INTERVIEW | KRISTINA KARLSSON FOUNDER OF KIKKI. K
BY JESSICA BOSCO
Kristina Karlsson is one of those people you find yourself not so much having a conversation with but rather sitting listening and in awe. From starting her global stationery empire out of her home office in Melbourne (following a 3am identity crisis), to inspiring millions to follow their dreams with her products and through public speaking - to her refreshingly-honest take on parenting and her own motherhood journey. She’s just one of those people who you know is living life to its fullest and makes you want to do the same.
Here the kikki.K founder, who was born in Sweden but has called Australia home for a little over 20 years, gets real about her road to becoming a mum, admitting she didn’t know if she actually wanted to have children for the vast majority of her life, before a chance encounter changed her perspective. Not all of us are born with an innate yearning to become mums, and we often feel bad to admit that it’s not the be all and end all of who we are. Now, mum to 10-year-old Axel and 7-year-old Tiffany, Kristna says motherhood helped her find balance and it helped her realise there is so much more to life.
Recently releasing her first book, Your Dream Life Starts Here, Kristina also shares advice on how to not only follow your dreams, but more importantly, figure out what those dreams are in the first place! And they don’t have to include world domination (unless that’s your thing!), they can be as small as finding more time for yourself in your busy life – but the main thing is figuring out what you want out of life, and making sure you’re working towards it – because you only get one chance.
Tell us a little bit about how kikki.K came to be and your journey to this point?
I met my partner Paul when I was 22 at a ski resort in Austria and I decided to come to Australia with him. I had the thought that I would come for a year and see how I go, but then I decided to stay. However, when I decided to stay I thought it was time for me to decide what I wanted to do with my life.
This was over 20 years ago and back then it was really hard to be so far from home, I was really homesick and my little brother was sick at the time so I was just a little upset in general. I hadn’t really studied anything I wanted to do as a profession, I did year 12 and then I travelled and studied languages but that was it.
It was quite an unsettling time, and I was complaining a lot to Paul, I asked him every day what I was going to do with my life. And then one day, I woke him up at 3am saying what am I going to do, and I think he was just over hearing it by then so he turned on the light and we wrote down my dreams on paper – which I now call my 3am list.
On that list I wrote that I wanted to drive to work every day and absolutely love it, I wanted to have my own business (I didn’t know what that meant yet), I wanted a connection with Sweden – it was really important to be able to make it home and see my family at least once a year as well as incorporate Swedish design – and I wanted to make $500 a week to live a comfortable and enjoyable life.
When I looked at that list and I started to think about what that meant, my first thing was actually not kikki.K but it was travel. But then I realised travel wasn’t for me. So I decided to set up a home office, because I knew I wanted a business and I figured I would need a home office, but I couldn’t find anything I would like to have in my office…
So to cut a very long story short that’s where the idea came from, it took a long time and a lot of hard work to figure out what that meant and how I would actually turn the idea into something and actually open a store – I had no money! But I think its so important for people to know that you really need discomfort - those times were really tough, but a good mentor once said to me “never waste a good crisis”, those times where things are really difficult are often the most insightful and really help you work out what’s for you.
At what point in your career did you become a mum?
I became a mum at 35, I really loved kids but I wasn’t a really sure if I wanted to become a mum myself. Once I founded kikki.K I really found something that I absolutely loved, I loved what I was getting to do everyday and I wasn’t sure I wanted anything else, so I decided at 25 that I wouldn’t think about children until I was 35.
A lot of people kept asking us if we wanted kids, and everyone knew Paul wanted kids but that I wasn’t sure – so I just decided I wasn’t going to think about it until then.
Then at 34 I went to the doctor for something else, and she asked me if I was thinking about having kids and I told her I was going to decide next year. She was in corporate practice where women came to her super-stressed and over 40 and desperately wanting to have kids, so she just said to me don’t leave it too late, you’re living a very full life and if you want this it might take you a few years - don’t make it hard for yourself and panic at 45. She was a really wise woman and I’m forever grateful for what she said to me.
