Karen Dell’ Armi is a designer, mum of two, Welsh Women Walking member and founder of Karen Dell’ Armi Contemporary Jewellery. Here she talks about what inspired her to start up in business and decide to take part in a charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of Breast Cancer Care.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I lacked the courage as a student to disappoint my family and follow my heart into an arts and design led career. Despite being fortunate enough to have had a successful career in marketing for almost 10 years before I had my children, I knew that I wasn’t doing what I should be doing in life.
The time I took out of employment to raise the boys was hugely fulfilling and gave me the space and time to think through my options carefully. I knew that I wanted to start up a business on my own but wasn’t completely sure which area of art and design would suit me best. I found a jewellery design and silversmithing course locally and I was quite literally like a kid in a sweetshop from day one; I had found my niche.
Having taken a career break to raise my children before they started school, I yearned for flexible working hours and I didn’t want to miss out on watching the boys grow up. By this stage, we were used to money being tight and I finally decided that I just couldn’t reconcile returning to a full time career in marketing.
What have you learnt about yourself since you became self-employed?
I have learnt that I am far more patient than I would previously have given myself credit for. I love the feeling of being totally ‘in the moment’ and I continually lose track of time when I’m making my jewellery. I’ve also learnt that I am at my most creative when I’m relaxed and happy so I do try not let the daily stresses of family life get to me (with varying degrees of success!)
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been learning to market myself; even with a background in marketing. I have designed and hand-made each of my pieces and so my work is very personal to me. I feel very exposed when throwing myself in the spotlight and it can be a daunting experience.
What has been the best thing about being your own boss?
Definitely having greater flexibility. My working days and weeks are probably just as long as when I was in full time employment, but the positive side is that I can choose my own working hours. For instance, I still do the ‘school run’ most days and I am still a parental taxi service, but I am often on the computer managing the website or the social networking sites, or in the workshop filing and polishing after dinner when the children are in bed. I still have to juggle my workload and family life just as everyone else does, however this is done on my own terms now.
How did you get involved with the charity challenge?
I am a fan of the Superwoman networking group in South Wales, run by an inspirational woman called Bethan Darwin and I try to attend as many of their events as I can. I received an email from them about a group called Welsh Women Walking, set up by a local woman in business Jacquie Williams. It was a new women’s networking group, focused on women walking and talking for wellbeing.
Jacquie was planning to take a group of around 15 welsh women on a charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise £100,000 for Breast Cancer Care Cymru and Ty Hafan, a Children’s Hospice in Wales. I decided to go along to the launch event and afterwards introduced myself to Jacquie. I emailed her the following day to say that I really wanted to be part of the group and after a coffee and a chat I was thankfully accepted into the team.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was an awesome challenge, (especially for a big lass like myself) but I threw myself into training.
The charities that we were walking to fundraise for were so close to my heart and so it really was a case of mind over matter; as our head guide said to us at the beginning of the climb- “You climb mountains with your head”. This, together with a great team spirit, was certainly the driving force. There was some great camaraderie and some enduring close friendships as a result.
Who has given you the support to succeed?
My family and friends have been amazing and without them I really couldn’t have made a success of the business, nor made it to the top of the mountain.
Fortunately, it was just the right time for me to take part in such a challenge. The business, whilst still relatively new, was ticking along nicely and with my 40th approaching, I really wanted to get fitter and lose some weight. As the boys were 9 and 7, I felt comfortable in doing something for myself, although I did miss them terribly.
I remember asking them what they thought about me going on the climb and my eldest son replied simply: “I’d be so proud of you mummy” while my youngest said “I’ll really miss you mummy but you have to do it”. I couldn’t ask for more could I?
Where do you see yourself and the business in 3 years time?
I see myself in the same sort of situation as I am in now I hope. I am so lucky to be doing something that I love for a living, I have great friends around me and a healthy and happy family.
I hope that the business will continue to grow and that my work continues to evolve. I am still experimenting with techniques and materials and I love to get my hands dirty in the workshop. I am fortunate to have been well received by exhibition organisers, galleries and shops and hope that this continues also. I would like to continue my work with the Association for Contemporary Jewellery and as a nurturing person I would also like to do some teaching in the hope that others can gain the contentment that I find in creating jewellery.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone with a ‘dream’ an aspiring ‘mumpreneur’ what would it be?
Dare to dream and keep dreaming until you have figured out how to make those dreams a reality. We all have it in ourselves to be happy and fulfilled, it is just sometimes difficult to listen to ourselves in the routine of our daily lives.
Be true to yourself and be honest with yourself about your own strengths and weaknesses. Most of all, keep at it; there will be ups and downs and financial pressures can be extremely daunting for a small business, but if you want it badly enough, you will succeed. Go for it!
For more information please visit www.dellarmi.co.uk plus you can follow Karen on Twitter at @KarenDellArmi