'Jewellery should make you look and feel good, which is what I aim to do with my designs'
2nd May 2019
Karina Johansen runs the sustainable jewellery company RAW Copenhagen. Here she tells Eileen Leahy why she swapped being a diplomat in Denmark for designing ethical, environmentally friendly jewellery in Tunbridge Wells
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Danish and moved from Copenhagen to Tunbridge Wells about five and a half years ago, after having worked for 15 years as a human rights diplomat for the Danish Foreign Office and United Nations. I was also a humanitarian aid worker and have lived and worked in West Africa, the Balkans, America, Brazil, Russia and Turkey.
How did you come to live in Tunbridge Wells?
My partner, with whom I have three children, was born in Tunbridge Wells, which is the reason why we decided to move to the area after quitting the travelling life.
So how did you go from being a diplomat to designing your own jewellery?
I have always had a passion for design and social and environmental sustainability, so on moving here I decided to marry my passions, and RAW Copenhagen, my jewellery brand, was born in 2015.
How long have you been making jewellery and where did you train?
I have always loved being creative but I started making jewellery in 2014, initially just for fun as I couldn’t find the type of designs I liked. I am self-taught, although I have done some foundation courses. However, on the whole I am learning through trial and error, which is both challenging and rewarding as silver can be quite an alive material to work with!
What key aims do you have?
Jewellery should make you look and feel good, which is what I aim to do with my designs. My pieces are Scandi simple, yet flattering, feminine and elegant. Moreover, by wearing my designs you’re also doing good, as I source ethically and donate 10 per cent of my profit to the charity ‘Women for Women’. It helps women rebuild their lives through vocational training, human rights awareness and ensuring they have a viable and sustainable future of their own choosing.
'Making jewellery is a way for me to stay connected to my Danish roots and to celebrate women. To me jewellery is very personal, as it is an extension of our personalities. Often we buy or are gifted jewellery to treasure and commemorate special moments in our lives. As such, jewellery carries a highly affectionate value, reinforced by its intricacies and delicate beauty'
Where does your inspiration come from and how easily?
I would say nature, tribal art and women. I believe most of us are tactile, so the texture from wood, stones and sand plays a vital part in my designs, as do light and shadows, as well as the sea. I love clean lines, but also a playful element of surprise. The latter you often find in tribal art, which is why I enjoy creating slightly asymmetrical designs. Lastly, women inspire me. Women are beautiful and jewellery can easily enhance their best features, like earrings swimming by the jawline or necklaces accentuating the collar bone. Getting inspiration is not a problem, trying to tame it is the challenge.
Where do you sell your products?
I currently sell within all of the EU but my biggest market is the UK. There is also a steady flow of RAW Copenhagen designs being sent to Germany, France, Belgium, and of course Denmark. With time, I plan to go global, not least as the market for sustainable jewellery is very big in countries like Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada, from where I often get requests for wholesale and collaboration, although I don’t yet sell to those markets.
And finally, what are the benefits of working in Tunbridge Wells?
Starting a small business in Tunbridge Wells has been amazing. After London it is my second largest customer base. I mostly sell online, but four to six times a year I join the Support Local Pop-Ups shops held at One Warwick Park and also at Kingdom in Penshurst. These pop-ups are a great way to get direct customer feedback on designs, discussing custom made orders, and just getting to know customers and other makers and designers.
There is a very strong sense of community here, not least amongst ‘fempreneurs’ in this area, who are more than happy to help each other. To name a few who have helped boost my business are Lynne Meek from Styling Matters and Laura Swann and Natalie Mcilveen from Mum’s the Word. They have been super supportive of my work from day one, for which I am very grateful.
I think you would be very hard pressed to find a similar sense of community and such a helpful and supportive sisterhood in the city. As small businesses we are often faced with the same opportunities and challenges, so being able to lean on and learn from each other has been key.
With a background in politics and human rights, running my own business has been a steep learning curve for me. Most of the creative people I’ve met locally have been trained in something completely different, be it law, retail, finance or human resources.
We all have very different strengths and weaknesses and can help each other out in our respective areas of expertise.
Social media is a big player for all businesses, but even more so for small brands. Instagram in particular, and to a lesser degree Facebook, has been instrumental for me in developing RAW Copenhagen
Through connecting directly with potential customers, you can show behind-the-scenes shots of how you make your designs, and tell a little bit about your brand story through images
Instagram is a visual, playful and not-too-serious platform, which is what I love about it. People happily send me messages asking questions about designs, sustainable living, tips for travelling to Copenhagen on Instagram
I love the community feel of the platform, creating a link between you as a maker and your followers
As RAW Copenhagen is an ethical brand Instagram has been great for connecting with the larger global community of people and businesses pushing the sustainability agenda, which has been extremely motivating and inspiring, as well as leading to a number of collaborations including sustainable fashion shoots, ethical pop-up shops in London, and awareness and fundraising campaigns.