IJL The Good, The Bad and The Heart Attack

My first ever big show was International Jewellery London in Olympia, you know the saying 'go big or go home'? Well that sums up my choice to show at IJL. The show is the biggest jewellery specific trade show in the UK showcasing tiny designer brands like me along side massive international businesses like Pandora and everything in between. 

It's a one stop show for diamonds, gemstones, packaging and tools. In the run up to the show I was daunted to say the least, I've been visiting the show since I was at university and I had set exhibiting there as a major benchmark for my business.

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL London Olympia View of Stands

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL View of Rachels Stand

I booked my stand about six months prior to the show and preparation was pretty much all consuming. I had the smallest stand type available (the perks of making jewellery are you don't need much space for display) yet it still felt like a mammoth task.

I had a to-do list a mile long, and of course, not even half of it came to fruition before the show. I'm very slowly learning that this is ok, it's a hard lesson, after all isn't the definition of a jewellery designer, a perfectionist?

I travelled down to London on my own, it was a 2 metre space, what could go wrong?!

Well reader, pretty much everything can.

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL View of Buterfly necklace collection

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of gemstone bee necklaces

I chose to paint the walls of my stand, having not painted a wall since a bedroom painting party I held when I was 16 (my friends and I got bored after an hour and proceeded to sunbathe in the garden, my room remained half painted until I moved out) I had managed to forget that two coats of paint is the done thing. Also painting an eight foot high wall when you're 5ft3" without a ladder is pretty difficult.

And then...

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL  view of love tolen necklace collection

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of strawberry necklace collection

On the way to the hardware store I received a phone call from the event organisers to let me know that those shelves I just congratulated myself for putting up all on my own had fallen down smashing four vases full of water all over the stand and taking some flowers as casualties with them. 

Throughout all of this my heart was racing at what felt like 200 beats a minute, I was profusely sweating (everywhere) and my brain felt like it was being hot wired on repeat. I like to think I deal well under pressure, it's how I get most things done - put things off for a stupid amount of time then work like the clappers to hit the deadline(ish). But this was something else. I felt like I was either going to spontaneously combust or suffer a very real heart attack.

I have never felt so completely and utterly awful in my life.

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of jewellery display at trade show

Queue a snotty, incomprehensible, loud, cry-sob-wail to my boyfriend down the phone. It was unfair, there wasn't much anyone could do down the line, what I really needed was a teleportation device to take me to a vat of gin and tonic and a softly spoken voice saying "it'll be alright, it'll be alright" in my ear.

Looking back I think I was experiencing a very long lasting panic attack. Google, reassuringly, tells me that one cannot die from a panic attack. May I suggest though, that Google has never suffered from a panic attack?

But there was still more to come...

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of pearl bee necklaces

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL  view of garland flower rings necklaces and hoops

When I finally cleared up all the mess and waited for a couple of hours for a person qualified in the art of shelf putting up I realised the super cool and stylish table I had fully planned out (in my head) made of copper pipe and hot glue was the most ridiculous idea I have ever had in my life. Cutting the tube on set-up day and not practising even a model of table was just stupid.

Remember that to do list I mentioned before?

There are some things it's ok to leave.

Others, like actualy constructing a structurally important (and load bearing) part of your stand, are best to tick off nice and early.

Queue a last minute (and when I say last minute, the new table was put up as visitors to the show were stepping through the doors on Sunday morning) visit to IKEA.

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of jewellery trade show stand

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of flower doodle collection

Who'd have thought the residents of North West London would love a 10pm dash around IKEA on a Saturday night quite so much. These were Black Friday style queues, crying children, abandoned trolleys, I think I might cry too kind of queues. 

At 10.30pm I walked through the automatic doors out into the fresh September night. Tired and jaded with a hot dog in hand and an Uber on the way I was more excited than I ever have been about the prospect of some sleep.

Sunday morning, opening morning, came around much quicker than felt physically possible and I marched into the Olympia exhibition hall, table legs under my arms. "It'll all be alright" I thought (this had now become a mantra. I had taken to talking to myself out loud, reassuring myself that this would all end eventually). 

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of posy flower necklaces

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of silver signet rings

This is when I realised that the shelf that I had intended to use as a table top was made of impenetrable kryptonite wood. The screws wouldn't even make a dent its surface. Another cry and super kind jewellery neighbour and a lot of hot glue later the shelf and the table legs were attached to the wall. 

Some strategic flower and jewellery arranging and you (sort of) couldn't see the lashings of ousing glue literally holding my stand together.

It may seem like a horror story, and it was when I was living it, stress, anticipation, anxiety, lack of sleep and too much caffeine all contributed towards a very emotionally delicate version of Rachel.

But I learnt a lot.

Would I do it all the same again? Most definitely not. But was I actually a little bit impressed with what I achieved? Most definitely yes.

I had literally been amping myself up for participating in IJL for more than five years, so in reality was I ever going to be able to deal with the stress? Probably not. Shows since have been a much more relaxed affair. I even did a trade show in Harrogate on the train (yes, I do need to pass my driving test). 

It might not be the done thing to talk so candidly about all of the things that go wrong behind the scenes. I'm sure I'm supposed to be portraying a very calm, collected and planned exterior, but for any of you who know me that's just not me. I'm not collected and I'm certainly not cool and planning is something I only do when I'm avoiding other tasks.

I'm looking forward to sharing more on the blog. If you got this far, thanks for sticking with me.

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of posy flower dainty necklaces

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of jewellery trade show stand london olympia

Rachel Whitehead Jewellery IJL view of wild rose jewellery necklaces and rings