Following my dream... I've added a bespoke jewellery line to my business

When her dad passed away at the start of the pandemic, it pushed Rhona Abbey to follow her dreams, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Following my dream... I've added a bespoke jewellery line to my business

Rhona Abbey of designer-steals.com and Designer'd.

A DOUGLAS-based woman whose dad died during the pandemic was inspired by him to start her new bespoke jewellery business.

Rhona Abbey is the driving force behind a business called designer-steals.com, which as the name suggests, sells pre-loved designer labels.

With over 12,000 followers, she’s tapped into a growing cohort of people who have an an appetite to shop more sustainably.

The mum-of-four has now added a bespoke jewellery line to the offering called Designer’d. The idea came to her when she was having a wardrobe clear-out last year and found an old pair of Gucci flip flops.

Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.
Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.

“I had bought them in Paris and adored them but they really were falling apart. I was holding on to them because they had the most beautiful tortoiseshell GG logos on them and I just couldn’t throw them out.

“It suddenly occurred to me I could take the logos off and make them into something that I could wear again – hairslides, brooch or a belt buckle,” she said.

“After that I started to take a real interest in designer hardware – zips on bags, bag charms, bag buckles, etc, and really, when you think about it, these are mainly the branded pieces that make the item so valuable so, if the item itself had become worn and shabby I felt the hardware could be polished up and repurposed into jewellery.”

Rhona has lived in Douglas for the past 20 years but is originally from London, which is where her interest in pre-loved designer wear started.

“When I lived in London, designer ‘swap shops’ were really popular. These were shops where you brought in your unwanted designer items and sold them on. It was amazing the bargains you could pick up. I remember getting a beautiful red Chanel mini skirt for £50.

Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.
Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.

“When I first came to Cork I tampered with the idea of setting up my own swap shop but people kept telling me it wouldn’t work in Cork – it was too small and people would see you wearing their cast offs!

“So I decided to test the market and set up a Facebook page called Designer Steals. I was basically selling my own pieces and selling for friends and, while it got off to a bit of a slow start, I now have over 12,000 followers and can really see the pre-loved market is thriving.

“I get lots of requests to sell stuff on behalf of others. There are quite a few outlets now in Cork and across Ireland selling pre-loved and I think the market will only get bigger as we all try to do our bit to build a more sustainable future,” she said.

Until December, Rhona worked for EY. She joined in London after leaving school and worked there for more than 25 years in London, Dublin and Cork.

“In Cork, I managed and delivered the regional marketing plan across our offices here, in Galway, Limerick and Waterford. But last December, I decided to take a career break in December of last year to focus on my family, our four boys, and to pursue my interest in designer fashion and accessories,” she said.

Rhona Abbey and her dad Chris.
Rhona Abbey and her dad Chris.

Right now she’s concentrating on buying ‘junk’ designer items: “So that’s bags which are torn or very worn, vintage clothing, broken charms, etc, and I am taking them apart and making them into pendants and bracelets.

“The items are all handmade by me and completely unique. As an example, I bought another red Chanel piece in London recently – it was an old cardigan with a hole in the back and a button missing but still intact were four absolutely beautiful Chanel Rue Cambon buttons. I envisaged these mounted on gold bezels and made into pendants and that’s actually the piece I am working on at the moment.”

The reaction to her novel business has been incredible so far.

“I sold my first 12 pieces in three days! I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, the pieces are once off and very unique, but I think more importantly people see upcycling as being one of the most important ways we can reduce our environmental impact,” she said.

For now she’s sticking with her online selling, with some pop-ups planned for later in the year: “But I would love to have my own shop at some time in the future. I often hear people saying it’s pointless having a shop when you can sell online, but I don’t agree with that at all. Particularly now that we are finally emerging from the pandemic, people are really keen to start browsing shops again.”

Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.
Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.

And she’d encourage anyone who has an idea in their head to try it out. “I lost my dad to cancer in April, 2020, and it really made me aware of how precious and short life is, so you have to follow your dreams. It was just at the start of Covid. It was a really difficult time. It was the first lockdown when we couldn’t travel outside of our counties so I couldn’t visit him or support my mum in caring for him for the weeks before he died.

Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.
Some of Rhona's custom made jewellery.

“We were very close and losing him made me realise how short and precious life is and you have to spend time doing what you love. Dad loved style and was a firm believer in quality, not quantity, and I definitely have his traits!

“He would be very proud to see me following my dreams and I know he is with me every step of the way.”

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