Najo silver jewellery is sold in over 500 jewellery stores around Australia and New Zealand as well as in department stores in Malaysia and Korea – a remarkable success for the company’s founder Jo Tory who made her first foray into the jewellery trade selling jewellery illegally on the streets of Rome in the early 1980s.
Born and raised in Sydney, Jo graduated from the Sydney College of Fine Arts in 1983 and then set off to travel the world with a one-way ticket to China. From there she gradually made her way overland to Europe before flying to Mexico where she fell in love with the “Latin American culture, people and lifestyle”.
“I lived in Mexico for a couple of years,” she recalls fondly. “I really loved it. I learned to speak Spanish and started buying and selling Guatemalan textiles to make some money.”
However when Jo decided it was time to move on and continue her travel odyssey she quickly realised that she wouldn’t be able to take her textiles with her as they were too heavy and cumbersome to pack in her luggage.
“I decided I would take some jewellery with me and try and sell that instead as I have loved jewellery since I was a small child,” she says.
Fortunately Jo lived near Taxco, a small Mexican town which is home to several silver mines and a flourishing jewellery industry.
“When I went to Taxco I immediately fell in love with the silver jewellery,” she explains.
“Most of the jewellery is handmade, hand soldered and hand polished – the workmanship is fantastic.”
She bought some silver rings and bangles, some of her own design, and took them with her to Rome where she sold it on a “street full of vendors”.
When Jo eventually returned to Sydney in 1986 she didn’t want to leave her love of the Hispanic culture, silver jewellery and travel behind so she opted to study the Hispanic culture at the University of NSW and become an importer/wholesaler of Mexican jewellery.
“I did some buying trips to Mexico and then began selling the jewellery at the Paddington Markets and then progressed to selling to stores by going on road trips and exhibiting at trade fairs.”
Jo insists that the “organic growth” of her business was largely unplanned.
“It was just an adventure for me,” she says.
“I wasn’t buying and selling the jewellery because I wanted to start a business, I was doing it because I loved the jewellery (and the buying trips overseas).
“My interest in business developed gradually as my business grew but I am totally self-taught … I have never done any business or marketing courses.”
Jo’s lack of formal business training and planning certainly hasn’t hindered her company’s success.
Today Najo is a well-established and respected supplier of “contemporary silver jewellery” employing 13 people at the company’s head office in Lindfield, NSW.
Jo adopts a hands-on approach in all aspects of the business but says her primary role is “controlling the jewellery”.
“My focus is on the jewellery, on the design,” she says. “That is what I do.”
The Najo product range is made up of around 600-700 core designs including the company’s best-selling bangle, an organic classic with a very good weight”, which Jo first introduced onto the local market around 20 years ago.
This core range is bolstered with 12 to 16 new collections (featuring 300-400 pieces) every six months – these collections are completely replaced with new collections six months later so there is always a “completely fresh new range”available.
The brand’s retail price point ranges from $30 to $1800 with the average price point of around $200.
Jo says that around 50 percent of her products are still sourced from Mexico while the remainder is largely sourced in the Phillipines, Poland, Germany and Italy.
Jo attributes much of the success of the company to the jewellery’s strong design focus.
“Silver is a great metal,” she says. “The relatively cheap price of silver means we can experiment with designs and it is not going to cost us a fortune.
“Over the years we have done a lot of playful designs and I think that is actually our strength. Of course we design jewellery that is plain and easy-to-wear but I am proud of the fact that we’re not afraid to step outside the lines of convention in design and I think that is something that we are known for. In fact I see that as our direction.”
“The price of silver means that we can take the design risks that most gold jewellery wholesalers can’t – and it means that our end customers can be more experimental in what they buy too.”
She stresses that although Najo is renowned for its “contemporary silver jewellery” the company also incorporates other materials in the designs including resin, enamel, cubic zirconias and anodized aluminium.
“I’m always interested in exploring new materials all the time so we can have points of difference in the range,” says Jo.
Jo is confident that the Najo brand will continue to grow and prosper as the brand gains increasing exposure around Australia through “branding”
“We began branding our jewellery with advertising, PR, signage, packaging and posters etcetera about six years and it is making a big impact on our sales.
“We’re becoming recognised. People are walking into jewellery stores and asking for our products.”
Jo readily concedes that her jewellery wholesaling business’s journey from the streets of Rome to supplying products to many of Australia’s best jewellery stores has been a long one.
“It’s been quite a lot of work but I have a lot of energy for it,” she says.
“Najo’s growth has been like an adventure for me and still is.”