Hubert Burda Media

Carolyn Kan: On Carrie K. and the jewellery business

Founder of Carrie K. shares more about how her brand has always been one to champion homegrown brands. 

Two years ago, when jewellery designer Carolyn Kan received a call from Disney — yes, think Mickey and Minnie — suggesting a collaboration, she honestly thought they had made a mistake. How would an international company know about her brand Carrie K. all the way in Singapore?

It was no mistake at all. Disney revealed that they had been quietly observing the brand and found them to be a good fit. After all, the American company was a storyteller and so was Carrie K, who often shared exuberant tales through her collection of artisan-crafted jewellery.

As a starting point, Kan chose to create a collection based on the story of Alice in Wonderland. Coincidentally, Disney was releasing the motion picture ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ during that period and things just fell into place. After a successful run, the designer was invited for a second collaboration. This time, to commemorate the release of the movie Beauty and the Beast earlier in March. 

Such stories give hope to other Singapore designers, that there are indeed opportunities for recognition. “Over the years Singaporeans have become more receptive to homegrown brands. Even visitors are seeking out designs by Singapore designers,” Kan, a former managing director at an international advertising agency, reveals.

The dynamic designer has indeed played a significant role in helping the community gain this recognition. One of the first few things she did was to address the issue of accessibility to local designers. “Due to high rental and staff costs there was no one central, accessible location where people may shop local brands,” she shares.

Her panacea was Keepers, a quarterly pop-up initiative Kan started in 2011 that showcases the work of local independent designers under one roof. After a couple of runs, it culminated in Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, a 16-month long 4,200 square foot pop-up on Orchard Road co-organised by Carrie K. and the Textile and Fashion Federation. 

Keepers now has a permanent home at the National Design Centre, where a new selection of Singapore designers are featured quarterly. Even with such an arrangement, Kan does not rest. Keepers will be hosting Multiply: A Majestic Playground at the New Majestic Hotel from 26 to 28 May. More than 40 local labels will be showcased.

“Singapore is just over 50 years young and is coming of age in two ways. The first being the calibre of Singapore’s design talent and the second, a growing community of local discerning customers who have the confidence to buy lesser known brands that feature products of high quality,” Kan, who was awarded Designer of the Year (Accessories) at the Singapore Fashion Awards 2016, says.

She attributes her stellar growth over eight years to the people around her — both her team and customers. “It takes a village to sustain and grow a business. We have a great team who are passionate about the brand and a pool of customers who support us not only with their wallets but their point of view,” she shares.

Such constructive feedback on how the brand can do better is much welcome by the founder. “Some share feedback on what we can do better, others give us suggestions of what they’d like to receive as gifts. It is this spirit of collaboration — always wanting to learn and get better — fuels our growth.”

To accessorise is… to wear what sets you in the right frame of mind.

My most precious bling… Are the Morse Bling rings my husband, who is also a silversmith at Carrie K., made for me. I never take them off. 

Carrie K. has always… been passionate about nurturing an appreciation for craftsmanship and unique designs that tell meaningful stories.

My top business advice… have the humility to ask for help and to give back whenever you can.

Courage is… as Nelson Mandela said it, is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.