It really got me thinking and I decided I was ready to have kids – so I went home to Paul that night and I said I’m ready. I thought it was going to take a couple of years but I fell pregnant immediately, which was a bit of a shock - I thought I would still have at least a few years of trying! I wasn’t really sure how I was going to work it out with the business and I was thinking how am I going to do it all. I kept working right up until my son was born, and I even brought my laptop to the hospital because I thought maybe I could get some work done!
But he was born and then it completely transformed me into just the most maternal mother and it was the most amazing thing. I had Axel ten years ago, and then my daughter, Tiffany, three years later and it really helped me find a balance in life in many ways because I realised there was so much more to life.
Did becoming a mum then change anything for you career-wise?
I have a quote I live and breath by (I have it on my vision board) which is, ‘you can do anything but you can’t do everything at the same time’. It’s a really good reminder, especially in today’s world where we have so many opportunities right at our fingertips and its so easy to say yes to so many things, but then we feel stressed and feel like were not doing anything really well.
One of my dreams had always been to not have any reports and a lot of my entrepreneur friends said that’s never going to be possible – but now I don’t have any reports! I stepped back from all the public speaking I was doing at the time and I changed a few things around, but I still worked. I feel like Axel and Tiffany are very much a product of their environment and they live and breathe kikki.K as much as we do, which I think has been very beneficial for them to see as well.
What do you love most about your work?
It’s really the difference that we make in peoples lives through the products we create. Our purpose at kikki.K is to inspire people to live their best lives, and we create products that can help people with Dreaming and Doing. Everything starts with a dream – because sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what would we do if we had all the money/resources/knowledge what would you do with your life. And then we give them the tools to do it.
Another of our kikki.K pillars is Enjoy, and I’m a big believer in every day needs to be enjoyed, so whatever that means to the individual. For me that’s books, meditation, my time in the morning – I have what I call my ‘holy hour’ every morning where I get up before everyone else and I spend some time on me and I try to exercise. Enjoy isn’t just about pleasure, it’s about recharging which is so important.
And then there’s Share, I feel like we all have something that we can share or help someone with or inspire.
What do you love most about being a mum?
It’s just so incredibly rewarding. I have a seven-year-old and ten-year-old now and I love seeing how they are living their lives and I love learning from them and having experiences with them. We often take them on trips and show them the business and I really love that combination too.
What do you do when you have some precious downtime? How do you practice self-care?
We have a rule in our home that doesn’t always work but we try not to do business at all on Sundays. Sundays is a really precious day so I never make plans unless it is a milestone occasion or something important, so most Sundays we wake up with no plans.
I love spending time with the family but I also love spending time alone, so I’ll often go for a walk or go to yoga, read a book, drink tea. I’m selfish in a way where I need to look after myself, I spend time with the family but I really need my time. And I do get a lot of my ideas in that time too (so its kind of a working day I guess, but not really). I also travel so much globally, so if I can avoid working on a Sunday I always do, even when I’m travelling. There’s very few things that I will break that rule for.
I’m also really good at saying no, I get invited to so many beautiful events, and if I had two lives I would love to do that in my leisure time, but I go to bed really early and rise early and when I’m home I’m a home body, so I choose carefully the things I say yes to.
I also choose very wisely the people I spend time with. While there’s some people in life you just cant choose not to see – but you can choose to see them less, especially if they’re taking energy from you. I love spending time with people who give me inspiration and give me energy, so sometimes I think we say yes to too many things and not spending the right time. I also don’t engage in gossip and I don’t read or engage in things that don’t make feel good. It doesn’t work for everyone but that’s what works for me.
You’ve recently launched your first book, Your Dream Life Starts Here, can you tell us a bit about that and why you decided to write it now, at this point in your career/life?
So I do a lot of speaking around the world, which is amazing and I love doing that, but the problem is I always have people coming to me and asking where should I actually start. And we have a lot of great tools in kikki.K already, but I felt like there was not one place where I could tell them to start. I wanted to help these people but I didn’t have time to help everyone so I wrote this book.
I went away for three days without a phone, no books (I’m a big reader!) and just my journal and pen to come up with some new ideas. At that point it wasn’t to write a book but just to come up with some new creative ideas but then I came up with the book and the structure and I came up with so many ways to share what I am living and breathing.
What do you hope people take from it?
