How did she do that? Stationery brand kikki.K founder and creative director Kristina Karlsson

1 October 2018
By Fashion Quarterly

Kristina Karlsson

Swedish-born, Australia-based Kristina Karlsson conceived the idea for her kikki.K brand during a moment of insomnia.

Restless and unable to sleep one morning, Kristina picked up a notepad and pen and jotted down some goals and thought starters that would eventually spark the idea for her now-global stationery business. The entrepreneur and author of Your Dream Life Starts Here has over 102 kikki.K stores, the brand is stocked in another 250, and is sold online to stationery and design lovers in over 147 countries worldwide.

We caught up with Kristina to ask her some questions about how she made her dream life a reality.

Can you explain your career path to date?
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. I was living pay cheque to pay cheque. I felt frustrated. I felt stuck. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, and I craved direction and purpose. Restless at 3am one morning, my partner Paul encouraged me to grab a pen and notepad and write down what was important to me. What ended up on paper that night was what I now call my 3am List. I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but that night Paul inspired and empowered me to really dream. On my 3am List was the following: A career I’ll love driving to work for every Monday morning; something that will keep me in touch with my family and friends in Sweden; something that can be a business of my own; to earn $500 a week. 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 and 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 more than 15 years ago… and I just LOVE what I’m doing!

What do you love most about your job?
I absolutely love creating meaningful products that make a difference in people’s lives. I am so passionate about inspiring 101 million people around the world to dream, and turn their dreams into reality to create and live their dream life. Being part of that is truly rewarding.

What is your biggest accomplishment at work or a moment you’re most proud of?
I’m so incredibly grateful for so many things we’ve achieved on our journey. Taking kikki.K truly ‘global’ and ticking off my list of favourite cities we’re opening in (like London) would have to be one of my many highlights. Other highlights include being presented with a Swedish Business award by the King and Queen of Sweden, collaborating on a kikki.K collection with Arianna Huffington – and now, of course, publishing my very first book, Your Dream Life Starts Here.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
There have been so many challenges to deal with and so many new experiences – and as a result, so many learnings that have come directly from my kikki.K journey.  I’ve always thought that anything is possible if you set your mind to it – and now I know. Genuinely, my instinct is to always reframe problems as opportunities and mistakes as brilliant learning opportunities. That simple list of my dreams, written on paper at 3am one morning, was the catalyst for me setting out in my early twenties – with almost no money, no training, no experience, English as a second language … so many barriers. But with bucket loads of passion, drive and a couple of well-stretched credit cards, to start up what would become a globally loved brand and building my dream life.

What motivates you?
What motivates me is knowing that I have the freedom to choose what I want to do with my time and my life.  

What is your life motto?
One of my absolute favourite mottos to work by is ‘Don’t say no, say how’ and this has become something of a really good habit. Since day one, I’ve always challenged myself and the business to get things done that we’re passionate about, and to overcome roadblocks by working together as a team.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I have ever been given is to find something you’re really passionate about – and make it your career.  If you want to start a business of your own, you’re going to need to invest considerable energy and time into it, so to make it something you really enjoy is so, so important. In other words, have fun!

If you have children how do you find the work / life balance?
Remaining balanced is difficult but I try to by sticking to a generic week, to get the important things done first and make social and family time as important as work. I also do some kind of exercise every morning as it clears my head and helps keep me focused, but balance remains a real challenge for me.  I just love what I do for work so I find myself working very long hours – which is often very fun and very satisfying – but leaves me needing a little more time for other important things.  Starting a business from scratch with little funding means you need to do as much as possible yourself because you can’t afford to pay others. That makes finding balance quite difficult.  It’s my new challenge!

Who’s your female icon or inspiration and why?
I am fortunate enough to have met so many incredible and inspiring women. In particular, Dr. Tererai Trent, Oprah Winfrey’s all-time favourite guest is a huge inspiration of mine, I’m so grateful to be able to share her inspiring story in my book. Dr. Trent grew up in Zimbabwe and overcame such adversity to fulfil her dream of having an education (something that other women in her circumstances are denied). She tied her dream to the betterment of others by setting herself a goal of giving back to the girls and women of her hometown in Zimbabwe so they too could have the opportunity of an education. Her dreams have all been realised with Tererai Trent International Foundation, which $1 from every sale of my book will be donated to. 

What are your top three tips for landing a job in your industry?

  1. Do something you’re really passionate about.
  2. Create a crystal clear vision of what you want to achieve and let that guide your decision-making and your team. When times get tough (and they will), your vision has to be strong enough to pull you and everyone else though.
  3. Write a business plan that becomes your road map for achieving your vision. Going through the process of putting it on paper is a must, and a great discipline that forces you to face reality. Review it regularly and don’t be afraid to refine it.

How do you relax away from work?
I love, love, love to read. Whether it’s flicking through a gorgeous new cookbook, or reading something from the stack of new inspiring books I’ve collected. Spending time with my children is also an invaluable way for me to relax and recharge, as is a yoga class or a long walk.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I try my best to wake up at 5am and it makes a huge impact on my day. Getting up early gives me time to think, read, write, be inspired and exercise – and I can do it all before the rest of the family wakes and the normal day-to-day starts. 

What are your favourite traits you are drawn to at work or when hiring?
I’ve found that the best way to find good team members is just by being passionate and having fun at what we do.  As a result, our best team members have been the ones that have been attracted by what we do and the way we do it, and they have come to us.

The one beauty product that keeps you looking fresh?
My favourite skin care is La Prairie and for makeup I use a few different brands (M.A.C, Elizabeth Arden and Lancome) but always Aveda lipsticks as they are natural.

What’s the outfit that makes you feel POW!!?
I feel most powerful when wearing something stylish and comfortable.

You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you?
I have this big crazy dream… I’m going to inspire and empower 101 million people around the world, to write down three dreams, and go chase them and I believe that it’s completely possible to make that happen. It’s so exciting, because I know that inspiring the world to dream will make the lives of so many people so much richer – and make the world a better place, for you, for us, for our children and grandchildren and for future generations. My book, Your Dream Life Starts Here, and everything else we have curated for you as part of ‘kikki.K Dream Life’ is my first big step to making my big crazy dream come true. 

Which blogs / magazines / websites do you check religiously?
Too many to mention! I’m always flicking through a big stack of design and interior magazines, as well as books. I absolutely love books.

Technology you can’t live without?
My phone and internet – both to keep me connected with my native Sweden, and on top of lots of other inspiring things!

When did you last act fearlessly?
This happens so often with my ‘don’t say no, say how’ approach. If I truly want something, I’ll find a way to make it happen.

Photos: Supplied

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