Abigail Pine tells us about the difficulties of living with an invisible illness and why her business is a family affair.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have had epilepsy since I was three years old.
I have always been self-employed in one way or another. My jobs so far include being a musician – I used to play the harp – and making my own jewellery from copper wire and beads, which I do from my garden studio in Oxford. I have never worked for a company as such: I did once have a job as a waitress, but that didn’t last long for obvious reasons.
Tell us a little about your business.
I’ve been running my business, Jewels from Polkadots, with my younger sister, Naomi since around 2017. I used to make my own jewellery from my own original designs in copper wire and beads, before switching to selling vintage jewellery with my sister, who already sold clothes and accessories including hats and scarves.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
Unfortunately, my copper jewellery was just not selling: there were too many people who were selling items for just a few pounds each because they weren’t handmade, but mass produced imports. All of my jewellery was individually made and one of a kind, which meant that I had much higher overheads, and of course it took up more time.
My sister was already selling vintage clothes and accessories under the name Polka Dots and Cocker Spaniels, so I joined her in order to share my expertise and add vintage jewellery to her offerings. Together we sell at vintage clothes fairs and online.
I now sell collectable and vintage jewellery from the early to mid-20th century: everything from necklaces, brooches, earrings and bracelets to classic cufflinks, cardigan clips and tie clips.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
The challenges are that prices are competitive in the market, and the vintage scene is always changing.
My advice to anyone who is thinking of starting their own shop is to advertise and get known, then just start selling and hope that sales increase.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
Many disabled people need encouragement to come out of their shells.
Invisible disabilities are particularly hard. For example, a lot of people are under the impression that epilepsy is no longer a disability in this day and age. I’d encourage everyone to follow some of epilepsy pages on Facebook in order to learn more about what it’s like to live with epilepsy.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Finding a brooch for £4 and selling it at auction for £450!
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
The belief that epilepsy is nothing more than an inconvenience that only affects a few moments every now and then.
Epilepsy is a lasting disability which people have to struggle with every day of their lives, as well as having to cope with the after effects of seizures and medication.
Who or what inspires you?
My mother. She is the person who I couldn’t do without and who is here for me all of the time, whenever I need anything or anyone.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
Yes: Rough Diamonds, about the British jewellery brand, Butler & Wilson, founded by Simon Wilson, who started out selling antique jewellery at the Antiquarius market in Chelsea. It taught me that jewellery doesn’t have to be old to be valuable. I recommend it highly.