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As a girl with four older brothers, Gemma O’Leary was never allowed to enter the family barn which contained old tools like welding equipment, hammered pots, horseshoes, and all sorts of old artifacts from the past. She was told it was a man’s job, dirty work. A certain fascination was ignited because it was forbidden. And in turn sparked her love affair with metalworking; as goldsmithing is just metalworking on a smaller, more intricate scale.

Inner Island collections have been inspired by wooden boats, the child’s game of “Pick Up Sticks,” strata rock and an 18th century window.

“It makes your brain think differently if you have a point of reference rather than being influenced by ideas in your head or things you have seen elsewhere.”

Gemma’s design process is straightforward and once she feels inspired by something, she tries to figure out why. Is it the shape, texture or the mood of it? From there, she’ll try and translate that into a piece of jewelry.

As a ‘90s kid she wore very little jewelry, and had very little interest in it, which when she did, it usually included a mood ring or cord for a necklace. Her mother, however, would layer a multitude of gold chains and wear lots of rings all at once.

Gemma’s enthusiasm for jewelry design was inspired by tragedy. Her mother passed when Gemma was only 20. From that point on jewelry took on a whole new emotion when she inherited her mother’s pieces.

After studying fashion design she realized she vied for a different outlet for her creativity. Taking evening courses, and internships she was exposed to jewelry as an art form, and began working for design houses. However, the monotony of working on other people’s designs pushed her to start a side business.

“For me it was the process and the material I fell in love with first, but the absolute joy of the process of designing a piece of jewelry was a pleasant surprise to say the least.”

She’ll tell any creative who is considering starting a side business to think long and hard about their brand philosophy, write it down and put it somewhere you can see it. Experience has taught her that it can be easy to become lost in the day to day running of a business and that seeing a reminder of key elements every day will keep you grounded to the values of the brand.

Inner Island’s design focuses on integrity and quality, and a firm belief that you shouldn’t have to pay excessively to get them. Cost and quality resonates with Inner Island’s customers. Every piece is made by hand in her studio in Ireland.

“I’m happiest when I’m at my bench. I connect with my designs because they come from me and in a way are a part of me. I never release anything I’m not 100% behind.”

Inner Island Jewelry feature for Merrymen Magazine Volume 5

Imagery plays a key role in helping to make a connection with her audience. Creating a connection between her customers and her work is challenging, she says, so she tries to give them the design story in a clear and concise way without overloading with unnecessary information.

Inner Island is inspired by Gemma’s personal utopia. It’s meant to be a place of harmony, beauty and serenity. Her goal is to continue working on a smaller scale so she can continue to oversee production and ensure the best quality for each piece. She says balance is an important element to keep her from burning out. Attaining that balance can be tricky, but Gemma does this by setting aside time in her day to focus on other projects that don’t include jewelry.

Over the years she’s had to adapt to become somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, which most creatives including Gemma have had to embrace. It can be a steep learning curve. But it’s her love for learning that has aided in her success and continuation.

“Since launching I know so much more about website design, photography, bookkeeping, public relations, marketing, copywriting and taxes. There are plenty of people with passion but you need to keep an open mind and devote countless hours to the business side. The strange thing is, I actually enjoy the business side almost as much as the creative side. Except bookkeeping, I still can’t stand bookkeeping.”

Inner Island’s newest collection is influenced by raindrops on a windowpane. Release is expected early next year.

© 2021 Merrymen.

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