re an online brand, you can’t offer that fancy, face-to-face brand experience that you would get if you visited a physical store and you need to make up for it in other ways. DHL’s delivery service helps us to reach new heights when it comes to our customer experience.
For more information about YCL Jewels, visit www.ycljewels.com