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Overcoming Tragedy to Grow My Business

by Madeleine Blaine

Madeleine Blaine, the founder of Gallardo & Blaine Designs has been designing & making jewelry for over 15 years.  Her love of beautiful jewelry from the ancient to the new, inspired her to design a range of jewelry full of bright, unusual gemstones and the contrast of gold and silver. In her early years she travelled the world & developed a fascination for gemstones & spent some time in Mexico learning silver smithing. Madeleine tells us how she turned tragedies she experienced on her travels into a force for good with her jewelry brand, Gallardo & Blaine Designs. 

When I was just 19, I went off travelling. I was desperate to break away from the shackles of the classroom, and planned to spend 5 years travelling from Mexico to Chile with my best friend. We’d decided it was time to learn about real life. 

But as they say, be careful what you wish for! 

After a powerful experience with a Shaman in Mexico, after 2 weeks myself and my best friend parted ways, meaning to meet again one month later.

Life had different plans for us. Just 6 weeks later I was married to a Mexican, and my friend was pregnant and came back home.

The man I had fallen for was a jewelry maker, and I had recently decided that I wanted to become a travelling artist. He was doing exactly that; making small, wearable works of art and travelling around Mexico selling them.

Gallardo jewellery 1

That is how I ended up becoming a jeweller. He taught me the trade and we made the jewelry in our workshop in San Cristobel de las Casas, close to the Guatemalan border, selling it at weekends to tourists in the local market. 

Gemstones were everywhere. We traded gems with passing dealers, and bought amber off the indigenous peoples, who mined it in the nearby mountains. We even sat on unpolished jade in the market which had been washed from the local river. 

Mexico was literally teaming with gemstones, and everything we made then and now involves them. On a deeper level I know I will always love working with their healing energies.

The color, contrast, and vibrancy of my jewelry is deeply inspired by the essence of Mexico, where I started my journey. Although the designs evolve, this thread is forever present in my brand.

Gallardo 2

Whilst there were many amazing moments during my time in Mexico, I was also so far out of my comfort zone. My eyes were opened to so many things. There was an uprising taking place at the time, and it was common to see lots of teenage soldiers walking around with machine guns. 

I also watched the soaring popularity of cocaine and witnessed the way it ravished the lives of those in our community in such a short space of time. It was also a very macho society where everything I had learned growing up about equality was challenged. I found myself questioning my very being.

After a few years we started selling our wares at UK craft fairs in the summers, and spending our winters running a restaurant/bar that we had built in a small town in the mountains in the desert in the North of Mexico.

But the clash in our cultures – the increase in instability, the drug war, Mexican politics – all started to get to me. After 11 years, I took a break from my husband to return to my first love: travelling. But as I ventured out alone, he was tragically killed in an attempted kidnapping. 

My world crumbled around me. My grief combined with the exasperation of being forced to deal with corruption at every level in Mexico. A betrayal by his family left me battling for 13 years to keep what my husband and I had built.

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After returning to the UK, I did briefly consider changing careers. However, my jewelry business was the one solid thing in my life. I still loved the creativity of it, and running the business side of it too. 

It had kept me going through all the insanity and turmoil and I simply didn’t feel like I could leave it behind. Instead, I decided that I would build it further, in his memory, and keep his dreams for the brand alive.

Years later, I write this from a very happy and stable home in Dublin. Through my jewelry business, I met my Irish partner and have two happy and healthy children. From this secure and happy place, I went on to open a shop in Dublin City centre - The Collective - where we showcase over 30 Irish & European jewelry designers. 

Gallado jewellery 4

This, in turn, led to starting our jewelry making workshops, Silver Works. This has grown steadily from a once a week class running upstairs in our shop, to classes running every day of the week from 4 studios. 

Such a turbulent and difficult decade taught me to never take life for granted, and to truly appreciate everything I have now. 

Now, I strive to empower other women through my businesses. I am proud to employ 26 creative, strong women across my three businesses. I hope that my journey will inspire them to believe in themselves, and to know that you can make a living from your passion in the arts. 

Gallado Jewellery 5

My life has by no means been a straight road, but everything I have learnt so far has led me to where I am today. I remind myself and those around me, to believe in yourself and follow your passions every single day.