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Life in Luxury

Yelena Ford, Managing Director at The New Craftsmen

'Life in Luxury’ explores the everyday working lives of all areas of Walpole’s membership from makers to merchandisers, PR to HR, chefs, housekeeping, designers, gardeners, layers and everyone in between, this feature encourages members share their working day - their life in luxury – to examine what makes the sector and its people tick. Today we meet Yelena Ford, MD at The New Craftsmen. The New Craftsmen were a Walpole Brand of Tomorrow in 2017, and have recently joined Walpole as one of our newest members.
8th Mar 2021
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Life in Luxury Yelena Ford, Managing Director at The New Craftsmen

Tell us what you do?
The New Craftsmen works with nearly 100 makers across the British Isles, upholding them to the highest standards, and working only with the most skilled, committed and passionate individuals. Some are recognised and awarded, others are perhaps undiscovered and less well known, but all are completely dedicated to perfecting a particular skill or discipline, even if it takes a lifetime.

Working hand in hand with our makers, we aim to create distinctive collections with real emotion, humanity and inventiveness. From lighting and furniture, to artworks and textiles, these are storied pieces that create a space with narrative and meaning and will stand the test of time.

We intrinsically believe that every crafted object is an expression of self and a maker’s commitment to their craft, skill and material. Through storytelling, projects, and collections we strive to present the human-face of their makers’ work and business, celebrating the emotional connection they have to their craft to ensure it is enjoyed and valued by those who buy and commission from them - from private clients to interior designers.

What does a typical working day look like for you? 
Day to day, my role is about providing clear strategic direction for the brand and business; ensuring that our strategic intent manifests across all our actions and decision making - from our brand touchpoints and customer interactions, our investment decisions in collections and makers, our real-estate strategy, our systems and processes, and how our team and culture enables us to deliver our ambitions - creative and commercial.

Ultimately, it’s about continually creating and refining a vision that allows the business to have the most positive commercial, social, and creative impact in the world of craft, interiors and luxury.

What do you like most about your job?
I love seeing individuals succeed within the team; supporting and nurturing their journey and development is so important in the running of a business and creating a culture that enables that is essential. Talent needs to always be stretched and stimulated; you need to give individuals the chance to stretch and grow in all sorts of ways.

It’s a privilege to see a new piece or collection by a maker where you know that something incredible has been unlocked within them; that they are creatively satisfied and have pushed their craft practice. And in turn, when that piece connects with clients who are enthralled by what they see and understand.

It’s also always rewarding to see a project grow from a small seed into a living reality - from a new collection to a collaboration with a partner or a bespoke commission - they all show the flexibility and possibility of craft and the talent of the makers behind them; as well as what we can achieve together as a team.

Being in back-to-back meetings with no time to breathe, eat or think. You need to take the time to step back and think about things from a helicopter perspective which is so hard to carve out, but absolutely essential.

What attracted you to the luxury sector specifically?
I’m not sure I was attracted specifically to the luxury sector but rather what value a business like The New Craftsmen can add to the luxury sector. It’s also about shifting on the definition of luxury to one which focuses on intrinsic value - where each item utterly unique and celebrates individual self-expression; is made through highly expert hands and tells the story of process, materiality and humanity; and where the positive social impact - of sustaining craft practices, culture and heritage - is genuine and real.

What was your path to the role you have now? 
I studied Social Policy and International Politics as an undergraduate and masters student, respectively, we the intention of either falling into academia or going down the political lobbying or think-tank route. But I realised quickly that the theory of politics is very different to the reality. From there I was accepted onto the Omnicom Graduate programme which was an 18-month long internship with five different businesses across the brand and marketing spectrum.

From there I spent 5 years at a creative and strategy powerhouse called Wolff Olins, which trained me in a way of thinking that I don’t think will ever leave me. I still apply the models and approaches I learnt during that time and had the pleasure of working with incredibly bright and optimistic people who were determined to have positive impact in the world through interesting business models and innovation. But as a consultant I became restless and decided to put learning into practice in a start-up which had soul and purpose. And that was when I met the three founders of The New Craftsmen - a group of people and a business idea I fell in love with from day one and have not really looked back.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into the luxury sector? 
The luxury sector is incredibly diverse and will become even more varied and rich in the future. Its definition is evolving and the businesses within the field need to reflect and adapt to what luxury needs to mean going forward. It’s a powerful world with a consumer group that holds a lot of sway. If you want to join the luxury sector, I would really think about where the future value of luxury lies, the positive change it can influence, and what role you want to play in that change.