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Your Isiko

Who Said Business Isn't Glamorous?

Award winning Paula McQuilkin tells her story. CEO and Founder of isiko Glass Jewellery, adding a little glamour to business.


Whoop whoop! I’m 3 months in following the November launch of my glass jewellery business, isiko. I’m supposed to be writing something about my business but I don’t quite know where to start, there’s so much to say. Let’s see how much I can cover in the next few short paragraphs.


I actually started my working career in fashion design and clothing, I was always quite creative and that or hairdressing were the only real options when I was growing up, in the gender-specific time that it was. I shouldn’t knock it really I learnt so much about the fashion industry at that time. Most of you won’t remember this but whilst I was at College there was a programme on our screens called The Clothes Show and I actually did my placement with this programme.  I lived in London for a month, dressed at fashion shows, went on location up and down the country, worked in an office with the show’s producers and if I’m honest this period of time holds some of my fondest memories. I knew ultimately I would work in Fashion even then, what I didn’t know was that I’d end up the founder and CEO of my very own limited company in glass statement jewellery.

Ok so it’s taken me a while to get here, working as an art and design tutor, support worker, a counsellor, a team leader in quality, performance and standards and amongst other things most recently an education manager in a prison. Obviously I don’t look old enough! but my working track record is extensive, now that I look back.

Not that I spend much time looking back these days, instead I’m on an upward trajectory that few would have control over, whilst I plan, talk strategy at every opportunity, network, write articles, get interviewed all with my little bag of tricks in tow.

Just yesterday someone asked what was in my case and I took great pleasure in opening up the purple, crocodile-effect, display case to reveal an array of isiko glass and precious metal pendants, cufflinks, tie slides and earrings. I can’t describe the buzz I get from the excitement in people’s eyes as their pupils dance around frantically exploring the glass jewels.



Why glass jewellery, what’s your story?

A day trip to Wales and a visit to an art gallery would be the first steps I would take towards the dream of owning my own business. Hidden down some stairs and tucked away on a back wall I discovered a beautifully framed, all glass picture of a house on a hill, with grass and fields and somewhere in the distance a setting sun, nothing like anything I had ever seen before.

I’ll cut this next part short but in a nutshell I simply couldn’t afford it and that was it, that was my moment of clarity, I knew at that point that I would learn how to do that myself and that I would have a glass picture hanging on my wall made by my own fair hand one day. A short course 8 months later in 2014, practicing every weekend in a makeshift, garage workshop, lots of disasters whilst I learnt about the properties and physics of melting glass and whilst I perfected my trade and the rest as they say really is history...




And what does isiko stand for, does it mean anything? 

Well it’s actually a Zulu word meaning culture, it fit so perfectly with my connection with jewellery and fashion accessories that when I fell upon this, there was really no going back. Historically jewellery has endured for thousands of years with many different uses amongst all different cultures.

The first signs of jewellery came from the people in Africa, perforated sea snail shells dating back 75,000 years. Later the Europeans had necklaces and bracelets of bone, teeth, berries, and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew. So it was this fascinating link between different cultures and jewellery that the name isiko was born. 


What are you hoping for?  

Well I want isiko to be the name on peoples' lips when they think about buying a gift. I want people to really embrace the importance of our uniqueness and connect with my company ethos and value proposition. Our stunning, classic, contemporary and commissioned handmade jewellery, for all distinguished gift buyers, the intuitive female and any discerning gentlemen who want to both spoil their loved ones or themselves. Unlike other jewellery our pieces are 100% unique. We produce genuine limited editions of 1 by combining glass with precious metals. Why? Because we understand the importance of individuality and how to give you the luxury item that we know you deserve. I find myself reflecting more often than not on how I got here and honestly it hasn’t been easy. A decision to leave a well-paid job and commit wholeheartedly to something that I had no real understanding of.

 I knew 2 things:

1) that I was going to work for myself

2) that I would do something creative, it’s like going back to your roots and this is where I started after all.

So I’ve started with jewellery mainly because of my obsession with fashion but this really is only the beginning. At the end of last year I won £1000 in a pitching completion funded by NatWest, I used the money to buy myself a kiln, who said business isn’t glamorous! 




Seriously though I was really thinking about my expansion plans isiko home-ware, coasters, bowls, bespoke glass tiles and so much more. And I’m looking at the moment into making some international connections. I hope you’re watching this space, follow our progress on Facebook and twitter and join us on our isiko journey…