At Work With: Emer Gillespie, Spark & Bell
Emer Gillespie is the driving force behind cult lighting brand, Spark & Bell. On a mission to ‘make custom lights affordable’, Emer’s love of light and passion for sustainability means she is the perfect partner for Tala, and a ripe interviewee for our At Work With series.
For anyone unfamiliar with Spark & Bell, can you give us a brief overview of what you do?
We make bespoke lights that are made to order. Most of our lights are customisable on our website, from metal finish and cable colour to length of pendant tube, so our customers can build the right light to suit their space. We also work on more complex custom orders with clients that love what we do but have more bespoke requirements for their project. It is really gratifying to be able to help customers bring their creative vision to life!
It’s quite the jump from operating from your kitchen table to running a workshop with seven employees. What would you say was the biggest step you took during that journey?
Definitely the move to our current workshop. We ran out of space in our old workshop and were about to move when the pandemic hit, so we had to put those plans on hold. It was meant to be, though, as when we finally were able to move, we found our current workshop which is such a fantastic space and works perfectly for us. Having our own space, with lots of natural light, that we can grow into and design to our exact needs really felt like a defining moment for our business and our brand.
We love the fact you started on Etsy, and I’m sure that story inspires many creative entrepreneurs. Was it hard to get your products noticed on such a big platform or was it organic growth?
It was all organic growth. I think it was easier starting on a ready-made platform with customers who were already engaged with Etsy as a marketplace. As it’s a handmade creative space, there was an appreciation from the customers that my lights did take time and were made to order. So, Etsy enabled me to grow and scale-up the business at my own pace, with the support and understanding of the right client base.
You originally taught photography in college before you started Spark & Bell full-time. How does that experience inform your work?
I think my long education in the visual arts has strengthened my visual language and design aesthetic. I’ve worked in textiles, print, fibre optic lighting, sculpture and photography, all of which are valuable tools in design. My experience with teaching has meant I’ve been able to teach my team how to make my lights and be confident in speaking to groups, as well as running workshops.
You make your products by hand. What’s your favourite material to work with and why?
Brass is my first love and the metal I started off making all my lights in. The colour, the finish, how it changes over time means it’s a pleasure to work with. In the last few years though we’ve put a lot of effort into working with recycled plastics as a material. It can have a very beautiful aesthetic and tactile quality, and more importantly, turns waste plastics into something useful and beautiful. Win-win!
It’s amazing to hear recycled plastics have made their way into your production line, can you tell us more about that process?
Absolutely! We currently work with a few recycled plastics suppliers who we love working both for their purpose and their amazing materials. An exciting development here at Spark & Bell HQ is that we are currently working on our own recycled plastic parts that are made in-house. We hope to launch our own recycled plastics range of lights in the coming months.
What’s the best thing about having a workshop in Brighton?
Living and working in such a diverse, inclusive, and exciting city beside the sea. I love working here and feel very lucky to have been able to set up my business here too. We’re a short walk to the sea, which is a great inspiration, and have a fantastic community of makers and artists who we work with often. I try to work with as many local makers as possible including carpenters, shade makers, ceramicists and powder coaters.
We share a love for lighting, but in your opinion, what would you say is the most important light in the home?
After spending a large percentage of 2020 in my sitting room, I think the secondary mood lighting is the most important. I often use my wall lights on dimmers rather than my main lights to create a cosy atmosphere. Not everyone will have wall lights wired in, but we can make all our lights with a plug and switch cable – made to order. When you’re doing renovation work, it can be the best time to consider the secondary lighting and get your builder and electrician to wire in some extra light points.
We love celebrating women in creative and leadership roles; who do you look to for inspiration?
Aren’t women great?! I have been fortunate enough to have worked and studied with some great women along the way; from lecturers and technicians to makers and artists, who have all been an incredible support and wealth of information for me over the years. With Spark & Bell, I learnt very fast that running your own business is incredibly hard in that there are so many facets to it, many of which I had no experience in. Speaking with other business owners, joining a women in business network, and generally being open to advice and inspiration from others is the approach I’d recommend. It’s worked out well for me so far, and saved me a lot of time and energy along the way.
What’s next for Spark & Bell?
We are currently working towards being a carbon neutral company, which for me is the most exciting project. A key part of that is our own in-house recycled plastics materials, but also offsetting the impact of our shipping and production with third party carbon neutral programmes and internal initiatives. I have always been passionate about the environment, so it was only natural that I made sustainability a core principle of the Spark & Bell brand. I’m just excited to see how far we can take it.
You can also discover our recent partnership case study on Spark & Ball here.