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Journeys | A Conversation With… Georgie Roberts

The phrase “all at sea” originates from oceangoing adventurers who set sail in the centuries before the advent of GPS. Once a boat left sight of land, its position was only known to the sailors on board. Here we grill creative director Georgie Roberts on how she went from feeling all at sea to launching Wanderlust Life from a spare bedroom in the seaside village of Croyde.

You grew up in Instow, did a degree in design and illustration, and then had a range of different jobs. Would it be safe to say you were all at sea in the early part of your career?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always felt like I didn’t quite fit the mould in whatever job that I had. Initially, I thought I wanted to be a teacher – which turned out to be a terrible idea! I went on to work in newspaper publishing, for an advertising agency, at a retreat centre and as a gallerist for Damien Hirst in Ilfracombe. For maybe a decade I managed my former boyfriend’s restaurant. But I never felt content. Now that I look back on it, I realize that I wanted to be at the helm of my own ship.

How did you go about finding a place to drop your anchor, metaphorically speaking?
Hospitality’s really hard, but the perk was going away every winter. It was great because it allowed me to travel. I was on a flight to Mexico and I realized I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing anymore. I didn’t want to be working on things that felt inauthentic to me. I needed to be working on something that I believe in and that I love. I just had a notepad and a pen, and I spent the flight writing down a list of all the things I love doing. I went through some crazy ideas, but I just kept whittling the list down. The jewellery thing was a bit of a happy accident that came into fruition a bit later on, after I’d started to trigger the thoughts of what I wanted to do going forward.

So what was the happy accident that converted you from a perpetually dissatisfied employee into a creative director steering your own ship?
My mum’s always been into crystals, so they were around as a child. I also wore this tiny, really simple gold heart necklace that was given to me by a German couple when I was a kid. People used to always comment about it. I remember thinking I wanted to create some jewellery that was similarly minimal, but I also wanted to do something with gemstones. I wasn’t a jewellery designer though, so I didn't quite know how to put it together – but things did feel like they were kind of aligning. I ordered some gemstones and figured I would have a little play around to find a way to put them on a fine chain and produce a similar aesthetic to the necklace I’d been wearing. But the way the gemstones had been cut and the holes had been drilled meant I couldn’t put a chain through. I put some cord from my sewing box through the hole, and that evolved into our fine cord necklace that’s now our number one bestseller.

How did you go from that accidental prototype to starting a business?
I taught myself and researched on YouTube and Google, and figured out how the cord could be finished in gold. My friend Sarah, who used to run the Oystercatcher shop in Croyde and is a jewellery designer, saw me wearing the necklace and I remember her pointing at my chest and saying, “Where did you get that from?” I told her I’d made it, and she said, “I think you’re onto something. Why don’t we put a few in the shop and see if they sell?” We sold 10 in a week. She joked, “I reckon this could be your full-time job one day!” And I literally laughed in her face.

Did making your designs give you a different feeling from working at your other jobs?
There was something really gratifying in the process. I was seeing the full cycle: conceptualise – produce – sell. Some of the jobs I had I didn’t enjoy massively, but there were elements from each one that gave me a skill set that I could use in creating my own brand. For example, when I worked in an advertising agency for a short time, that was about having to execute a really high level of attention to detail, which is really important to what I do now.

Was it hard quitting your nine-to-five to follow your passion?
When I first started, I was still working full-time and then making and selling and grafting till 1am every night. I knew it had legs, so I felt that with the opportunities that came to me I just had to keep saying yes. It was gaining momentum, so I wasn’t going to just let it fall on its feet. I thought, “It’s growing and I need to be there to nurture it.” I had to make the decision to quit my safe job that paid my bills and just take a leap of faith.

Looking back over your journey, are there any resources you’d recommend to someone who’s feeling all at sea?
There are a few that come to mind straight away:

  • The Answer by Barbara and Allan Pease is about manifesting your ideas by writing them down. There’s something to be said about stopping to pause, reflect and think, “What do I want from life? What makes me fizz?” Put that stuff on a piece of paper!
  • No life journey is without a couple of dodgy chapters, and a friend sent me a link a DO Lectures talk by Tina Roth Eisenberg at a really crucial time. It was pure magic listen to. It’s about putting energy into yourself so you can pour it into your passion.
  • Feck Perfuction by James Victore is all about unearthing your authentic self. It’s thought-provoking, and a great read for any adventure – personal, work-related or otherwise.
  • I picked up Do Purpose by David Hieatt up last minute from our shop before a trip to Greece last year. I thumbed back and forth through it daily and found each and every page so inspiring. It’s another pause-and-reflect book that gives you a fresh perspective.
  • I love how books or articles can find you at the right time. An article in Stylist about curiosity really grabbed my attention recently. “Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” I think that sums it up – cultivate a spirit of exploration and curiosity, and you can’t go far wrong.

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