Kelkay Jewellery owner, Maria Alejandra Valenzuela, has always loved making things with her hands. Originally from Chile, she honed her jewellery-making skills in Singapore before emigrating to Australia with her husband and establishing her business.
Arriving in Australia Alejandra was determined to build a business as part of her plan to create a better life for her family in a new country.
'I love making jewellery. It makes me happy, making others happy. But I had never run a business. It was so challenging. Everything was new, different, and I had my 3-year old son to look after too.'
In the early days, Alejandra sold her designs – necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings – at local markets in Melbourne’s southeast. The challenges of setting up her own business aside, even this was a learning experience for her.
'Everyone loved the designs. I had so many compliments, but not many sales. Eventually, I identified the issue; the colour of the stones I worked with didn’t appeal to the Australian market. I was having to learn, adapt with every step I took. Working with different colours, different materials, I saw sales start to increase.'
Time was one of Alejandra’s biggest challenges, and there were many more. Designing for a new market, getting to grips with the intricacies of setting up and running a business, sourcing quality suppliers and living and working in a new country.
'It was overwhelming. I knew it was my business skills I needed to focus on. That was when I found the Stepping Stones program run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence which seemed to be made for people like me.'
Stepping Stones to Small Business is a micro-enterprise program run over 6 months offering mentoring, training and support to women from refugee, migrant and asylum seeker backgrounds. At its heart were nine Business Victoria workshops covering everything from starting a business to networking, marketing, pricing, taking your business online and finance fundamentals.
'The course provided me with relevant and practical skills for my business. I was able to develop networks and also be inspired by the business ideas of other women who were of similar backgrounds.
'But it was also the practical skills that were so important. Starting Your Business answered so many of my questions. Finance Fundamentals and learning about cashflow has been one of the most important things for my business, and also pricing.'
Through the workshops, Alejandra realised she had been pricing her jewellery too cheaply. This was forming a barrier to sales, with potential customers thinking her jewellery might be cheaper imported products.
She also got to grips with marketing her business, identifying new markets, the kind of products they would require, and how to reach them.
The business today
Alejandra credits the workshops she attended with putting her on the right track. Her hard work and application of the knowledge she acquired has seen Kelkay (the Indigenous Chilean word for necklace) go from embryonic start up to established business with multiple product lines and global plans.
'I now have different product ranges retailed through appropriate outlets, through art galleries, an online store, retail outlets and makers markets. I have also developed new product lines – printed designer bags, handmade women’s clothing and accessories.'
'Through the power of social media and online marketing, skills Alejandra worked on during the Business Victoria workshops, plus contacts in her native Chile, Kelkay Jewellery is well on the road to becoming an international business from its Melbourne base.'
'I design all my products in Melbourne, with different product lines manufactured in Australia, Chile and in China. Chile is becoming a big market for my bags and premium earring ranges.'
'I’m just so passionate about what I do. The workshops really were a stepping stone to a new business, a new life. I’m just so excited about the future.'