Thanks to COVID-19, the world today is already looking dramatically different to what it did even just a few weeks ago. As we navigate the sickness and devastation from a health perspective, many organisations are also facing unprecedented change. Organisations are taking dramatic hits to their bottom line, employees are losing their jobs, and others are facing complete uncertainty. In these tumultuous times, we wanted to reflect back on a woman who is facing this change herself - kikki.K founder Kristina Karlsson. Whatever the future holds for our favourite stationery brand, we have a lot to learn from Kristina ...
This tale was published in late 2019.
Long before Marie Kondo entered our modern subconscious, there was another woman whose minimalistic Scandinavian design and organisational props prompted us all to find joy in the everyday…
Ask any Australian where to find these joy-filled items, and the answer will undoubtedly be, “kikki.K.” As the founder of this iconic stationery, gifts and homewares label, Kristina Karlsson is responsible for the organisation and beauty that has infiltrated many of our homes.
Her story is one that has inspired a generation of entrepreneurs. At the age of 22, she found herself in Australia (having grown up in Sweden), with little money and no idea of what to do with her life. Rather than diving into the nearest bar job, she began imagining her dream life and then went about making it happen.
The result? kikki.K. Now with 102 stores (and stocked in an additional 250) as well as a global online presence, Kristina’s products are now sold in over 147 countries worldwide. While building her impressive empire, she has also positioned herself as a highly sought-after international speaker while raising two children – Axel and Tiffany.
Today, Kristina’s dream is still dreaming and achieving. Her current mission is to inspire and empower over 101 million people to write their dreams on paper and to make them happen. With Kristina’s history and undeniable tenacity, we think she might just get there.
Photography by Natalie Jeffcott
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family...
I was born and grew up in Falkenberg, Sweden and am one of four children. While working in Austria I met my partner Paul. I soon followed him to Australia and once here, I knew I couldn’t leave. I travel home to Sweden regularly, but I love my life in Australia. Now I’ve been here for almost 23 years, have two wonderful children, Axel and Tiffany, and have grown kikki.K into an international brand I am very proud of.
What was your childhood like?
I loved my childhood and life in Sweden! Growing up my nickname was Kikki, hence the name, kikki.K. I always worked a lot during my school years. When I was ten I used to ride my bike around the snow-covered streets in my neighbourhood selling Christmas books door-to-door and I guess that was the first indication I had of my entrepreneurial instinct. My parents were also farmers and their strong work ethic no doubt rubbed off on me.
How does your childhood differ to the way you’re raising your own children? Do you subscribe to any parenting philosophies?
The main difference would probably be the amount of travel that I do with my children, as they join me on a lot of my work trips. When we are travelling, I encourage them to be independent by ordering Ubers or food and helping at speaking events. This has allowed my children to be exposed to many different countries, cultures and people which I think is the best education for them.
Something that I have tried to recreate from my childhood is the time my kids spend in nature. As I grew up on a farm, I make sure that we spend a lot of time outside as a family, especially when we visit Sweden.
You created kikki.K from scratch, in your own home. Now, you’re one of the best known stationery brands in the world. What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
It has been an incredible journey with so many highlights. I am so lucky that I get to do what I love each day. I’d have to say my biggest career highlight to date is writing my first ever book, Your Dream Life Starts Here, also launching my podcast series Your Dream Life. It’s been a dream of mine for so long now to inspire millions of people, the world over, to dream and chase their dreams. It’s so exciting to share my story and the stories of other high-profile dreamers to show people that no dream is too big.
What about your biggest challenge in business?
There have been so many challenges and as a result, so many learnings that have come directly from my kikki.K journey. Particularly in the early days of trying to get kikki.K off the ground, having very little training or business knowledge, with English as my second language and having limited financial resources were just some of the challenges I faced. However, I overcame that by being creative, working hard and with ‘do it yourself’ as my mantra in the early days.
Many entrepreneurs talk about the challenges in funding and cash flow when their business is growing. How did you navigate these tricky milestones?
Financial challenges are never easy to navigate. We started off with not much money at all, so much so that my partner Paul had to sell his house to help get kikki.K off the ground. I navigated these challenges in the early days by being creative, working hard and with ‘do it yourself’ as my mantra. You also can’t underestimate the power of networking – exchanging favours with other people as a way of getting things done without having to find cash. Today, we’re still investing in the growth of kikki.K, but it’s certainly with more caution and more risk coverage than we’ve thought about in years before.
You’re a proponent of dreaming big. Do you believe in the power of manifestation?
I really do! From deep personal experience, I know that time and time again, taking time to imagine and to dream about how I’ve wanted my future to be, dreaming big and writing those dreams down has been the essential first step to making it happen.
Something magical happens when you write your dreams down on paper – and that’s not to say chasing them is not going to be hard work – but I do believe the powers of manifestation are also at play!
What are you currently dreaming of?
I’m dreaming of dreaming! I want to inspire 101 million people around the world to write down three big crazy dreams and go chase them!
How have you managed building a hugely successful business, while raising a family? Have you discovered any hacks/tips/tricks that have helped you through?
I’ve always had to work very long hours in building kikki.K – which is fine because I love it – but becoming a mother really forced me into a more balanced life which has brought only positive change and now I get to spend more time with my gorgeous children and partner, and I absolutely love that! I realised that you can’t do it all and decided to focus on my strengths and delegate the rest.
It might sound simple, but my best tip in life is to find something you’re passionate about. If you absolutely love what you do, you’ll get through anything and be likely to find more joy in life more often. Study and model what other entrepreneurs you look up to have done and commit yourself to a long life of learning. It will be incredibly challenging at times but the most rewarding.
What lessons do you hope to impart on your children?
The power of dreaming. To practise dreaming and to follow their dreams. To have the courage to back themselves to be creative enough to make more good decisions than bad ones.
Do you make time for self-care? If so, what does that look like for you?
I make sure to set aside ‘me time’ – which I like to have early in the morning. I absolutely love to start the day with a beautiful pot of Earl Grey tea and spend some time reflecting in my journal. It’s all about enjoying those little things in life!
How has motherhood changed your approach to career and business?
With a family of my own, it’s important to find that balance, and that’s where having such a wonderful team of people who are just as passionate about striving for our vision is really important. Remaining balanced is difficult but I try to by sticking to a generic week, to get the important things done first and family time is as important as work. I also make sure to set aside ‘me time’ – which I like to have early in the morning.
What tips do you have for mothers who might be looking to make a shift in their lives? Be it a new venture, a new job or simply a new approach to parenting/life?
The first step is to dream. Ask yourself, what would you do if you couldn’t fail, if you had all the time, money, resources, knowledge & energy? It’s so powerful to step outside your normal life and give yourself time to dream. It’s the first step to creating your dream life.
Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me. Every day my team inspires me with their creativity and designs. My partner Paul has also been a total inspiration and a very supportive mentor – guiding me to find something I was passionate about and make it a career. Most recently I had the chance to collaborate and work with Dr Tererai Trent who also happens to be Oprah Winfrey’s all-time favourite guest, and she continues to be such a big source of inspiration for me. She allowed me to truly believe that anything is possible!
What is on your current list of loves?
- A beautiful pot of Earl Grey tea
- Scandinavian design
- Cookbooks (Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Clean Plate)
- Walking in nature
- Reading (Currently, Oprah’s new book ‘The Path Made Clear – Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose’)
- A journal and pen