Over 10 years ago, Kristina Karlsson came home one day and announced to her partner Paul: “I’m going to design and manufacture designer stationery, and sell it via retail boutiques located in my favourite cities all over the world!”. He thought she was a little crazy. But she was determined.
Kristina Karlsson is Managing Director and Owner of kikki.K, a business that has gone from strength to strength since opening its first store in Melbourne Central in 2001. Kristina’s original concept has grown into a multi-million dollar business with 25 gorgeous boutiques in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. Kristina still has a very hands-on role in her booming business – she’s Creative Director, heading up the design, production and visual merchandising team, and she still oversees the business strategy and manages her team of senior staff. She’s always looking to the next challenge – currently she’s plotting world domination(!) with a plan to open her first store in New York… and is also due to have her first baby any day now! Wow. Now that’s multi-tasking.
Kristina has received overwhelming accolades for her success with kikki.K. Some of these include – receiving the Lord Mayor’s Award for Retail Innovation (Melbourne Central store) in 2002 only 6 months after opening her first store, receiving the Young Entrepreneur Award at the 2003 Women Chiefs of Enterprise International, receiving the 2007 Yellow™ Business Owner Award (For owners with a 50% share or more in a business with responsibility for key management decision-making), and more recently she was named Victorian Young Business Woman of the Year at the 2007 Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
How does one store in Melbourne Central turn into 25 stores across Australia and New Zealand? A lot of ambition and a lot of hard work! But aside from her many achievements, I was most inspired by a simple statement Kristina makes in this interview - ‘I had no idea where to start, but that was almost ten years ago… and I just LOVE what I’m doing’. Her excitement and energy just seems to bounce of the page! Its that genuine excitement for the next challenge that seems to propel Kristina’s business forward. Now that’s what I find inspiring.
Read on to learn a little more about Kristina’s background, her inspirations and passions in life, and her newest challenges! Also, be sure to check out the kikki.K. website for more than just gorgeous product to drool over – in the ‘Magazine‘ section you’ll find tips for de-cluttering and organisation, inspiring articles featuring (amongst other things) Scandinavian design features, 5 minute snippets with Australian stylists Megan Morton and Glen Proebstel, and a round up of one of Kristina’s many inspiration trips to Sweden. It’s really worth a browse.
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I arrived in Australia from Sweden at the age of 22, and once I had decided that I wanted to stay it quickly led to the question, ‘What am I going to do here?’ I became quite restless trying to work out what ‘my thing’ was. To cut a long story short, I decided it had to be something that: made me excited driving to work on a Monday morning; had something to do with design; that I would be totally passionate about; kept me in touch with family & friends in Sweden; and that I could make $500/week doing. After searching for a while I hit on the idea when I was setting-up my own home office and couldn’t find products that reflected my taste & style. I knew I’d found ‘my thing’ and decided I would design, manufacture and sell gorgeous stationery and open stores all over the world! I had no idea where to start, but that was almost ten years ago… and I just LOVE what I’m doing!
Where can customers buy Kikki K products?
We currently have 25 gorgeous kikki.K retail boutiques in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland – after starting with one gorgeous little boutique in Melbourne Central. We also have an online store at www.kikki-k.com.au and we ship worldwide. It’s my dream to open kikki.K boutiques in all my favourite cities of the world… New York, Tokyo, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, hmmmm!
Kikki K is now a household name in Australia – how has the word spread over the last few years?
People either stumble across our stores, or one of our many passionate customers tell them about us. We’ve also had lots of interest from magazines who often feature our products. I’ve always felt that the best fashion and design brands are built by what other people say about you rather than what you say about yourself through advertising.
Are there any particular designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?
Being from Sweden I just love the Scandinavian design aesthetic – I can’t help it! I’m a huge fan of Arne Jacobsen, Efva Attling (jewellery), Fillipa K (fashion)…and I’m also a lover of Australian artist David Bromley. But it’s my own kikki.K design team who constantly inspire me.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
There’s no such thing as a typical day! Quiet moments are few and far between. However in the beginning we had a very small team – just my partner Paul & me – and we did everything. From working in the store, to packing boxes and managing accounts and payroll. Not forgetting actually designing the products too! A typical day for the first 5 years was at least 15 hours long – usually 7 days a week – but it was a labour of love so that came easily. These days things are a little more controlled. As we’ve grown, so has our team, so now there’s more time for me to focus on product design which is what I love the most. …and I just jump up and down with excitement when new samples arrive!!
What are you most proud of professionally?
Being named Melbourne’s Most Innovative Store just six months after opening was personally very satisfying. We knew we had something unique, and something that people responded to – and I’d convinced Paul to sell his house to finance it(!) so we had lots on the line. But to receive the award from the Lord Mayor really cemented the fact that we had something special and it really was just the beginning.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. Like any creative I never switch off and am nearly always open to be inspired. Travel back to Sweden is is something particularly inspiring for me. Just hanging out with family & friends, going to cafes, restaurants, forests, lakes, beach, galleries… has me bubbling with ideas. I’m also constantly reading magazines from around the world, blogs and beautiful books. I’m an absolute ‘cook book junkie’! One thing I’m never short of is inspiration and ideas! I also travel regularly to places like London, Copenhagen, & Tokyo – all places that I just love and which fuel my creativity.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Designing & developing new product for sure. I get so excited and inspired doing that. It’s such a rewarding process to start with a blank page and create beautiful objects that people use every day and come to love. Then to work in one of my stores and see people’s reactions to them is just so much fun. On a personal level that gives me masses of enjoyment.
Not having enough time to fit in everything I want to in one day!!!!
What would be your dream project?
Opening our first store in New York! I’m working on that one now…
What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?
Right now I’m two days over-due with my first child – so I have to say I’m looking forward to meeting my beautiful little baby!
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Breakfast at Eurodore this morning (Bay St, Port Melbourne). Fantastic coffee (being pregnant I only could have a little sip), delicious menu …and I love how passionate they are about food, great ingredients, great service, nice deli-style atmosphere. Couldn’t resist buying some Simon Johnson pasta sauce on the way out.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Hmmmmm. Often a little sleep in and some relaxing pyjama time at home. If I’m lucky I’ll get a little fruit salad in bed! Then a wander around Albert Park – breakfast somewhere, lose an hour in the bookstore… then home to read papers and what-ever the latest book is that I couldn’t resist!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Bay? Find a vantage point looking our across the Bay on a gorgeous day and you’ll know what I mean.
…but you know what, there is no one best kept secret in Melbourne – there are hundreds. I remember coming from Sweden over 10 years ago and missing Scandinavia & Europe… but I’ve been totally in love with Melbourne for years – and discover new reasons for that all the time.
ps) I must say a huge thankyou to Kristina and her partner Paul for taking the time to respond to this interview whilst expecting the birth of their first child! Thankyou and congratulations Kristina and Paul! – Lucy :)