I first met Ali Turnbull of Ali Bull late-last year at the Gathered Design Market, but it wasn’t till this year that I finally added to my ever-growing jewellery collection with her beautiful and stunning pieces of wearable art. From the feel of resin jewellery to the bright and fun color combinations possessed by Ali Bull earrings and necklaces, it was no surprise at how much attention they regularly receive for being having a unique presence and instantly adding some character to my overall look.
Juggling the responsibilities of a music teacher and a small business owner, Ali has put together an impressive and joyful business of timeless earrings and wearable art that are drawn through her creativity and inspiration from her surroundings in the picturesque Adelaide Hills.
With the upcoming Gathered Design Market in Hahndorf from December 13 – 15, 2019, I had a Q&A with Ali about her anticipations around participating in the market as a stall holder – have a read of our exchange below:
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, Ali?
Ali: I am a part-time music teacher, part-time maker, full-time Mum and a full-time dreamer! I am the mum to 2 beautifully spirited young girls and wife to a tall, handsome fireman. I live in the Adelaide foothills, where native trees and a chorus of native birdlife surround my home and light-filled studio. We are massive beach–dwellers. Life is good! I have always been a passionate traveller and maker of all things, and am very thoughtful to gift my children with the same passions.
Tema: What made you decide to open up your own business Ali Bull?
Ali: I dare say it was a long time coming! I have always been an avid design market supporter and purchaser and have fantasized about the day when the ‘time was right’ to make it happen! The stars aligned. My children had become of age where I was able to steal some time for me, and my experimenting in so many art mediums had culminated with a wearable art that I was in LOVE with! It was, in fact, after my most recent trip to the creative hub of Ubud (Bali) in 2018, and participating in art workshops, that spurred me into definite action!
Tema: What attracted you to the idea of basing your business around resin jewellery in particular?
Ali: I love the shiny, glasslike finish of resin… that was a major drawcard. However, I would say the real pull was towards alcohol inks. Resin is the medium that brings my alcohol ink artwork to life. I have had a hand at silver-smithing, and always dabbled with painting and sketching. It was the discovery of alcohol inks that was the real game changer… the colour combinations and blends are limitless and endless! Alcohol inks actually can have a life of their own. When I pop ink to paper, they blend and evolve into patterns and colour blends that I do not expect. I adore the spontaneity that is required of me to work with inks. And earrings… you can’t have too many, right? I have met a great many avid earring collectors that it seemed a natural foray! In fact, I can’t get in trouble with the husband for spending too much money on earrings when I make them myself right?! I also have incredibly sensitive ears, so the quality findings and lightweight nature of my pieces, means I can wear big, bold, and colourful dangles without the ear drama!
Tema: When did Ali Bull progress from being a concept to a reality, what were the key principles that you based your business around?
Ali: Largely, it was when I considered that I was able to make a product that wasn’t already in everybody’s jewellery boxes. My product needed to be unique… and with the alcohol ink medium, I felt that the product I loved to make and wear, was ready to bring to the masses. I had to be confident that I was doing something different to other makers before I made the plunge. For the credibility of my brand name, I was not comfortable imitating what any other talented maker was already doing. In addition to this, my business needed to be something that I loved doing, and felt confident promoting as a quality product. My product needed to be something that I could manufacture at home, and that would allow for late-night making when my babes are asleep. ALI BULL ticks all these boxes!
Tema: How did you decide on the range of designs and styles of jewellery that Ali Bull was going to offer to its customers?
Ali: I wanted to cater to people, similar to myself! I am quite conservative in my style of dress, and largely wear neutral colours. However, I adore experimenting with colourful accessories for that pop. I want my customers to appreciate that bright and bold colours can be worn all year round and for any occasion. We often joked that my Nanna, Melva, was the Queen, as her jewellery, handbags, and shoes always worked with any outfit that she wore. She was classy, polished, and seamless, and as a child, I was always in awe of her poise and care she put into her appearance. There was not a hint of a tracksuit in her wardrobe, and if I surprised her at home on a Sunday afternoon, she would be found in a fine knit twin-set with a beautifully-matched beaded necklace and earrings without fail! God forbid if her kitten-heeled shoes and her clutch on the entrance table did not match! She was a world traveller, and a collector of jewels. A careful, highly-supervised dive into her jewellery box was my favourite thing to do! I want to be my Nanna when I grow up. I want my customers to feel the satisfaction and power of how pairing a fine set of earrings can transform any plain outfit (matched with the perfectly blended handbag and shoes of course!).
Tema: What do hope for your customers to experience when purchasing from Ali Bull?
Ali: Through ALI BULL, I love to dare customers to delve into colour in a way that they have not been confident to in the past. It is difficult not to be attracted to the vibrance and hues that can only be created with the mix of alcohol ink and resin. I am always so curious to see the colour palette and patterns my customers are drawn to – especially when they surprise themselves with what they have chosen! I like to offer my customers every colour of the rainbow! I like them to be spoilt for choice (even if it means I make the process of selection very difficult on them!). Nothing means more to me as a maker than when my customers report to me about all the positive comments they receive from their friends and colleagues when they wear their ALI BULL earrings. I love that my creations are conversation starters!
