At femtastics, we love discovering young brands which are created with passion, idealism and an innovative, inspiring vision. Sisters Rosanna (28) and Christie (32) Wollenberg from London clearly put all of this into their business Otiumberg. Both have years of experience in dream jobs – Rosanna has worked in Arts and branding and has lived in Buenos Aires, Barcelona and New York; Christie has worked in buying for Burberry in London, then in PR for Louis Vuitton in Dubai, and then for Burberry in London again. Today, the sisters focus on creating perfect everyday jewellery – made from ethically sourced gold, diamonds and other precious stones, offered at affordable prices. Otiumberg started as a jewellery web shop and is more and more turning into a jewellery brand. We’re meeting in Rosanna’s East-London home to talk about how they set up their own business, how they built their brand, the ideal everyday jewellery and working together as sisters.
femtastics: Have you always been interested in jewellery?
Christie Wollenberg: Yes, but even more interested in building a brand and building something we love.
Rosanna Wollenberg: I’ve always had this sentimentality about jewellery. There’s something about jewellery which is timeless and has a deeper value to us.
Otiumberg pieces will never go on sale. We want to make pieces that last forever.
Christie: Having worked in luxury for so long – almost ten years – I didn’t want to follow seasons with our own brand. Otiumberg pieces will never go on sale. We want to make pieces that last forever. And I don’t see why you should put a beautiful gold ring in the sale. We create pieces that are season-less, to go with your seasonal buys. We are very passionate about things that last.
Did you benefit from your former jobs when creating your own brand?
Rosanna: My former job in brand management definitely helped. And with Christie’s experience in fashion and PR, the combination was really strong.
Christie: Rosanna is very strong in branding and website technicality – the analytical side as well as the big picture. Whereas my speciality is PR – my last role was working with influencers at Burberry, so I understood the value of working with the right women. That has really helped us. We grow very organically and we only work with influencers we personally meet. We never pay anyone and they really have to love our jewellery.
How did you get the idea to start your own company? You started with a web shop.
Rosanna: We both weren’t very happy in our jobs. And we found that there was no online destination for the jewellery we were always looking for …
Christie: Everybody likes to wear a gold hoop and we literally could not find one that was neither 300 Pounds nor 10 Pounds and falling apart or infecting your ear after ten minutes. So we decided to create a web shop. We had no supply chain, no idea about who to work with, etc. So we went to various trade shows and found brands that we really liked. Looking back, it was amazing that we started the web shop selling other brands, because it gave us time to understand what our customers want and don’t want.
It was amazing that we started the web shop selling other brands, because it gave us time to understand what our customers want and don’t want.
Was it easy or difficult to get the brands on board?
Christie: We didn’t have the web shop yet, we only had business cards made by our friend. But everyone we wanted came on board. I think it comes down to relationships.
And why did you decide to create your own jewellery brand?
Christie: Two years later we realised we still were not offering the pieces we wanted to offer. We actually couldn’t find them. So we knew we had to find a factory or workshop and a supply chain and just create them ourselves.
What was it you were missing?
Rosanna: Affordable, good quality pieces. Essential, staple pieces that you want to wear the whole time. Gold hoops that will stay in your ear and will stay gold for years to come.
How did you come up with the name Otiumberg?
Rosanna: We’ve wasted hours of our lives (laughs).
Christie: We wanted to incorporate part of our surname, Wollenberg, into the brand name. So we came up with so many variations of “berg” but on Google the names were all taken. One day we found the word “otium”, which is Latin and means “peace” and “quiet” but also “taking time out of your daily affairs”. We put otium and berg together and it just stuck.
You set up Otiumberg while you were working in other full-time jobs. How did you manage this?
Rosanna: We worked with a lot of friends, which is the only way to do it when you have a minimal budget and no time. We never had any investments from anyone apart from ourselves, so we had to do everything on a shoestring. My best friend’s husband is a graphic designer and he created our logo and design elements on our website.
Christie: We did all the work in the evening – we got home from work and started working again.
Rosanna: But it never felt too stressful, because we knew we were doing something which would eventually lead to a better life.
Instagram is key for us! It is how we sell the majority of our pieces and a lot of the traffic comes through instagram.
How did you make your web shop popular, how did you find customers?
Christie: It grew very organically. We never did any paid marketing, because we simply did not have the budget. Instagram is key for us! It is how we sell the majority of our pieces and a lot of the traffic comes through instagram.