I set myself a huge dream to inspire 1 million people to write down 3 dreams. The more people I meet around the world the more I realised there are so many people who are not living a life that is true to themselves. Some people often feel like they’re stuck because of their upbringing, expectations or they need to support their family, so I want to encourage people to ask themselves what they would actually do with their life if there were no expectations or responsibilities. Often those dreams come with a lot of doubt, because we don’t have the knowledge or money or we’re worried about what people think, it’s just about spending some time thinking what we would really love to do.
I also believe that life is so short (another one of my dreams is to live until I’m 120 - which feels so short to me!) but so many of us feel like we have to live a certain way or we’re brought up a certain way, but at the end of the day, at the end of our lives its only us ourselves that could have made a difference, you can’t wait for anyone else to make a change.
And the book is not about forcing people to make that change, but just make them stop and think about what they want. And that’s especially for mums, those early years are hard and you really put yourself on the back burner and then when you get through that (and of course you don’t want it to go quick or wish that time away) but once you come through it then you feel like – ok now I’m back but what am I going to do with my life?
In the book I reference another book called The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying by Bonnie Ware. She was a palative care worker and spoke with people who were dying about their regrets in life, and the most common was that people didn’t live a life true to themselves. And I feel really strongly that so many people are stuck thinking they don’t have control of their life sometimes.
Living your dream life isn’t the easy life, some people think the dream life is the perfect life but there really is no such thing. If you really want to do something that fulfills you, it’s hard and you might have to get out of your comfort zone. But if you think you can and want to do more with your life, and be more and explore more, there might be real discomfort but there’s also discomfort in knowing you didn’t do it or didn’t try.
What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
So much, but honestly the best is probably from my partner Paul – who actually took the time to get me to write down my dreams on paper. For him to really make me believe that I could create whatever I wanted in life.
And it’s so amazing that from that moment I can now pass that on to others too and share that. If I can help even a few people to achieve something like I’ve achieved then that’s just amazing – and whatever that dream is for each person, it doesn’t have to be a big global business or a career, its whatever the dream is for you. Especially for mums – even if its just having some times for yourself. They don’t have to be big things – it’s the small things that make life really beautiful.
Who are the women you admire?
Many many many women! My whole life, and especially with kikki.K, has been about learning from others, I had no idea about anything when I started out. I share quite a few stories in the book but people like Ariana Huffington, I love what she stands for and what she’s doing for the world, I love Stella McCartney, not just because of her beautiful designs but what she’s doing to the fashion industry and I love Michelle Obama.
Dr Tererai Trent (who was Oprah Winfrey’s all-time favourite guest) and when I heard about her story and how she grew up in Zimbabwe with such a horrible upbringing, but her dream was to have an education. She went on to earn a PhD in the United States (to cut a very long story short but you can read more about it in the book) and she received $1 million from Oprah to start a school, so when I heard about that I suddenly thought I want to sell a million copies of my book – which is a crazy dream! But I thought if I can sell a million books and give her $1 per book then I can contribute in some way. So far we’ve given her a cheque for $20,000 so we’re still a way off but I’m a big dreamer and so one day hopefully we might reach that million!
I also just really admire people who are living a life that’s just true to themselves, I think that’s just so great.
If you weren’t running a stationary empire what would you be doing?
I think it would be really similar to what I’m doing now but maybe not “a stationary empire” as you put it! I do a lot with motivation and empowerment so maybe something still along those lines but in a different way. I’m always learning and reading and doing courses and I love sharing all that I’m learning – I’ve always been a sharer, so I think I’d still be doing something like that.
What’s your best advice for people who want to realise their dreams?
These days there’s just so much noise - especially compared to when I went through my situation. You need to spend time with yourself, which isn’t the most comfortable thing, but you need to spend time in silence, away from people, from social media and TV and all the distractions and just be with yourself. I often try to drive in silence and just spend time reflecting.
We all so often look forward and strive for more – but its also great look back and remember what was great about the year. And then see what you want to work on and take into the next year. Journaling often helps me problems solve, there really is something in the power of putting pen to paper.
Kristina Karlsson’s book Your Dream Life Starts Here is available online and in kikki.K stores globally.
You can also hear more from Kristina by listening to her podcast, Your Dream Life where she delves deeper into the power of dreaming with some of the world's most inspiring thought-leaders.