Making it Work: Jewellery artist makes unique and bold statement on her own terms

Sarah Carroll Kelly set up a Shock of Grey online store during lockdown and her goal is to sell her designs in every part of the country while remaining a one-woman show

Sarah Carroll Kelly founder of Shock of Grey ‘bold, unique, statement, wearable art’, including rings, necklaces and earrings, all handmade by her in her Dublin 8 studio. Picture: Fergal Philips

Two years after leaving her job as a lecturer in media to set up Shock of Grey, Sarah Carroll Kelly is selling her jewellery products in more than a dozen stores around the country as well as online.

The 41-year-old sells “bold, unique, statement, wearable art”, including rings, necklaces and earrings, all handmade by her in her Dublin 8 studio.

Shock of Grey jewellery can be found in Om Diva in Dublin, the Kilkenny Design Shop and Mimi & Martha in Limerick among others.

Now Carroll Kelly is eyeing further growth, but on her own terms. Carroll Kelly, who has as degree in sculpture from Limerick School of Art and Design as well as a masters in design from Dublin Institute of Technology, said her goal is to sell to shops in every part of the country.

With interest from a store in New York, she is not ruling out an expansion overseas either, but Shock of Grey is a one-woman operation and Carroll Kelly said she is not seeking investment to grow the business.

“I’m trying not to get into debt and it has worked so far,” she said. “I’m managing already to pull a salary from the business, and I don’t want to owe anyone or have other people who could have an input into how it’s run just because of money.

“I don’t want to tilt the creative angle. As long as I can keep other people’s money out of it, I can still be the power behind it.”

In 2019, working as head of creative technologies at Stillorgan College of Further Education, Carroll Kelly couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d left behind what she really wanted – a full-time job working as a creative.

She said a number of personal life events gave her “the shove" she needed to set up Shock of Grey.

“You don’t have forever, so go for it or just forget it,” she said.

Despite a relative lack of commercial experience, Carroll Kelly said the skills she acquired over a diverse career left her well-equipped to run the company. Having worked as a web designer, she was able to create her own website, and her eye for graphic design allowed her to advertise effectively on social media.

“Even though there were years when I wasn’t doing what I loved, all the skillsets I was banking are useful to me now,” she said.

In September 2020, she launched a digital store during a pandemic-induced boom for online shopping. Demand for her jewellery immediately outstripped her expectations.

“I remember seeing the orders coming in, kind of like working in a restaurant. These rows started appearing, and I realised people had been waiting for this. It was mad, and great. And it didn’t really stop from September to Christmas,” she said.

As a lifelong artist, Carroll Kelly had a clear vision of her product and how she wanted it to look. But because she didn’t have a background in business, she enrolled in a craft and design enterprise course run by the Local Enterprise Office. She said this helped with “all the gaps I didn’t know about”.

In January, Shock of Grey appeared at Showcase Ireland, the flagship event for the country’s craft and design sector, after which Carroll Kelly tripled the number of stockists who wanted to sell her product in their stores.