Designer Spotlight: Kari Woo

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A brief story of what you do and why you do it.

What inspires me most is beauty so I make beautiful things hoping that this may help to change the world, even if only in the tiniest way. My distinct line of contemporary art jewellery creates substance and meaning for those wearing it and for those viewing it. My purpose is to make beautiful and memorable objects that people connect with on a deep level.

How did you get into jewelry design?

The earliest credit of influence goes to my mom. When I was a young girl she would periodically take out her jewellery box and sit me on my parent’s bed with her. Enamored, I would sit and listen without distraction as she revealed each sparking piece and the story that it contained.

I always wore jewellery as a young girl and even had my own jewellery box (the musical kind with the spinning plastic ballerina!). It was filled with costume jewellery – rhinestones, clip on earrings, and plastic beads. When I was in grade school friendship pins (safety pins with small seed beads threaded on them) were all the rage. This was the beginning of my bead collection! Instead of watching TV or being outside with the other neighborhood kids, you could regularly find me in my room coloring, cutting and pasting or stringing beads. I would disassemble my costume jewellery using nail clippers and tweezers (my early version of wire cutters and flat nose pliers!) and use different components to create closures for my bead bracelets.

In university I became obsessed with silver jewellery and gathered a great collection of it from vendors at local markets and at the Student Center on campus. Even though I was enrolled in a fine arts program at the time I became quite disenchanted with the traditional approach to curriculum, so I decided to take a break. With my newly created free time I was able to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes without hesitation – snowboarding! Eventually I had a bad tumble and wrecked my knee, which required an extensive amount of physiotherapy and reconstructive surgery to recover. Having limited movement for a number of months and more time on my hands than I knew what to do with I enrolled in a beginner jewellery class at the local art college. As soon as I touched the metal I was hooked! Though I'd always collected jewellery throughout my girlhood I'd never imagined that I would make it. Now almost two decades later I am still at it and I still love it!

My first 5 years were a time of great experimentation technically and artistically and were largely self-taught. In time I met the limitations of my skill set so I decided to go back to school. In 2003 I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with Distinction from the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary, AB, Canada. Specializing in Jewellery + Metals Program I was able to study under one of North America’s best known educators in the field of art jewellery, Charles Lewton-Brain, whom I still consider one of my greatest mentors.

Since then I have been in business for myself. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs so it was a natural fit to do so. My professional activities inside my jewellery business have run the gamut of design, production, project management, manager, bookkeeper, goldsmith, event planner, graphic designer, website designer, sales representative, boss. There are so many challenges in running my own business but I love it. It keeps me on my toes, particularly considering that there is always room for improvement.

What makes your collection unique?

It’s simplicity. Much of my design aesthetic is based on the notion that less is more and that there is perfection in imperfection.

I have two main collections that I am continually inspired to add new designs to. My Draw the Line Collection is all about the continuous line and is made solely using sterling silver, bronze and gold wire. The Solid Ground Collection focuses on form and function. I employ a sculptural approach to surface and contour with much attention given to keeping a minimalist aesthetic. The material used is mainly sterling silver, but sometimes there are gold and/or gemstone accents. Many times designs in this collection will be reversible or multi-functional – features appreciated by the contemporary and multi-faceted woman.

What are your inspirations?

Beauty. Observations of patterns + movements in nature. Ancient, modern and natural architecture. The quality of a simple line. The minimalism of modern sculpture including works of artists Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Ephemeral ideas, experiences or objects such as paper boats or shrines in nature.

How are you making a difference in your life?

Everyday I choose to live a creative life fuelled by my own ideas, passion and values. This has made a substantial difference in the quality of my life and I hope that it makes a positive difference in the lives of those around me.

‘The highest reward for a person's toil is perhaps not what they get for it, but who they become by it.' – John Ruskin

I’m changing the way I think about a lot of things including how hard one has to work to be successful and ideas about abundance and making a living as a creative person. I’m challenging old precepts and shaping a new outlook on the world for myself. I want to work smarter, not harder. I want to earn enough money from my business to live the life I want.

‘You must be the Change you want to see in the world.' – Mahatma Gandhi

What's something unusual about you that makes you “you”?

I love to collaborate with others to create unique events + spaces that offer alternative platforms for artists to show, sell and discuss their creative directions. For example as a founding member of the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy Collective in Vancouver, B.C. I work annually with the other members to host one of Vancouver's finest curated independent arts + craft events – the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy Show. Most recently I was a catalyst agent for the inaugural Forage Symposium: a Gathering of Ideas and their Makers from August 28-30 of this year on the Canadian West Coast.

I’m also ceramic junkie and I have the collection to prove it! Everyday I start my day drinking my coffee out of a handmade ceramic mug.

At least once a year I aim to go somewhere for a period of at least 5 days, but ideally longer, to unplug completely from my business, technology and life as I know it. My destination is usually a foreign country or somewhere deep in the woods.

What is the biggest struggle in running your jewelry business like a business?

My biggest challenges are hands-down the left-brain activities like establishing and maintaining systems for inventory and accounting. It’s not that I don’t enjoy engaging in these tasks but they do not come naturally to me.

About Kari

The art of jewellery making found Kari literally by accident in 1993. While recovering from a snowboarding injury she enrolled in her first jewellery class and it was love at first make! Now almost two decades later she is still at it and still loves it.