Since 2013, Taylor & Hart have been designing and expertly crafting engagement rings, wedding rings and fine jewellery with a focus on ethical sourcing and supply chain transparency and have been involved in more than 2,000 engagements. We interviewed its London-based co-founder and CEO Nikolay Piriankov to gain further insights into the Taylor & Hart origin story, the highlights and lowlights of running an omni-channel ethical jewellery brand with showrooms in London and New York, and the influences that have shaped his sustainability thinking.
EWP: Why did you decide to start Taylor & Hart?
Nikolay Piriankov: It all began in 2012 when I decided to propose to my wife, Vaivara. At the time I really wanted to create a ring with a deeply special meaning for Vaivara and was struggling to find a jeweller who could design a ring the way I saw it. The main motivation for my co-founder and I was that the online world of diamond and jewellery selling was very commodified, everything was being sold as an object, focusing on price and very little on the customer experience and the design of the product. You had this traditional jewellery retail that was very much about customer experience and product design. And then you had online which had taken the product and basically made it a commodity free of sentimental value. We felt that we could make both worlds meet, taking what you received from traditional jewellers combined with the cost savings that customers get online.
Very few companies offered a fully bespoke service and they expected so much commitment before you could see something. Instead, we wanted to give customers the confidence that what they were doing was the right thing before they had to pay anything. We continue to think about what’s right for the customer to this day and this behaviour is what sets us apart. We always say we listen first and try to understand our customers’ needs and emotions then offer the experience to match them.
EWP: Tell us about some of the highlights of running your business. What are you most proud of?
NP: Our greatest success has been putting together our incredible team, full of people of diverse origin, gender, age, and capabilities. Working together is something I really enjoy and I’m most proud that over the years we’ve been able to attract and retain these inspiring and talented individuals. It’s involved pushing through difficult times, but we’ve always come out the other side with a company that’s kept growing and attracting customers around the world. That’s a really fulfilling feeling.
It’s also been great to grow our sustainable range by investing more and more into Fair Trade options, recycled materials, and gemstones and diamonds with ethical provenance. Along with customisation, sustainable jewellery is a key direction we’re moving in. How do we give customers a product that’s been sustainably sourced and crafted while also focusing on providing a distinctive and beautiful design? This is a central question for the brand at the moment.
EWP: What do you find the most difficult about running your business?
NP: In light of the current health and financial crisis, the biggest challenge is the constant uncertainty around the growth path of the business and keeping the company lean. I think that being bold is not about taking on more risk. It’s about the kind of risks you take. Even when it comes to things that haven’t been tried before, we’re in a place where every risk is justified behind a strategy of growth that we can feel confident in.
I think the more challenging thing is hiring, training, and developing the right people. Above all, a CEO should learn to delegate responsibilities and trust that other people are better at doing the unique tasks they’ve specialised and trained in compared to yourself. For me, the most important thing is focusing on bringing in the right people at the right time. The success of any business is about the quality of the team. As an entrepreneur you need to realise that your main responsibility isn’t working in your business, but working on your business. Retaining the right people is the most critical aspect for me, and I would suggest that anyone who starts a company focuses on that more than anything else.
EWP: What makes Taylor & Hart different from other jewellery brands?
NP: We’re focusing on being accessible to all kinds of customers, acknowledging that love has no limits, and thereby making a best in class customer experience for the widest number of people possible. Whether someone wants something quite classical or an extremely personalised bespoke service, we want our customer experience to be the best. That begins with our brand messaging, then allowing the customer experience and communications to basically elevate and differentiate the brand in a way that is relatable to a broad spectrum of customers.
EWP: What are some of your favourite lifestyle brands?
