The founder of Under the Rose, Tracy Gray, sheds some light on the background of the company – and what the name ‘Under the Rose’ actually means…
Tell us a little about your background
My background is actually customer service. I worked for a large corporation firm for 15 years, heading up customer services and then IT. I only started making jewellery when I had my first child, so I’m completely self taught. I went from retail but always loved design, colour, and shapes. I’ve always had a passion for creative things, and making things, and bizarrely enough I started making wedding tiaras. But then I found out through a silversmith about a new product where you could take a fingerprint. And literally I just sat and played and had a go at making something. I wore the pendant and had so many comments about it: “I’ve never seen anything like that,”; “I love it,” and “Can you make me one?” I started taking orders at the gate at school, tried a school fair, and soon after that we joined Not on the High Street. It took off from there.
How did you balance your work-home life?
I had been made redundant just after I had gone back to work, after I’d had my first child. We’d just moved house, and it needed renovating – the most modern thing in my house at that time was the Stannah stair lift. I always knew that I wanted to do something, but I never set out to start a company, I never thought that was the route I was going to take. But it evolved, quite organically. I’m quite competitive so once I start something, I want to do it well.
When was this all happening?
It was 1996/97 – Button and Bean was my first collection. That first year, we started selling on Not on the High Street. That first Fathers’ Day, I had so many orders, that I was working until four in the morning. After the summer, Holly from Not on the High Street called me and said, “How are you going to deal with Christmas?” And it was at that point, that she said, “You either need to go for it Tracy, or scale it down.” And I thought: I’ll do it. I got my first member of staff, and it took off from there.
How did you find that leap to your own company?
It is always quite scary. Fear of failure is a huge thing to overcome.
I had built up so much, and the reviews were great, and actually I thought, you know what, after the good feedback, I want to continue.
It was daunting taking on someone. We were based at home – around my kitchen table at that point. And in fact, that year after it grew, there were four of us around that kitchen table. They were people that I knew, people who I met at the school gate, people who said that they could lend some hours, and it just grew from there. In my studio today, two of those staff are still here. There’s Anne, who initially came in to do some polishing. I would give her some jewellery at the school gate. And Linda, the same. Then they started to work at the kitchen table and both of them are still here. Anne is my studio manager, and Linda is one of my engravers.
What does Under the Rose mean?
It means ‘secret’, it means ‘privacy’. In olden days, it’s where confessions used to take place, under the rose arbour. It’s about secret messages.
We do a lot of engraving in tiny writing. It could be the customer’s writing, or it could be our writing, tiny messages that convey emotions or are sayings or poems that people love. We also cast tiny photos into resin. One of our bestsellers for the resin photos is little charms that a bride might sew into her dress or hold within her bouquet. The base of our collection is about personalised jewellery and bring meaning to the jewellery.
Is creativity your background, in terms of studies?
It absolutely isn’t. But it’s where my passion is. I always enjoyed art at school, but it’s taken a while to come out. I was in my mid-thirties when I started the company, so I was quite a late starter.
You have two daughters – do they share your creative passion?
They say, “When I run my own business..” Or “When I do my own thing” and I love the fact that they feel that they can do that. My eldest daughter is really keen on design, I think she may take over from me, which would be great. She’s already asked for a Saturday job.