Do you spend a lot of time creating content for it?
Christie: Yes, all our content is our own and we are very particular when it comes to our images. We never photograph models, we always photograph our friends. There are already so many retouched, unrealistic images out there and we feel we have so many wonderful friends who are so much more interesting than seemingly perfect models.
Rosanna: We would like to build a community of interesting women around our brand. Why should we show models if we can show the women who we’d like to wear our jewellery and who inspire us? After all, these women are our customers.
Christie: “Self-gifting” is a big subject for us: You don’t need a man to buy you jewellery, you can buy it yourself.
We would like to build a community of interesting women around our brand. Why should we show models if we can show the women who we’d like to wear our jewellery and who inspire us?
Did you ever find it difficult to work together as sisters?
Rosanna: I think there is a level of honesty and deep unterstanding between sisters that you maybe could not have with a friend.
Christie: I actually just said yesterday that I don‘t think I could do this with a friend. Even if we have different opinions, we are never going to fall out with each other because we understand each other’s way of thinking.
Rosanna: Also, there are four years between us and I think the age gap is helpful for us.
There is a level of honesty and deep unterstanding between sisters that you maybe could not have with a friend.
Do you still remember when you knew you wanted to do Otiumberg full-time?
Rosanna: At some point the importance that we placed on our old jobs and on Otiumberg shifted.
Christie: I decided to work for Burberry three days a week, so I had more time for Otiumberg. I did that for a year, which really helped. I quit my job at Burberry the same week I found out I was pregnant. So I knew I had nine months to go, go go. And it worked! We launched our first collection during that time – and then you just know. Every month we are doing better and better, it’s so exciting.
That is truly amazing! Now that you have your own collection of jewellery, do all designs come from you or do you work with a designer?
Christie: We do everything! We are the co-founders, directors, PR, designers, … (laughs). But we work very closely with a girl who represents a factory abroad and without her we would struggle.
How big is your team?
Rosanna: We have a graphic designer who comes in a few days a week and we have an intern. That’s it and for now it’s working.
What was the first piece that you designed yourselves?
Christie: The huggie hoops. When I was living in Dubai, I had seven of the huggie hoops made for myself, because I have a lot of piercings and I could not find these kind of diamond hoops anywhere. And many people asked me: These are amazing, where did you find them? So we made the huggie hoops our first Otiumberg piece – and they sold out very quickly. It was important for us to offer the jewellery at a good price. Of course we are very aware of our competitors and similar diamond hoops are almost double the price elsewhere. Our focus is to keep prices down. From my experience in fashion I know the crazy markups in prices – and we want to avoid that.
Rosanna: Now we are constantly working on the huggie hoops and always evolving them – in white gold, with sapphires, rubies and rainbow stones, …
Christie: It’s all about everday, affordable luxury.
Do you have bestsellers?
Rosanna: The huggies sell very well, especially the rainbow huggie is very popular. But the cross hoops and fishbone hoops have been selling very well, too – mostly as singles. Almost every month there is a different bestseller.
Christie: It also depends on the season. During summer the rainbow collection is very popular, around Christmas the more classic pieces sell very well.
Rosanna: In our photo shoots we stack quite a lot and people become influenced by that. All our friends have had more piercings because of us.
Christie: Even our Mum! (everybody laughs).
I need more piercings, too. The more you have, the more jewellery you can wear! (everybody laughs again) … Where is your jewellery produced?
Christie: We have been working with three factories. Now we work with a workshop in Thailand, which is amazing. It is Australian-owned. In the beginning we used to ask friends in the industry, but they don’t like to share their contacts, it is very closed, which we understand. A friend of mine has told me that it took her five years to find the right producers, she had to fly to India several times and build relationships. So we were very lucky to find our partners.
Rosanna: Also in terms of the quality. All our stones and materials are ethically sourced, which was very important for us.
Our focus is to keep prices down. From my experience in fashion I know the crazy markups in prices – and we want to avoid that.
Are you planning to open a showroom or store any time?
Christie: We have just moved into our first office. We used to work from home before. If customers inquire we invite them into our office, so they can look at our jewellery.
Rosanna: Maybe we’ll have a popup shop some time in the future, but direct sales to our consumers online is where it’s at. We don’t feel any pressure to have a showroom or our own store.
Thank you so much for the interview! It was a pleasure to meet you!