NP: One brand I find quite inspiring is Patagonia. They’re extremely transparent about the hard work it takes to be a sustainable fashion brand, but they also take it to another level and are steps ahead of everyone else in fashion. There’s also a recent UK brand I like called Whirli. As a parent, I’m really interested in how to reduce waste even when the children are growing up so quickly. Whirli allows you to receive pre-owned toys, borrow them for a period of time, return them, and then they’ll get sent off to other parents. It’s just amazing given how many children’s toys are made with plastics and other materials that aren’t necessarily sustainable. It’s a great opportunity to build the borrowing economy and foster an ethos of sharing. We’ve been using their services and the kids absolutely love the toys.
I’m a big fan of Ecotricity, a renewable energy supplier. We use them at home as our energy provider and we also use them in our UK offices. Their thinking is quite out of the box. In addition to being an energy supplier, they’ve decided to produce lab grown diamonds using renewable energy. I’m very keen to see how they progress and develop.
EWP: How do you unwind after a big work day?
NP: What I do to unwind now is very different from what I used to do before. My wife and I had twin girls nine months ago, so being at home, knowing that the girls are just around the corner and walking into the living room at 5:00 PM to have dinner with them and do the bedtime routine is probably the best way I can imagine unwinding. Spending time with them is so immersive, especially nowadays as they’re learning to interact with us more and more. It’s easy to leave my problems at the door and spend the next two hours totally immersed in being a good parent to them. I really am so, so fortunate and grateful to have them in my life.
EWP: Best business compliment you’ve ever received?
NP: I don’t think there’s any specific compliments that I can recall, but reading customers reviews and what they say about the company and the product experience can be heartening. When someone tells us they’ve had a personal and positive experience with us, it’s truly the best business compliment one can receive. A new review is a great way of feeling recognised for the work that we put into this company over the years.
EWP: Any people/books/films that have influenced your sustainability thinking?
NP: There are two books that I’ve been very inspired by, both in terms of my business thinking and my commitment to sustainability. The first is Zero to One by Peter Thiel. It helped me understand the hard work required for real innovation, but that new ideas will fix the problems and challenges we have today. Looking for big steps towards innovation and seeing who’s bold enough to take them is really motivating for me as an entrepreneur.
The second book is The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, which touches on how to build an agile and useful business. It looks at a different kind of sustainability, the sustainability of building companies and products that are what people actually want. You can’t be sustainable if you’re just using up energy and resources to build products that won’t serve any concrete purpose for people in the real world. It’s an endemic problem and one that needs to be addressed if we’re going to have a truly sustainable marketplace going forward.
EWP: What are some things that you’d like customers to know that you rarely communicate on social media?
NP: Anyone who is an entrepreneur or works in a company that’s trying to achieve sustainability goals will know that it’s hard to communicate just how much hard work goes into making a green business. A lot of customers expect it, but don’t really understand what those challenges are. It’s important to be transparent as a business about those challenges, and I think it would be great to give customers more insight into that commitment. I think people are quite empathetic and understanding as customers, if you are honest and open with them. We aren’t just going to greenwash our business with sustainability messaging and badges from third-party sustainability auditors. Instead we’re going to look inwards and discuss openly what could be done better to have less waste and to fix issues in our supply chain.
Especially if you’re a small company and you don’t have the buying power to force your suppliers to act. It’s really challenging because often the sustainability goals we have are to change the behaviour of other agents outside of the company. So before we are known to be an ethical, sustainable brand, our goal is to be known as being transparent, transparent to share both of our successes and our failures or challenges as we execute on our sustainability roadmap.
EWP: Any quotes you live by?
NP: I don’t necessarily live my life through quotes, but there are two that I remember. The first is by Albert Einstein, which again brings me back to Zero to One by Peter Thiel. ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them’. It is a reminder that to solve the big problems in the company, we need to change our paradigm and way of thinking first.
The second one is by Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, who sadly passed away recently. He wrote the book Delivering Happiness, which massively influenced my thinking at Taylor & Hart. He said that customer service shouldn’t be a department. It should be the entire company. And I really believe that. It’s a mindset that can help everyone at the company to understand that their work all leads to a better experience for the customer.
To learn more about Nikolay Piriankov or Taylor & Hart, visit https://taylorandhart.com.
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Cover image via Taylor & Hart.