It truly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Crisp dry December days give way to early sunsets where main streets are draped in decorative lights that illuminate the cityscape in the evening twilight.
The scenes are picturesque to say the least and are normally accompanied by the customary Instagram snap of a Christmas market, where local retailers thrive off the sale of carefully crafted handmade goods and artisan foods that delight the festively inclined passer-by,
Unfortunately, the beloved Christmas Market has fallen foul of the Covid-19 this year, leaving many local craftspeople at the mercy of big online retailers who have thrived off the pandemic and picked away at the bones of local vendors and artists.
However, many creative minds are themselves moving their trade on line to combat the ever growing trend towards online shopping.
One such person is Gemma Henry, who, having left school early due to a severe social anxiety disorder turned her attention to jewellery making.
Speaking to SIN, Gemma spoke about how she first got into her craft giving credit to the DES Home tuition scheme and YouTube tutorials for helping her.
“In 2015 I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder which led to me being unable to complete my second level education. My main strength lay in the area of creativity and helped me to occupy my days. The DES Home Tuition scheme also afforded me the opportunity to be tutored by two skilled artists over a three-year period.
“Their influence led me to explore many artistic avenues and one day I stumbled into the wonderful world of jewellery making. I found myself watching tutorial after tutorial on YouTube and was inspired to have a go myself. I bought the basic tools and equipment needed and the rest is history. I have my own studio at home, overlooking the rolling callows sweeping down to the broad majestic Shannon. An inspirational view for any artist. Here I am in my element, surrounded by myriads of glassy beads and spools of fine filigree wires of silver and gold” , she said.
The 20-year old credits a meeting with her Occupational Therapist as the trigger to starting her fledgling career in the jewellery industry. The Therapist told her to set up an online Etsy shop, Silver River Gems to market her wares and helped her advertise her business.
“When I turned eighteen, I was lucky to meet with an Occupational Therapist who felt that I had a real talent. She helped me to believe in myself. She helped me navigate my way through the world of technology and set up my own Etsy account to showcase my work and sell to the surfers of the Worldwide Web.
“I will be forever indebted to her for coaxing me out of my shell and cajoling me into putting my work out there for all to see. It was, and still is a big step for me given my anxieties. I mainly make necklaces and earrings. “
She notes that her materials are sourced in Ireland and gave an insight into the time and dedication required to craft a piece of wire-wrapped jewellery, telling SIN,
“My jewellery is classified as “Wire-wrapped”. I source most of my materials from a small company in West Cork. Some pieces are more intricate than others and therefore take longer to make. My signature piece, “Tree of Life” takes just under an hour to make. More complicated pieces can take two to three hours to make. Earrings usually take about half an hour to one hour depending on the design.”
Gemma has said that the pandemic has caused a spike in sales on her site taking her first international sale from the United States recently. She also gave credit to the online community, after being granted permission to advertise her jewellery on the Facebook platform “Shop in Ireland”, Gemma says she has been “kept busy” with requests from across Ireland.
“The pandemic has definitely seen an increase in sales. I was recently accepted onto a Facebook group called “Shop in Ireland”. From here you can access my full range of jewellery on “Silver River Gems”. I have been kept busy with orders from the four corners of Ireland since joining the Facebook group. I also had my first international sale with an order placed from Jackson, Tennessee. My Christmas range of necklaces and earrings are proving to be very popular.”, she told SIN.
The cancellation of Christmas markets may dampen the spirits of the onlooker or passer-by this December, but undoubtedly their absence will be most felt in the pockets of those who rely on them financially over the festive period. While Gemma says she has never sold her products at Christmas markets she acknowledged the impact that their cancellation will have on many traders, and encouraged them to follow in her footsteps and move their craft online,
“Although I have never displayed my wares at a Christmas market, I believe that many crafters will be severely impacted by the lack of these markets this year. My advice to these people would be to take the plunge and advertise their creations on an online platform. The pandemic and lockdown have altered people’s shopping habits. With the Christmas season just around the corner most people find themselves having to shop online. People’s attitudes to shopping have also changed. It is apparent that the idea of buying Irish and supporting small business is of paramount importance this year. With more time to ponder and browse various websites people are making more informed choices about their purchases.
The county Roscommon native praised the goodwill of the Irish market for supporting local craft industries, but feels that the sector needs to be given “more air-time” to further encourage people to buy Irish over the festive period.
“There is a lot of goodwill around this year and a willingness to support small businesses, coupled with an increased appreciation of handcrafted items. The power of advertising can never be underestimated. As a country Ireland has always been supportive of the Arts but I feel that more air time needs to be given to promoting people’s work and encouraging more people to “Buy Irish” this year.”
Gemma’s full range of Wire-Wrapped Jewellery can be found on her Etsy shop https://www.etsy.com/ie/shop/SilverRiverGems?ref=simple-shop headername&listing_id=898048572