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about your series of earrings – timber and artistic – and how it pushed your creativity?
Ali: Hand-painted timber was a step aside from the alcohol ink, as I find the manner in which resin can bring timber to life so attractive! I use quality walnut timber with hand-painted embellishments and art deco-inspired for this series. I wear my timber dangles so often. They go with everything – especially when wearing my tan leather accessories and khaki and cream shirts (a bit of a wardrobe staple for me!)
Tema: Can you also tell us a bit about resin jewellery – how did you go about discovering the art of working with resin and turning it into wearable art?
Ali: Resin is a means to bring my alcohol ink art to life. Each set of earrings has been cut from a larger, original canvas, and then meticulously layered with resin. It is an extremely fiddly, messy technique, but I believe the results are worth it! There has been many expletives muttered (or yelled) while refining my resin techniques, but as they say, “practice makes perfect”!
Tema: Do you primarily focus on creating earrings or are there other forms of accessories in the mix?
Ali: I have delved into a range of both timber and alcohol ink necklaces. The customer demand for earrings has meant that this is a large portion of what I offer. I will always have some pretty necklaces on offer for the customers that may not have their ears pierced!
Tema: Do you offer standard designs or are you open to custom orders as well?
Ali: Custom orders are my favourite thing! I am increasingly getting inquiries from brides and girls who want a fabulous set of earrings to match their bridesmaid dresses or formal gowns. Goodness, I adore the satisfaction of this process! I will pop a series of colour palettes and patterns together for customer approval, before the final original artwork is created and then develop them into a set of earrings.
Tema: What do you think helps Ali Bull stand out from the rest in the industry?
Ali: They are earrings that are made in a unique medium – alcohol ink – something that is not often found in your jewellery boxes!
Tema: Do you primarily operate online or do you have a shopfront / stockists?
Ali: At the moment, I primarily sell through market, and face-to-face interactions with my customers. I do have an online store. However, I currently do not update this as often as I would like – this is a major 2020 goal! Markets will always be my favourite! I love to meet my customers, see what colours they are drawn to. My favourite customers are those who come to me wearing their ALI BULL earrings, of course! I am so inspired by the pairings that my customers make with their ALI BULL earrings and their patterns and outfits. It dares me to be a little more adventurous with my styling also! My favourite customer of all was a beautiful lady who wanted me to choose her 3 sets of earrings… with absolutely no input or guidance from her. Gosh it was fun!
Tema: How long has Ali Bull been in business for and how has the journey been like so far?
Ali: My online store launched in November 2018, and my first market was in December 2018. It has been a massive learning curve and so much work, but I find myself more inspired and excited each step of the journey. I truly have so much fun!
Tema: Where do you see Ali Bull in the next 5 years?
Ali: I will always see myself as the sole maker of ALI BULL. I need to have control over all aspects / stages of the manufacturing. I would however, love to get to the point where I can employ someone to assist with the administration, social media, and online store aspects of my business. I find these aspects of my business to be a time-sap when I just want to make! My ideas, ranges, and techniques will evolve, and I will attract buyers throughout Australia. I might need the occasional trip overseas and interstate to inspire future collections!
Tema: How did you get involved with Gathered SA?
Ali: I was always a keen visitor to Gathered before I started ALI BULL. My immediate goal once beginning ALI BULL was to be accepted into Gathered! The market is the best showcase of South Australian Designers and makers that I have found. I feel so fortunate to have immersed myself in this beautiful community. Both the products sold and the makers themselves are top notch! We are so fortunate as makers to be supported so well by Jenna and her team!
Tema: How long have you been participating at Gathered SA markets?
Ali: I have attended all Gathered markets in 2019 at Queens Theatre. Golly the venue is magnificent! The ambiance, Jenna’s styling, the stalls, the people… every aspect is sublime. I am so excited to join the rest of the Gathered crew at Hahndorf this year!
Tema: How has the experience of being part of the Gathered SA family been like so far?
Ali: The most positive, supportive, and rewarding experience! It has affirmed to me that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to! As makers, we are mentored in our marketing, provided education opportunities, and our contributions are valued. I couldn’t be more content to be part of the Gathered Family.
Tema: Is there anything else that you’d like us to know about you and Ali Bull?
Tema: I am off tomorrow for a week in Ubud, Bali! I was gifted the opportunity to indulge in a week of learning and making by my beautiful husband Alex. Stay tuned for colourful ceramic details and embellishments at ALI BULL- I’m so excited!
You can visit Made by Ali Bull at the Gathered Design Market from December 13 – 15, 2019 from 4pm – 10pm at the Thiele House in Hahndorf. Entry to the market is free and there is plenty of free street parking available nearby.
With thanks to Jenna O’Dell from Gathered SA for the interview opportunity
Interview conducted by Fatema “Tema” Sitabkhan
Answers and images supplied by Ali Turnbull // Ali Bull