21 Entrepreneurs: No. 9 Karien Belle

I met Karien Belle through the lovely Debbie of Madison Boutique (you can usually find some of Karien’s designs there!) and have the privilege of owning a few of her eye-catching poetry scarves! Her Poetry range of scarves, jackets, clutches, cushion covers and kaftans have always inspired me as it’s something different, playful and will definitely turn heads! It’s that special, unique purchase every fashionista should have!

Title: Karien Belle

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1. ) How did your business come about? How was this idea born and what lead you to do what you’re doing now?

It was a chance encounter really, I was walking down the streets of Dehli and came across a curious alley where I found this manufacturing house for small designers. I had already started a jewellery collection and it was going well but I had this new idea to work with embroidery and poetry so I thought why not take a look. A couple that had opened this factory had an ongoing project with a NGO. Their factory is completely fair-trade based and employ widowed Indian women as well as AIDS sufferers to do the finishing touches on their stitching and embroidery. The couple explained to me that the factory was one of the only ones in the area that had salary based employees. Sometimes the workers with AIDS had days when they felt too weak or ill to work but needed a consistent income and sometimes they needed doctors on site to check in and see to their health. I knew that it was the right fit – I always try to stay tuned in and listen to a strong feeling when it comes into my life. It has now been about 9 years since that first encounter and it all started with a small production of only 35 scarves.

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2.) Tell us about your morning routine. Any specific rituals / productivity aspects etc

It depends very much on where I am at the time because I travel between Cape Town, Dehli and Paris. When I am home in South Africa I like quiet mornings. I will practice yoga, buy a coffee afterwards from the coffee showroom below my apartment and reply to emails…I always have guests in Cape Town and usually I will entertain over snack platters and champagne with my Botswana bunch who visit me here. In Paris, the Marais is my hangout, iI love the mona lisa bookshop and the bookshop at the Paleis De Tokyo. I just adore all the books and tend to walk out with tons of design, art and photography inspiration, so much so that I avoid taking metro home because bumping and knocking Parisians with heavy bags doesn’t go down very well. My busiest work days, are always in Dehli. I wake up and walk through the markets to the fruit stand to have a fresh coconut every morning, from there to my factory where I spend the rest of my hours working on new designs, matchings, the rest of the day running around sourcing fabrics.  checking on production, quality control and admin….

3.) What inspires you?

The bush. I am a bush child. Nature, animals and bush are things that make me feel at home. On a drive out there in Botswana with the smells and colours, and just being connected to nature and the earth, is where I belong. But I do love city life as well, and draw different inspiration from it….The people in Botswana are also inspiring to me. They have such passion about the bush and animals (and knowledge!) but are pure and uncomplicated, humble people who are always ready to have fun and always make me laugh ( a lot)- I like that. It’s probably one of the reasons why I do my photoshoots out there with crazy characters on a scenic, minimal backdrop of wilderness.

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4.) Biggest lesson you’ve learnt? Biggest Failure so far? 

I have learnt to evolve with my life. To grow, learn and adapt to all the amazing creativity and opportunities along the way.  I find it hard to believe that I used to be a chef for rock bands but my lifestyle has changed since then and even though I am still passionate about food  I can’t imagine cheffing again. That’s not a failure to me, just a change of course to my life and an adaptation. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out but evolved with life. It’s been one magnificent opportunity after the next and I am a practical person who is always doing something new. I have such a love of what I do and the creative process behind it – I must love what I do otherwise I must stop.

5.) Your work space? Clean & Minimal or Eclectic and colourful – what would we find on your desk?

Clean and minimal. Wherever I decide to make my desk you can be sure to find lots of creative things tucked away here and there. I have tons of books,  fabric samples and colour charts with me at all times but keep my desk tidy and minimal on the surface. Everyday I work with my stock; touching fabrics, sourcing, collecting quotes, working with colour combinations and unpacking stock. I am quite precise about the right finishings to my Poetry pieces. The tone of the fabric and combinations are essential to the statement and style. I want to create unusual things. It started with things that I wanted to make for myself because I have always felt a need for something unique and different to others. Things that give comfort and can cheer up you; something anybody can read and relate to within the poetry collections.

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6.) Top 3 entrepreneurial tips?

There is no recipe, if it feels right then do it. Work hard, work a little harder and remember to have fun ….My biggest motivation has come from the people closest to me. I never expected it but my friends in professional careers, like the doctors, lawyers and surgeons, have been incredible because they are the ones who encourage me to pursue my designs and creativity – maybe there is a secret in that, in having loved ones and supportive friends surrounding you.

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7.) Who are you currently listening to?

I am listening to a Lion’s Groan. I can feel the vibrations deep within the ground and somewhere in the sky I hear the fish eagle’s cry from above.

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8.) Your best marketing tool?

I would say, especially for young design brands like mine, the best marketing tools are your friends and to wear your own designs. I like to travel with a few samples so that I am always ready. If I see a beautiful shop or meet someone interesting to show my brand to I like to be ready with my latest collection. Really though, the trade shows are where you gain the most respect from people for your brand. My first real success came from a trade show in Paris about 4 years ago

9.) Dream Big Right? What’s next for you?

Keep you posted…

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