Some of us are thinkers, while others are doers. Swedish stationery designer Kristina Karlsson, however, is both. Disgruntled with her life and seeking motivation to start something new, she asked her partner one night: "What am I going to do with my life?" That was almost two decades ago, shortly after the pair had moved to Australia. He suggested she write down what was important to her and, at 3am, she created a list of her dreams.
"On it, I wrote I wanted to drive to work each day and love it; I wanted to have a business of my own; I wanted to have a connection with Sweden and I wanted to work with Swedish design, which was one of my passions; and I wanted to make 500 dollars a week," says the entrepreneur, who was in town recently to officially launch her stationery brand, Kikki K, at Bloomingdale's Home in The Dubai Mall, and to announce the unveiling of her first book, Your Dream Life Starts Here.
While Kikki K is considered a household name among stationery lovers in Australia and many other parts of the world, Karlsson tells us that her dream was hardly achieved overnight. In fact, the inspiration for the brand came when she was still deciding what to do with her life and realised, to start with, she needed a beautiful home office. “So I went out to buy some products. This was quite a while ago, and obviously there’s much more on the market now, but back then there was nothing. I got really disheartened when I couldn’t find anything, and then thought, this is my calling, this is what I’m going to do.”
The first product she designed was a storage box, followed by some magazine holders and binders, to establish a home-office starter kit for those seeking functionality and Swedish aesthetics. Soon, the brand extended its range to include notebooks, journals and planners. Notebooks from the brand’s latest collection feature motivational phrases such as “You got this”, “Life is wonderful”, “Own your story” and “Ideas can happen anywhere”. Scrawled in foiled gold text, on pretty pastel covers with minimalist, feminine graphics, the stationery, says Karlsson, is meant to inspire the user.
“We really are a purposeful design brand. As I was evolving as a person, I became very interested in the personal development side for myself,” she explains, adding that she’s a big believer in conscious journaling. “I do three pages of conscious writing every morning, and I reckon that is the key for not burning out. I write down whatever I want to get off my chest, or whatever I want to say aloud.”
This might seem like a trivial task for millennials who opt for digital note-taking apps over tangible stationery. But Karlsson insists that physically writing things down will always be therapeutic and beneficial. “I’m not against technology whatsoever,” she says. “But we’re so distracted by phones, and there’s a lot of research that says writing by hand is better in terms of remembering. I also believe it’s more important now to take the time with pen and paper to reflect on our life, because we’re on the phone and connected all the time.”
The entrepreneur points out that while today’s generation may be constantly glued to their smartphones, crafting is in fact trending – partly thanks to social media, where creatives, artists and bloggers, who specialise in photographing stationery, are helping to spread awareness for global stationery brands and DIY projects.
Today, Kikki K is not limited to home-office supplies or stationery. The brand’s e-store features a diverse array of products, from candles and clocks to compact mirrors and even a wooden music box. Karlsson explains that as her personal needs evolve, they’re often reflected in the brand’s product offering – such as when she was organising her recipes one day, and then decided to design a recipe folder, or when she was writing in her notebook, and felt there should be a teacup to match it. Writing a book, she says, has been on her list of goals for a long time.
"I was hosting a lot of dreaming, goal-setting and mindfulness workshops, and doing talks on how to start your business. I met so many people who would say: 'I want to create my dream life too, but how do I start?' And although we have a lot of products to help you with that, there was no one book that had the whole process," she explains. She turned to her journal, and went away for three days to come up with a plan for the book, which includes the success stories of Stella McCartney, Arianna Huffington, Michelle Obama and more.
"I met some amazing women whom you can read all about in the book, and one of them, Tererai Trent, was Oprah Winfrey's favourite guest ever, out of 37,000 guests," says Karlsson.
"She grew up in Zimbabwe in a culture where she was exchanged for a cow at age 11, pregnant with five kids by the time she was 18, and someone asked her what's her dream, and it was getting an education and a PhD. She achieved it all, and then Oprah gave her US$1.5 million [Dh5.5m] to start schools."
Karlsson says that her dream now is to sell more than one million copies of her book, as she has pledged to donate $1 for every book sold to Trent's schools in Zimbabwe.
The title, which features a bright yellow cover, contains inspirational quotes, motivational diagrams, personal exercises and a "dream index," where readers are encouraged to write down 101 dreams. "I feel that even if you get to live long, life is too short, so why not be living your dream life?" says Karlsson. "And I find sometimes we get settled into thinking: 'This is how life should be.' But actually if you ask yourself: 'What would I do if I had all the money, all the time and all the resources in the world?'. That will take you into a whole new dreaming space."