This month I had the pleasure of interviewing the Australian jeweler, Melanie Augustin, of Kimono Reincarnate. She shares my love of Japanese fabrics and art forms and she’s beautifully merged it with her silversmithing. You’re going to love this interview because Melanie shares not only the story behind her business but some wonderful insights into how her business became the success it is. (Did I mention she was featured on IKEA’s magazine!)
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
My creative career path has been a rather windy one. While I was in my final year of university studying visual arts, I started working as a freelance photographer and continued that for many years. Life then took a few more turns and I found myself living in Japan where I fell in love with their traditional designs and antique textiles. I started my brand “Kimono Reincarnate” whilst living in Japan, creating handbags from vintage kimono fabrics. The offcuts from the bags were too beautiful to throw away so I began making little purses, and then I couldn’t bear to discard those offcuts either. As I have always been jewellery obsessed, it seemed logical to create wearable pieces with the tiny fabric pieces in my collection. In the beginning, the jewellery was all made using simple techniques that I could learn either online or from a book as in rural Japan I had limited access to face-to-face courses. Once I moved back to Australia, I took up a silversmithing course and I am now so in love with manipulating metal. I’m in the process of splitting my brand into two; Kimono Reincarnate will be my commercial, Japanese-influenced brand and I will also be designing under my own name, Melanie Augustin, for my handcrafted, limited edition work.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
My biggest challenge continues each and everyday, and that is to have the discipline to not jump at every idea I have in my head. What I love most about what I do is the rush I feel when a new design starts to play in my mind. I would love nothing more than to bring each of them into the world but until cloning is an option, it’s just not viable. Instead, I always have a sketchbook and notebook beside me when I’m working so that I can jot down my inspirations and then return focus on the job at hand. That way I feel like the creative muse has been acknowledged and honoured in a way and I can revisit ideas at a later date.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
I’m not sure what my biggest fist-pump moment would be, but I’m blessed to have had lots of little happy dances along the way. The ones that particularly come to mind are: getting my first wholesale stockist, a local designer, Maiocchi, that I really admire; that my first wholesale trade fair was a success and suddenly grew my business; that my business continues to grow each year; having my blog come to the attention of Ikea(!) which lead to a feature in their magazine; winning a student design award for silversmithing; and most recently, being a finalist in the Australian Etsy Design Awards.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
A couple of years ago I felt like I was at a crossroads with my creative career, especially with Kimono Reincarnate. My business had grown over the years to the point that I was no longer able to do it all myself. I felt that I had a couple of main directions I could go into; I could become more of a business woman and start to look at outsourcing or manufacturing; or I could be more of an artisan. I wish I could say that it was a quick and easy decision. I hired a creative business coach and also had long talks with my husband about what we wanted for our family life. In the end, it really came very clear that it was the artist in me that wanted to shine. I continued my education and practice in silversmithing and this is the reason I’m beginning to design under my own name.
As for things I’d still love to achieve…. there are so many that I’m afraid I might crash the Create and Thrive server! But in all seriousness, over the next couple of years I really want to bring out in the world some of the surface design patterns I’ve been working on, hopefully in a range of fabrics and stationary. I’ve also been working on my own, non-business, artistic practice. Next year I’d like to take a welding class and start working on some large-scale metal sculptures.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Thankfully (knock on wood), there hasn’t been for a long while now, but a few years ago, I went through a bad creative rut that lasted for quite a few months. I just felt like the well had run dry and that was the end of that. Having been creative all my life, it was terrifying and I felt I’d lost a lot of my identity. It had a lot to do with external factors, but there were big things I couldn’t do to change them at that time.
What I did do was lots of reading on creative journaling and the such. I visited galleries, I listened to podcasts, I took a sketch book to the park whenever I could, I learnt to crochet, basically I surrounded myself with creative energy as much as I could. I learnt to see creativity in the everyday, in the way I’d arrange the table for dinner, in baking cupcakes with my daughter, in arranging flowers in a vase. I learnt to respect each and every one of those creative moments. I learnt that creative energy has an ebb and a flow. When that fallow period ended, I began my habit of keeping a notebook and sketchbook beside me. Now, when there are times that the ideas aren’t coming, I have pages upon pages filled with inspiration to play with.
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
Balance? It’s more like a juggle in this circus! For one, I’ve learnt that for me balance is more important over a long period of time, like months or even a year, than it is day-to-day or week-to-week. My busiest part of the year is the last four months of the year, so I will often work longer days and on weekends then, but I take a lot more time off early in the year to make up for it.
Most mornings I get up and take my dog for a walk while my husband gets my daughter ready for kindergarten. I am so lucky to live in a gorgeous rural township with beautiful mountains called the Glass House Mountains. They are ancient volcanic plugs, significant in aboriginal culture and surrounded by heritage-listed bushlands. My instagram feed is filled with shots of the mountains and local flora from my walks around town and these serve to then inspire me for the rest of the day. After breakfast, I head to my studio, which is a custom-built shed in my back yard. I love my 15 step commute to work! Each day is different and will depend on what orders I have on my books. I have found that rather than splitting my day up into admin/designing/making orders/packing, I’m so much more productive if I do the same sort of task for most of a day, then switch to a different task the next day. When my daughter comes home from kindergarten in the afternoon, my husband, who also works from home, finishes for the day and we all often potter about in the garden until our early dinnertime. Depending on my workload, I might then go back to the studio and work for a couple more hours. Luckily my little girl is a real daddy’s girl so loves her dad putting her to bed.
This year, my daughter has Tuesdays off from kindergarten, so most weeks I take off those mornings and we have “Tuesday adventures”. We’ve made it our special mummy and daughter time. Each week we choose where to go but you’ll often find us at the zoo / the beach / sketching in the park / a movie / the gallery or a museum. She also loves to then come and “work” in my studio with me and has her own desk in here. Next year, when she starts at school, we’ll do “Saturday adventures” instead.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Not really “marketing” as such, but I think the most important thing for my business and brand has been to be true to who I am and what I love. I love sharing my passion with people that feel the same way as I do.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Create from your heart, create what you love but also remember that this is a business. To become successful both from a business point of view but also to lead the life you want, you need to price your creations to make your business viable.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In 5 years time I see Kimono Reincarnate as more of a lifestyle brand than purely a jewellery brand, with my beloved vintage kimonos integrated into more products for the home and to be worn. I then see my own Melanie Augustin brand in galleries and exhibitions around Australia and overseas. In 5 years time my daughter will be older and more independent so I’d love to travel more and study new techniques with masters around the world.
You can find Melanie online at:
Her Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimonoreincarnate
Her blog: http://kimonoreincarnate.blogspot.com/