women

This month, in honour of Mothering Sunday, we meet four marvellous mums who juggle busy family lives with running their own successful businesses…

Karin Janssen

Her beautiful handcrafted bags and accessories are stocked in more than 50 shops across the country – but start life somewhere far more exotic. Louis Cummings meets crative mum Karin Janssen to chat about her unique business, Suki & Rose Originals.

 

Description: Karin Janssen

 

For most people, going to work offers little more than the 9-5 grind. For stylish mum Karin Janssen, however, it involves regularly jetting off to one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Sourcing the fabrics for her unique vintage bags, scarves, corsages and clothes means a long-haul flight to Vietnam – home to the majestic mountains, sparkling coastline and fascinating cities. A veritable Mecca for silk and cloth awaits her, its markets laden with dazzling fabrics in a kaleidoscope of colours, patterns and plies.

Though the business trips mean leaving husband Kevin and her adorable 10-year-old daughter Suki at home, Karin admits she relishes the chance to scour the markets for inspiring new materials. “I do out there for about 10 days normally and I absolutely love it. Just touring around the markets, seeing all the different fabrics and buttons; there are thousands of different types – and stalls can literally stretch for miles,” she enthuses, showing me pictures of the eyecatching textiles heaped on top of each other in cherry reds, canary yellows and vibrant purples.

Chatting in Karin’s office – a stunning high-ceiling room at her traditional stone Willingham home – weare surrounded by her handcrafted products, from on-trend blue bird-print scarves and kitsch polka dot purses, to luxurious velvet flower corsages and cross-body leather satchels. On the huge table that dominates the room, amid fabric swatches, a Cath Kidston sewing kit and various bags, sits one of the imaginative mum’s latest designs – a beautiful beret bearing an oversized corsage, perched on a plastic model head. “That’s one of my new designs,” she says, as she catches me eyeing the hat. “It’s part of a new collection which has a distinctly vintage feel,” she explains.

Just down the hallway in the lounge there are audible whoops and cheers as Karin’s 10-year-old daughter Suki – a bright and vivacious young thing with jet-black hair and an infectious smile – is celebrating her birthday with a friend. “She’s so excited,” Karin smiles. “We’ve been celebrating her birthday for days now!”

 

Suki & Rose Originals’s Poppy Antique Bag

Suki, it turns out, is very much the inspiration for her mum’s business, she being the Suki in the title and Rose the yappy West Highland Terrier making herself heard in the kitchen. Suki was born in a province near Hanoi in Vietnam, and adopted by Karin and Kevin when she was give months old. The couple couldn’t have children of their own – and when looking where to adeopt, there was not question that it would be Vietnam; Kevin fell in love with the country on his post-university travels. “He was really struck by Vietnam’ Kevin fell in love with the country on his post-university travels. “He was really struck by Vietnam and how great the people were,” Karin recalls.

“It’s an amazing country because of the landscape and a fascinating mix of old and new; they have temples and then great big skyscrapers, and they’ve got good beaches as well,” she enthuses.

Although there was a bilateral agreement between the UK and Vietnamese government on adoption at the time, the process still took a couple of years to complete. “We didn’t do an Angelina Jolie and just fly out there to pick up a child; we had to go through social services checks and various processes.

But it has been an absolutely fantastic experience – and Suki is a lovely little girl, and so well adapted and attached to us; we’re very lucky,” Karins adds softly.

Bringing their gorgeous new daughter back to Britain, the couple decided to move from their Braintree home to Cambridge because of its multicutural mix. “A lot of Vietnamese people settle here in the 1980s, so there’s quite a thriving community. We’ve become very involved with the Vietnamese community; Suki was bridesmaid for a friend who runs the restaurant Thanh Binh in Cambridge. She flew out to Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh as it’s known – for their wedding.”

Having worked most of her life in food technology and development, including ceating deliecious recipes for Cadbury’s, British Sugar and Calledbaut (the biggest chocolate manufacturer in the world), Karin was looking for a less frenetic career that would fir in with her motherly responsibilities. “In the last job I had I was selling thousands of tonnes of liquid chocolate and used to cover an area from Banbury all the way down to the country where Suky was born, and hoping to harness her creativity, she sought out artisans in Hanoi and commissioned them io interpret her designs, before shipping the finished bags and accessories back to Britain. “I wanted to five Vietnam some business,” she says. “And it was amazing to see my designs come together within five or six days.”

 To test out her authentic Vietnamese goods Karin took a stall in Cambridge market selling her eyecatching range alongside Fair Trade bags from Madagascar. After a year, heartened by that fact that her own bags were far outselling the others, she approached local shops to stock Suki & Rose Originals. That was four years ago – and now the inspiring mum’s stunning vintage and contemporary day and occasion bags, silk scarves and gifts are stocked at more than 50 stores, from the Channel Islands to Warwickshire and locally in Daisy Chain Histon, Ladytron in Saffron Walden and Ethnic Origins in Godmanchester.

“I work with two separate businesses in Vietnam now,” Karin explains. “One is a young company run mainly by women and a lot of them are graduates and speak about four or five languages: they are absolutely amazing. The other business has a closer link to fair trade and employs people who have previously worked in the paddy fields or have disabilities. I visit every year to make sure I’m happy with the working conditions.”

Surely it must be a great feeling knowning she is keeping people in jobs and wages through her booming business? “Ah, I don’t like to go on about that as it always souns a bit schmaltzy,” Karin says, a tad bashful, before conceding a little, adding “but, yes, it is rewarding.”

Already a very busy working mum, Karin shows no signs of slowing down, hoping to expand her product range to include more clothes and seek out another company to work with in Vietnam. But it’s clear that however crazy work becomes there’s one little lady that will always take precedence. “Oh Suki always comes first, without a doubt. Although it’s great that she does love what I do; that’s her little sewing machine over there,” says Karin, pointing to a dinky turquoise John Lewis number. “She’s always running up things. She made me something the other day and said ‘How much would you give me?’ and I said 50p and she complained ‘That’s not fair trade!’ She might follow in my footsteps one day, but whether she does or not, this is a good way of maintaining the link with Vietnam…and she quite likes the fact that the company is named after her!” Karin laughs.

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