Karen Mabon illustrates and designs silk scarves and jewellery, combining British eccentricity, humour and luxury. Karen grew up in Black Isle, Scotland. After studying at Edinburgh College of Art, Karen attended the prestigious Royal College of Art in London. Following the Royal College she went on to work with many top names including Margaret Howell and set-designer Fred Butler.
Establishing her label in 2012, Karen’s work received instant recognition with a raft of stockists around the world, coverage in titles such as Vogue and Grazia, and Karen regularly receives commissions from the likes of Anthropologie and Henley Royal Regatta. Creating a successful mix of tongue-in-cheek illustrations, British humour and luxurious Italian quality, it is safe to say that Karen’s work is officially fabulous! It’s with great pleasure that I share with you an exclusive interview, as we learn how Karen turned her passion into a thriving international business.
1. Tell us a bit about your business..
I launched my own accessories business in 2012 after I graduated from the Royal College of Art in London. I design silk scarves with strange and unexpected colourful prints, and accompanying enamel jewellery. My collections are stocked in retailers worldwide, ranging from Liberty in London to Isetan in Tokyo. I draw all the prints by hand myself, before they’re printed on hand-spun silks and wools in Como, Italy. I also design jewellery pieces which are derived from the prints.
2 What inspired you to start your business?
I always loved the eccentricity of high-end fashion, particularly the decadence and sense of humour in Italian brands such as Moschino and Miu Miu. But there seemed to be a gap in the market between expensive, high-end luxury goods and cheap high street copies. There didn’t seem to be anything at a more affordable price point which had the same investment of time in the designs. I created my own collection of scarves which I hoped had a timeless quality; I wanted to create prints which were so multi-faceted and involved that every time you looked at the design, you would notice something new. I wanted to make accessories which felt exclusive because they were so different to anything else available, not because they were expensive. I try to develop limited edition styles and collaborations to maintain this sense of preciousness.
3. Where do you get the inspiration for your illustrations?
From everywhere!! I look at artists a lot for inspiration; I love Henry Darger, David Hockney, Tom Wesselman and Eduardo Paolozzi. I try not to look at other textile designers too often because I end up subliminally copying them, but my favourite is Josef Frank. I also love 70s psychedelic childrens cartoons, Woody Allen films, those old ‘Girls Love’ comic books and kitchen sink novels. Although having said that, most of the time an idea just pops into my head completely at random and I just go with it!
4. How do you see your business developing in 5 years time?
I want to develop a strong brand identity and make sure the quality of my designs and finished product is always the top priority. I’d like to expand the product range – I’ve recently launched a collaboration with the dress designer Coco Fennell, which has had a great response, so I think the next venture will be my own branded womenswear. I want to build on the international growth of the company – we already do a lot of business in Japan, but I’d love some more stockists in the USA. Basically, I want the brand to become synonymous with a kind of unpredictable, but always hilarious, British eccentricty – I want my customers to be blown away by the collections and keep coming back to find out whatever’s next!
5. Can you offer any readers thinking of starting their own business any pearls of wisdom?
You have to be completely and utterly obsessed and really believe in what you’re doing because there will be so many sleepless nights in the beginning and times when you feel like giving up! I think my advice would be to perservere, keep picking yourself up, build things up gradually and really listen to your customers.