How I Launched: Alighieri

Woman in polka dot shirt posed with jewellery in table in front of her and marble busts

An emotional crisis inspired Shoreditch member Rosh Mahtani to launch her jewellery brand. Since then, she has struck gold

By Charlotte Harding   Friday 30th August, 2019

Ancient and magical, jewellery is a universal, symbolic force. Coveted across generations and all cultures, these relics are as timeless and nourishing as a family recipe – filled with memories, always with a story to tell. This is how Shoreditch member Rosh Mahtani perceives Alighieri, her collection of bronze and gold-plated medallions, rings, earrings and anklets; visual sculptures that take their name and inspiration from an unlikely source – the 14th-century Florentine poet Dante Alighieri. 

From lion medallions on delicate chains to thick gold hoops with a dangling freshwater pearl, each piece that self-taught jeweller and founder Mahtani creates in her Hatton Garden studio embodies the mythical creatures, passionate mistakes and scraggy landscapes of Dante’s world, a journey through the realms of hell, purgatory, and paradise. Here Mahtani shares how she found solace, success and direction through imperfection, and reveals how she went from The Divine Comedy to a literature-inspired line.

The big idea
‘I studied French and Italian at university. In my final year, I focused on Dante’s The Divine Comedy and immediately fell in love with it. I was really struck by how visual his poetry is and how much our concept of the afterworld is influenced by his writing, but what really spoke to me was that it was about a man who was lost. 

‘A few years later, having travelled the world, I came home heartbroken. I was completely at a loss, and Dante became my safety blanket, something I knew and could relate to. I ended up doing a one-day course in wax carving and loved everything about it. I went home, sat at my dining table all night with a bottle of red wine, carving and making. The shapes that emerged reminded me so much of The Divine Comedy and of the way I was feeling. For the first time, I felt I had a language that made sense to me.’

Forming a plan
‘Right from the beginning, I had a clear idea of what I wanted. I was my own customer and I relished the fact that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else for the answers. I knew which stores I wanted to be in, what  I wanted my products to look like and how I wanted it all to feel. What I did find frustrating in the beginning was when people, mainly men, would approach me and offer to help with a business plan. They would say, ‘‘I can help you with that because you might find it a bit complicated.’’ The fact is, I love numbers as much as I love being creative – and I want to prove that you can be both. Just because you’re creative or you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean you can’t also run a business, and it definitely doesn’t mean you have to have a man next to you, managing the finances.’
necklaces draped over piece of paper and stones
Board with pinned photos and necklaces
‘I started Alighieri on my own. I lived at my parents’ place, worked as an au pair and tutor by day, and made jewellery by night.  I actually credit the growth of the business to the fact that I didn’t have any investment – it made me think differently. I understood that I had to do a lot with a little, and that forced me to be inventive.

‘At the start, I didn’t have the budget to ship an order. I would jump on the Tube and deliver personally, which meant someone would open the door and we’d get talking. Building relationships with customers and press in this way allowed me to establish genuine connections.’

Launching to market
‘There wasn’t really a formal launch. For two years, it was just me and my amazing intern, India, who was with me when I got my first Net-A-Porter order of a thousand units. We had two days to assemble it over a weekend, packing boxes all night for two nights.  My family rallied round and we ended up all packing necklaces together. To celebrate our five-year anniversary in January, we had a big dinner for press in the bottom of a crypt. We invited people to come down into the underworld and put together an amazing Italian feast, with mounds of pasta, vessels and jewellery everywhere. It was my way of saying thank you to everyone and celebrating how far we’ve come.’ 

Growing a business
‘The first two years were hard. It was difficult to gain traction and get enough eyes on the brand. I thought that was my biggest challenge – until Alighieri grew by 800 per cent, then again by 600 per cent. Alighieri has never really been about creating a fashion brand, it’s about creating a community, bringing people together. I now have a solid team for all areas of the business, which is exciting. The growth has been incredible and it makes me emotional because I made those pieces at a very dark time in my life and it was like therapy to me. The fact that other people find solace in those objects is what gives me joy.’
Woman draping necklaces over a bust sculpture
Dealing with challenges
‘I used to get so stressed out when disaster struck. Now it happens daily and I don’t have time to cry about it. Recently, on our final day of production, we had lots of espadrilles going out. Everything was done in time, for the first time ever. No  one let us down, and we had enough hands to assemble it. But when we got to the final box from the factory we realised the ribbons were too short. With situations like that, you just have to roll with it. No one’s going to die and you can always fix it.’

Eyes on the future
‘Alighieri has always been about storytelling, not just about creating jewellery. For example, we created a line of espadrilles with lion medallions to represent the moment in The Divine Comedy when  Dante is confronted by the beast. For me, the lion is a reminder to be courageous, so I decided to make a shoe that allows you to walk with the courage of a lion. We’ve just launched a jewellery range for men and we’re working on homeware too. I’m always looking for new ways to tell the story.’ 

Imagery by Kensington Leverne

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