Rachel Sloane was working for the costume department of TV series Shortland Street when she thought up the idea for high-end jewellery business Naveya & Sloane.
A former fashion designer, Sloane and her partner Alex Bunnett, then a software engineer, believed that together they had the brains and passion to rival the biggest names in the business.
With $10,000 from their parents, a $20,000 bank loan and a little money pulled together by selling their belongings, the couple launched Naveya & Sloane.
The Auckland-based made-to-order firm started out as a small wholesale operation in 2010, supplying fine jewellery to retailers Angela Daniels and Orsini for about a year.
Fast forward 10 years, and with some of the highest-profile Kiwis among its clientele, Naveya & Sloane is preparing to “level up” despite the obvious challenges bought about by Covid-19.
In February it appointed a board to assist with its growth.
Located in the heritage Imperial Building on Auckland’s lower Queen St, the business is considering its options for expanding its physical footprint. At the moment, though, Sloane is unsure if that means additional showroom-workrooms or retail locations.
“Naveya & Sloane has always wanted to expand, scale and grow. At the moment we don’t have any concrete plans in terms of scaling overseas or setting up new stores set in stone, however, it is always something that is on our mind,” says the 35 year-old who is expecting her first child this year.
“We’ve always had big dreams for Naveya & Sloane, and we know that we have something really special here, and we know that it would do incredibly well in London, New York, Hong Kong.”
Creative director Sloane, formerly a women’s wear designer at streetwear brand Huffer, would love a store in Queenstown. But Christchurch or Wellington could be the best spot – or London – for the second location. London is the ultimate dream, she says.
“Maybe it’s a retail version of Naveya & Sloane, so not so much based around bespoke; maybe it’s fine jewellery. There’s a few kinds of options that we are thinking about.
“The next step from here is setting Naveya & Sloane up in a very scalable state and from there setting up multiple stores, whether it be around New Zealand, and one overseas.”
Growth has been consistent year-on-year over the past 10 years, mostly via word of mouth, says Sloane.
Chief executive Bunnett and Sloane ran the business on their own for two and a half years until 2012 when they took on their first employee. When they moved into the Imperial Building in 2013 and began focusing on engagement rings, the business began taking off.
That’s when they hired their first full-time jeweller.
“The business has definitely grown really quickly, it’s been a really wild ride over the past 10 years,” says Sloane. “We’ve grown to a size of 28 people; we also have a workshop that consists of six artisans, including some that have come through our apprenticeship programme.”
She says milestones over the years include coming fourth in the Deloitte Fast 50 list of growing businesses, winning the Westpac Business Supreme Award and having Beyonce wear their jewellery.
To mark its 10-year anniversary in March, Naveya & Sloane created a range of diamond rings called Celebration Diamonds, priced from $3635.
The past few months operating under Covid-19 restrictions have been “interesting”, says Sloane, and the business has coped by introducing phone and virtual consultations via Skype, and has staff working from home.
It is well versed in online consultation, which is how it works with its clients outside Auckland and internationally, but has found staffing arrangements working from home difficult. Some setters and jewellers have workshops set up at home so they were able to continue working on pieces. However, production slowed over this time.
“[Covid] has been incredibly challenging for us as a business and the world has been through an incredibly strange time,” says Sloane. “In saying that, there have been some silver linings.
“We’ve really come together as a team and I think become tighter as a culture and community. Through Covid we really had to focus in on our marketing … it worked really well and we’re seeing the benefits of it now.”
Sales dropped through the initial lockdown period but have since been improving. Sloane puts that down to a surge of proposals prompted by lockdown.
While wedding band sales have been down, that has been counteracted by the surge in demand for engagement rings.
Champagne-coloured diamonds have become particularly popular, she says, as have peach sapphires and oval- and pear-shaped stones. Sloane says there has also been a rise in heirloom bespoke orders following the first round of lockdown.
“People had a lot of time to think and dream about what they may like from a bespoke piece,” she says. “I think because people are not able to travel, they perhaps have a little bit more disposable income.”
Covid-19 has forced Sloane and Bunnett to look at the business to make sure it is “as lean as possible”, she says, adding that it had cut costs, but had not had to lay off any staff.
For the rest of the year and into 2021, Naveya & Sloane will be revising its business and brand strategy, and outlining its pathway for the next 10 years in business.
“We really want to focus in on our brand and creating more of a iconic identity within Naveya & Sloane. We’ve built Naveya & Sloane’s brand in-house for 10 years; it’s a beautiful brand and at a great place, but we’re really looking to take it to the next level and work with different kinds of creatives with more experience in building a luxury brand,” says Sloane.
The business wants to “carve out a strong presence in New Zealand and the world”, similar to the way Tiffany & Co had become a global household name for luxury jewellery.
“This year and next year is about being cautious and powering up our strategies and gearing up for the future.” Part of this would include expanding its product offering, including jewellery gifting collections.
Sloane says the past decade has been hard, especially in the early days.
Managing people has been the biggest challenge, she says, particularly securing skilled staff.
“Finding great, high-quality artisans that have an eye for design and craftsmanship is really difficult.
“In terms of our setters, we have had to go as far as France to find great quality diamond setters. We’ve had a couple of people over from France over the years, three in total now, which has worked out really well.”
She says not having enough high-quality artisans could be a roadblock to expanding operations domestically, but this would not be a problem overseas.
Bunnett and Sloane are the majority shareholders, and their chief financial officer holds a minority 5 per cent stake.
And no, there isn’t another partner called Naveya. Sloane says that was chosen because it was a beautiful name that “reflected the brand vision” and flowed nicely with her own name.
As for seeking outside investment, “we’ve tried to avoid it,” Sloane says.
“We’ve wanted to have the control that we want because I think you can lose that sometimes bringing in outside investment.”
“It is something that is potentially on the cards for the future. If we were to go to London, we would need a huge amount of investment, so it’s quite a different situation, which we’re open to.
Sloane says selling the business has never been a goal and is not on the cards. She has ambitions for the company that span more than one lifetime: “Ultimately, we want Naveya & Sloane to live forever and beyond – outlive Rachel and Alex – our goal is to create a legacy; something that has longevity.”