Matilde Mourinho had dreams of founding a sustainable jewellery business, but freely admits she didn’t know how much she didn’t know, until she started her Masters in Entrepreneurship at Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design in London.
“Doing my Masters gave me the space and time to really do my research into the industry,” Matilde says. “I found out so much about the detrimental impacts, both environmental and social, that the jewellery industry, specifically the mining industry, really makes. I started looking at different sustainable alternatives – in particular, lab-grown diamonds. Even when done in the best way possible, diamond mining is devastating; there are mines with such a huge footprint they can be seen from space. All the stones we use at Matilde Jewellery are lab-grown, we use 100% recycled gold sourced from certificated suppliers and our packaging’s produced from recycled coffee cups and is itself recyclable too.”
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Matilde says it’s impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye between mined diamonds and the laboratory-grown ones she uses. “I think more and more consumers want to do the right thing and lab-grown diamonds are becoming much more popular; there’s much more interest even than when I first decided I wanted to work with them. “The course really helped me with the confidence-building research that I’ve seen and conducted myself which suggests there’s a huge shift in public opinion going on” People are so much more aware of where everything they buy comes from, or at least they want to be. That’s why I make everything as transparent as I can in terms of how I source my materials. People want to be able to make informed choices.”
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Matilde is keen to widen her market to include men’s jewellery and she’s launching a new range of masculine pieces for later this year.
She says, “There’s a serious lack of men’s jewellery and what there is is either at the cheaper end of the market or very high end and affordable by very few people. There’s a big gap in the middle to fill.”
Choosing to study at Condé Nast College
Matilde says her work at the College helped her realise that there would be a market for her products. “When I came to Condé Nast College, I knew I wanted to start a jewellery business but my ideas were all a bit vague. The course provided me with that academic structure which was so important. If I’d tried to do it outside that academic setting I would have missed a lot of things that you tend to think are boring or don’t need to do right now, but the rigour of the course really forced me to get down to the tiniest details. I spent months doing nothing but research; I took a really close look at fifteen or twenty competitors across the whole range of price and product and style. I did dozens of surveys to make sure there really was a market for the products I wanted to make.”
Matilde was familiar with the College having done a short intensive course there before going elsewhere as an undergraduate. But she didn’t hesitate at the chance to return for her Masters.
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“I think what I love most about Condé Nast College is how small it is. In the regular university setting you have maybe forty or more students, all in one lecture and you can feel a bit lost in the crowd. What you get here is that intensive, one-to-one time with the staff which was really invaluable for me. There were only six or seven of us on the course and so we really got to know each other as peers; we understood each other’s business ideas and could help and support each other. The teachers knew everything about your projects in such fine detail – something they would never have managed in a larger class. When you’re trying to start a business from scratch that personal interaction is so valuable, and all the staff genuinely wanted to help you do well; they were really invested in us.”
Gaining an industry insight
One of the great strengths of Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design is the calibre of guest speakers and lecturers which association with such a global brand facilitates.
“You learn such a lot from the speakers who are all at the absolute peak of their profession. One of them was Aled John who was then Head of Business Development for Condé Nast. He ended up being my mentor through the course and he was very focused on sustainability so it was a perfect fit. If he hadn’t come to give a guest lecture, I would never have met him.”
“I was lucky in many ways in that I already had a fairly well-formed idea of what I wanted to do, I just needed the course to help me work out how to go about it, and it absolutely did that for me. It gave me the structure my ideas were lacking. But there were also people on my course who at the start didn’t have a clear vision of where they wanted to go. The way the course is designed really helped everybody find their way. You end up with a step-by-step guide on how to launch a business but you also have so much creative freedom around what you want to do. It’s a great environment to really explore your entrepreneurial skills, develop your ideas and bring them to life.”
Matilde says going to college in the heart of Soho was a wonderful experience.
“It’s such an amazing place to be,” she says, “filled with the most interesting people. Just sitting having your lunch outside was a real event, seeing all these characters go by. You’re right in the middle of everything. It’s a very cosmopolitan place but then so is the College itself. In my class there were no two people from the same place. If you want to work in a creative industry, spending time with people with such diverse backgrounds and experiences is so helpful – it gets you looking at the world from so many different angles. When we shared ideas, everybody just had such different ways of thinking or seeing things. I’m close to most of the people on my course because we really bonded over that year. What’s more these are people who will probably go on to have really successful careers and be influential in the industry for years to come so apart from being great friends there are also possibilities for collaborations in the future.”
Would she recommend the Masters in Entrepreneurship at Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design to other people keen to start a business in the industry?
“Without hesitation,” she says. If you have a specific idea, or even just a vague aspiration, you will hone it and make sense of it – you’ll learn so much but you’ll have a great time and make lifelong friends too.”