Start-up Nation: Coldlilies

Taking a shine to the business of jewellery and design

Kim Knowles and Ciara McKenna of Coldlilies

University friends Ciara McKenna and Kim Knowles founded online retail platform Coldlilies after leaving their careers in law and finance to pursue a passion for jewellery and creative design.

The two had met while studying commerce and German at UCD, during which time they spent a year living together in Germany. However, upon graduation both went on to travel extensively, working in Guatemala, Belgium, Lebanon, Germany, Britain and the US.

“We always had an ambition to start a business together but were never in the same country as each other until two years ago,” McKenna says.

McKenna, who is a qualified barrister, spent several years working in the legal industry in London and Washington before returning to Dublin in 2011 to work as a barrister and investigator for the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. Knowles, meanwhile, spent the years following college working for Morgan Stanley before moving back to Dublin to take up a job with Deloitte.


The inspiration for Coldlilies, which is a curation of independent designer jewellery, came from their international travels where they collected an array of beautiful and unique pieces.

“We had a few different business ideas but kept coming back to jewellery and design as we both have a good eye for unique pieces,” McKenna says.

“Everyone was always asking us where we got various items of jewellery and we hated saying Sydney and other places as it meant they couldn’t get the same items easily.”

Market research
The two decided to create an online boutique with a difference – an antithesis to disposable fashion. "Our site is about quality, unique, hand-finished, design-led jewellery pieces."

They decided on the name Coldlilies which derives from a line in a WB Yeats poem – “The dew-cold lilies ladies bore” – which they say symbolises the site’s focus on edgy and unusual beauty in its collections.

Once the business idea was agreed upon, the two set about doing market research and focus groups.

“We discovered more and more women were buying their own jewellery instead of waiting to receive it as a gift. There had been a change of thinking and women don’t want to wait for their partner to buy them nice pieces anymore.”

McKenna and Knowles self-funded in the business, spending €5,000 on the development of the site, which they launched last September.

“Our target market was women as we found more women were purchasing jewellery for themselves. Yet, 45 per cent of our customers in the months following the launch were men.

“We were really surprised as we weren’t targeting them, but found out they preferred browsing jewellery on the site to the pressure of going into a store.”

McKenna and Knowles initially kept the prices of all pieces below €150, but have since raised it with some necklaces on the site now costing in the region of €500.

“The lower price point was hard initially as sometimes designers wanted to charge a lot more as they’d put their heart and soul into creating a product,” according to McKenna.

All of the pieces are hand finished by the designer and shipped within two days of ordering.

Strict criteria
"All products are made to order. The concept is a hybrid of handmade pieces and fast delivery. Our pieces are shipped within two days of ordering because the nature of the market is people want things fast.

“We don’t hold any stock, which makes it cheaper for us. The email brief comes in and we send it on to the designer. The designer then has two days to make the piece and ship it.

“We have very strict criteria in terms of packaging, quality and gift fulfilment. It is more onerous on the designer but they get more brand exposure.”

The business launched in the UK last month, with 15 British designers now signed up to the site.

“In the few months following our launch we found we were getting a lot of hits from the UK. Twenty per cent of our customers were from the UK and yet we weren’t doing any marketing there. They were also spending an average of €50 more than their Irish counterparts.”

What makes them different from other online jewellery platforms?

“Most items are quite accessible but we also do avant-garde pieces. We help designers compete with brands of the likes of Net-a-Porter by giving them an editorial platform.”