Pearls from Grandma’s drawer inspires success

This business started out somewhat unconventionally – in fact, spur of the moment.

Yet jewellery company Kagi has been listed as one of Deloitte New Zealand’s fastest 50 growing companies for the past three years. For owner Kat Gee, the business was in the cards before she herself knew it.

As a little girl Gee was inspired by the treasure hunt experience of fossicking through her Grandmother’s extensive jewellery collection. Designing and selling jewellery to school friends eventually blossomed into a business venture.

“Moving into jewellery really just seemed like a natural progression for me. I was working as a graphic designer, and I realised it wasn’t my passion and so I started doing night school. And from there, I saw some jewellery I loved in a magazine, and it was just gorgeous. It was sculptural, and fashionable, and just dripping off the page using real gem stones and pearls, and I thought ‘That is just fabulous, and a business I want to be a part of’,” Gee says.

A meeting with the then-owner to discuss employment options soon turned into a very different discussion. “A couple of glasses of champagne later I went from saying I wanted to work for her, to saying I actually wanted to buy her business. So I started owning the business at 24,” Gee says.

Buying an existing business meant Gee already had access to a raft of offshore suppliers, and so could take her designs from concept, through to creation and into the market much faster than most new businesses.

“I saw the potential in the business, and I knew I could make something out of the gem stones [the previous owner] was using, and also put my own unique take on it, and make this business fly,” Gee says. At the time it didn’t seem frightening or fearless. “It just seemed like a logical step to do something I love.”

Fortunate to have access to a family trust, Gee was able to take a loan from her family, and invest in cultivating existing, and new business relationships.

“In starting the business, I was so green. There was so much I didn’t know about running a business. I had to learn it all by baptism of fire,” Gee says.

Learning as she went, and still learning to this day, Gee says it’s almost laughable to look back on the early days and how little she knew about running a business. These days though, Gee believes to an extent it’s a numbers game.

“It’s hard when you’re a designer, and creative director and that’s where your passion lies. But to be successful, you’ve got to upskill, and know your numbers, know your KPIs as to what drives your business and your growth and your profitability. That’s the thing that’s going to keep you around tomorrow, and what will really foster your innovation and point of difference. It’s a balancing act, you’ve often got a lot of balls in the air, so you have to be a pretty good juggler!”

Having grown the business approximately 10% year-on-year, Gee now employs twenty staff, is stocked by 300 retailers across New Zealand and Australia, and has an online store selling globally. But it hasn’t been easy.

“There’s been a lot of mistakes, but I suppose I don’t view them so much as mistakes, as growth and learning opportunities. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not pushing it hard enough. So I guess I’ve tried to do too many things at once, and I’m not a very patient person, I’ll run at something a million miles an hour, saying ‘yes’ to too many things without really thinking about the follow through,” Gee says.

Gee believes becoming a business owner overnight came along at the right time for her circumstances, and particularly so because it was following her passion.

“I lost 6 kilos just through the actual stress of it all! It was a great opportunity, and a great time for me – and I guess Kagi became my baby. For me, it felt like the right time, even though I could have gone travelling like a lot of friends did, or started a new career, or worked my way up the corporate ladder – but I realised that wasn’t for me, and there was just nothing to stop me doing it. I could fall on my face and lose a bit of money. But at the end of the day, I wanted to give it a go and see if I could make it work,” Gee says.

The future of Kagi is all steam ahead. Regularly meeting with her suppliers in China means Gee can ensure each piece of jewellery is to their standard.

“One of our points of difference is that we are Australasia based. It can be somewhat intimidating looking at our competitors who are these European goliaths, with huge, endless budgets,” Gee says.

“But we’re really lucky in the way we’ve grown, and we have a really loyal following of women across Australia and New Zealand. Our customers are really our best advocates, and the best way we’ve found to actually grow our brand is through our existing customers and the women who wear it.”

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