Astrid & Miyu: bucking the online trend with high street expansion

23 May 2022

Connie Nam, Founder and CEO of the jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu, is a rare leader in 2022. Having built her business online, she sees its future growth in bricks and mortar—and is planning significant high street expansion, both in the UK and overseas.

This arguably unconventional route to growth was born of a rare intuition and has been validated through experience and data, with Astrid & Miyu looking to generate a greater share of its revenues from offline sales in future.

As the brand has scaled £12.7m in sales revenue in 2021, it has graced prestigious league tables including The Sunday Times Fast Track and JP Morgan’s Top 200 Female Powered Businesses. Here Nam, named one of LDC’s Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders, shares the secrets of her success.  

We spoke to Connie Nam, Founder and CEO of the jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu.


Can you talk about the story behind your brand and your growth journey to date?

I was born in South Korea and spent time living in the United States, as my Dad worked for the World Bank for a period of time and then as a diplomat. So, as a family unit, we travelled around the world a lot and my mother, my sister and I would always visit amazing markets and pick out treasures that we could keep to remember our trips.

As a profession, I started my career in investment banking, working there for four years, and came to London to do my MBA at London Business School. But my passion was always to work in fashion or a consumer brand, so I worked at LVMH as a consultant and shortly after I graduated, I launched Astrid & Miyu in 2012.

I wanted to create a brand that reflected that feeling, when I looked at high-street jewellery brands at the time, I didn’t get that same emotional and sentimental vibe that I got from travelling and going to markets.

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What factors drove your decision to expand into physical retail operations alongside your successful e-commerce business?

I set up as a digital-first brand, because it was easier to do so at the time but physical retail was always in my vision board for the brand, so I did a couple of pop-ups to test the model and see how people would engage. In 2015, I raised a small amount of money from Angel investors to open our first store. It really drove traffic and sales in our stores. Every day just got fully booked.

After lockdown, people wanted to go out, enjoy experiences and retail became affordable because landlords were willing to do a deal. We actually signed a number of leases during lockdown as I knew we would get out of the pandemic. I took a risk but just saw a huge opportunity there.

I thought, there’s a scalable business model here: I’m selling services that complement my existing products and it’s easy to predict demand because a lot of our sales are driven by piercing or tattoo appointments. We opened four new stores last year and planning on seven new stores this year.

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How do you continue to motivate your people to believe in your vision and transform your strategy into action?

By defining what our mission and vision is very clearly, having great values and making sure the values are portrayed all the way up and down. We hire great people who work hard. Being authentic and being myself when I talk to people really helps.

I’ve been told that inspires people, that I’m not someone who’s untouchable. Sharing everything, being transparent, has helped me, but I think it really empowers the team as well because they feel like they’re part of the journey, they’re also running the business.

I also have an executive coach and other founders that I speak to—having that support is helpful.

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How important is ESG and how are you incorporating it into your brand?

We are driving towards sustainability and looking to become B-Corp certified, so we have started using recycled gold and silver for our new collections. Our goal is 50% of our new products will be made with recycled materials by the end of this year.

With packaging, we’re much further ahead. In our store fits, we’re using recycled materials for our joinery. We’re making sure our VM [visual merchandising] materials are also sustainable. Rather than creating VM for every campaign, we reuse everything.

From a people perspective, we recently hired a manager specifically to focus on our sustainability goals.

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What do you see as being the main growth opportunity for your businesses in the coming 12 months?

The biggest opportunity will be growing the brand outside of London and the UK. In 2015 we opened our first physical store in St Christopher’s Place and, so far, all our stores are in London. There’s so much opportunity outside of London. Edinburgh, Leeds, Brighton and Cambridge are some of the locations that we’re looking at. 

We’re putting a huge investment in our New York store. Right now, physical stores are profitable. Jewellery doesn’t need a big space, so we can get away with small rents and staffing overheads and generate a lot of cash. Last year, revenues were 70% e-commerce, 30% retail. This year it will be 50-50.

Once we’ve proven our model in the USA, we’ll be looking to raise Private Equity to finance our future growth.

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From an international perspective, which markets are you looking to expand into in the future?

Back in 2018, we started doing PR and influencer marketing in the US market, and we posted three pop-ups. They did phenomenally well. It was the same kind of buzz as here, but even more so, with the American enthusiasm. I was planning to open a store in 2020, but COVID-19 hit.

The US is the second target market for us after the UK. There’s a lot of affinity and similarity, especially in the East Coast, to London customers. Similarly, Europe will be a focus for expansion, starting with Germany.

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If you could share a single lesson for business leaders, what would that be?

Managing your own personal transition from being a Founder to CEO is so important, especially if you want to run the business. If a Founder can make that transition, no external CEO can be better.

Two or three years ago, I thought I needed to have the final say and know exactly what was going on in every area.

But I realised my value add to the business and the brand was not me doing everything, but giving people energy, communicating my vision and hiring the right team, because there’s always going to be people that are much better than me in different functions.

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