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INTERVIEW: Gemma Black, creator of hungrylaalaa

Gemma Black owns and runs Hungry LaaLaa. She works in digital media and has a passion for social justice, politics, art, and day drinking in the sun.

As the creative genius behind hungrylaalaa, how did you begin creating these pieces and what makes them stand out amongst a growing crowd of jewellery makers finding an audience on Instagram?

I think there are a few factors that have contributed to my shop’s success. It can be attributed to:

- Being lucky enough to work with influencers like Bella Fiori and Rowi Singh, who are absolute sweethearts and have really lovely, devoted followers/fans.

- Customer service – I like to make all my customers feel like they are receiving a gift from themselves. This is why I gift wrap every package in custom wrapping paper that I design, and I always include a gift with purchase.

- Consistently making new items. I have so many ideas and am a bit time poor, but I try to release at least one new style per week.

- Persistence. I have been running my shop for over 4 years and have only really been getting consistent sales for the last 2 years.

- The 15th Sept 2020 was the fourth anniversary of Anne Aly, Member for Cowan, wearing my Halal Snack Pack pin in parliament which helped me kick start my following at the beginning.

Image: Gemma Black

What is your absolute favourite piece that you’ve made?

Probably when I turned the Coles mini water bottles into tiny bongs using polymer clay and resin. I drove around Perth picking them up from people selling them on gumtree, I only wish I could have done a few more. Maybe next time they will make mini Gatorades.

With an Instagram following of 16,500 and an impressive Etsy sales record to match, how do you feel about the success of hungrylaalaa and where are you hoping to take the products in future?

I feel very lucky to have the following that I do. My Instagram followers and customers are so engaging and supportive. Getting comments and story replies from people who like what I am doing really keeps me going. I am not sure where I would like to go from here, but I am interested in moving to mass production for a few designs, but I am not quite there yet. Ideally, I would like to have a showroom where I can work on my jewellery and art projects and occasionally open to the public.

Is hungrylaalaa your full-time job? If not, how do you manage your career and hungrylaalaa as a side hustle?

Hungry LaaLaa is still my side hustle. I have a really rewarding full time job that I love. It can be a bit exhausting running my shop in my spare time, I was up until 1am this morning processing orders, but I am not ready to give up my career at this point.

I have accumulated over 12 weeks leave from my job so I can occasionally take time off to finish projects or prepare for markets, and I make sure to relax when I can and get out to the pub or bowls club whenever I can for a bev. I can get really stressed and anxious, but my partner and close friends are really supportive and are always ready to jump in to help me out or give me advice.

What does an average day look like for you?

I don’t really have an average day working on my shop as I just try to fit it in here and there. I like to get up early on Saturdays, make a coffee and process all my Friday orders while listening to the latest episode of My Favourite Murder or True Anon. Once that is done, I will finish up some projects, then at around 2pm I will photograph all the pairs I have made during the week and add them to my shop. However, all that goes out the window if my brother asks me if I want to hang out with my 11-month-old nephew or if I am hung over. On weeknights I alternate between processing orders, doing resin pours and hanging out with my partner.

Image: Gemma Black

Do you have a good feel for which styles and creations will be crowd pleasers? How often are you surprised by what your audience is buying and loving?

I feel like I only got an idea of it in the last couple years. I have wild stuff that sells out straight away and then my understated items sell over the course of a few weeks. I made a silicone mould for etch-a-sketches this week and I’m really excited to get them finished and up on my shop, but I don’t think they will sell out straight away.

Which product has been your absolute best-seller?

It’s hard to say. I mostly do short runs of earrings because I have a few copycats and I lose interest in a style once someone copies me, and I get bored of doing the same things over and over again. My list would include the working vibrator earrings, weed scale earrings and resin ashtray earrings.

Image: Gemma Black

What is the best moment in the entire process for you? What do you find most challenging about running your own business?

The best thing for me is when my customers tag me in a photo of them wearing my earrings, or of the gift wrapping, on Instagram. My customers are so hot, fashionable and cool that my mum thought I had been hiring models this whole time and that was what I was sharing to my story. I also have over 750 five-star reviews on Etsy which is so great, but the pure anxiety that comes on when I get a notification that someone has left a review is momentarily crippling.

The hardest part is processing orders as I don’t think people realise how time consuming it is. But I love listening to true crime and political podcasts so that keeps me entertained while I wrap and package orders.

I also don’t love dealing with choosy beggars asking for free earrings, but it is just a part of running a small business in 2020.

Follow Gemma's business on Instagram, @hungrylaalaa