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Updated: Nov 25, 2018

Karin Rea Matthee

Thrivher Achievements:


Can’t start the day without: A quick yoga session – it wakes me up and focuses me for the day.

Go-to coffee: Clarkes, Cape Town.

Best read for personal growth: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

Favourite quote: “It’s a beautiful thing to have lungs that allow you to breathe air and legs that allow you to climb mountains and it’s a shame that sometimes we don’t realise that that’s enough”.

Top music track to get me pumped for the day/task: Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac.

Most afraid of: Heights and regret.

Go-to for fun or to let your hair down: Surfing or dancing – moving my body helps me feel reconnected to myself.

Thrivher Survivor Moves

Looking back, can you identify the first actions you took to bring your business to life?

I studied jewellery design in Stellenbosch, South Africa and did an exchange to Stuttgart in Germany during my third year. The contrast between the two places really opened my eyes to the raw creative energy here in South Africa and I felt really inspired to start my own brand as soon as possible. I returned to Stellenbosch and finished my final year, then started Dear Rae straight after graduating.

I have always enjoyed making things and love the process of making jewellery. I’m not a particularly glamorous or glitzy person myself, I was far more motivated by the need for employment in South Africa and I felt driven to create jobs and to educate and empower people. The whole culture of the business was based around that desire. The emphasis is on designing jewellery that can be remade, so that other women can then be empowered to make it.

During my second year of running Dear Rae, I trained my employees from scratch. They had no training in jewellery design so it was quite a challenge and a big learning curve, but that was really the start of the business.

That’s amazing that you knew from such a young age what business you wanted to pursue. How did you go about finding your initial employees?

Very randomly! For the first eight months I worked on my own in a little room above my parents’ garage. I then met a woman through a friend, who was making little things out of wire and employing people off the street to sell them. I spoke to her and asked if she wanted to start training with me, which she did. I began teaching her how to make jewellery and the rest grew and developed from there.

What moments really challenged you but helped progress the business?

Definitely deciding to start! I think that’s a big thing for creatives, putting something out there that isn’t finalised or perfect. So just starting and going for it was a big step for me and having the bravery to do that.

The first show I did was a huge deal for me too. After that, learning to read and adjust to the market was really important - taking the steps to sell things that the market is dictating, but without losing yourself or your identity in the process. Taking on an employee was a really big step too – just being able to entrust some responsibility to another person and letting go that little bit.

Dear Rea

How were you inspired to develop your jewellery style to begin with?

I basically started making things that I would wear. Very simple pieces, they are not overly delicate. We only use solid metals, no plating, so that they are durable and can be worn everyday – even during activities such as surfing, baking, gardening etc.

A big part of my idea was to create accessible, clean designs and jewellery that’s quite playful. I see the world from quite a playful perspective and every range I do is inspired by a story. Whether that’s something I’ve seen or an experience I have had – I then create a concept around that. I’ve found that process to be a really helpful way of training the focus. I also believe jewellery should always hold some kind of story – and then people will attach their own stories too. Dear Rae’s style is a mix of nature, travel, architecture, animals, people and the common thread is the sense of playfulness.

With a strong ethos in creating experiences matched with an entrepreneurial spirit, how do you manage your daily work-life balance?

That’s something I really struggled with in my 20s. Actually, in the beginning, my ex-husband and I worked together, but we both fell into a very unhealthy cycle of overworking and didn’t give anything to ourselves or to each other. It was all about work. We ended up getting divorced and that, for me, was a turning point. It really opened my eyes to the importance of having a life beyond work. I knew that if I didn’t address the problem, I was going to burn out and loose Dear Rae too.

It really opened my eyes to the importance of having a life beyond work.

After that, I really started to value my time. I now structure my weeks so that each day I focus on a different area – I see to the business side of things on one day; focus on creative work the next; deal with mentorship on another and so on. I will often leave early on a Friday to fit in some surfing.

This approach has worked well for me because previously it was all over the place and I was never giving enough to anything. It has a lot to do with being able to let go and realising the importance of employing people to cover the aspects that I’m not great at. Dear Rae is bigger than me and it’s not all down to me alone anymore, I have had to learn to allow space for collaboration with other people. I think that has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned through this.

Have you had specific supporters or major influences who have inspired and helped your journey?Yes, I have a lot of friendships that have developed and evolved into a strong creative community. That has been really inspiring. Also, my Dad, who’s an entrepreneur himself, has always been a great source of inspiration to me. He taught me how to make jewellery when I was ten because he did it as a hobby, so we have always had that amazing connection.

I also have a business mentor who has been incredible to work with. She initially worked in the corporate world but now has a business where she uses LEGO Play as therapy and is looking at utilising play therapy for problem solving in business!

In the last two years I really have managed to create a very strong support structure. Various people influencing me and guiding me in different ways, which I think is really important.

How did you go about finding your mentor?

When I first started, I did a Business Acumen for Artists in 2010. At the beginning of last year, I was really struggling and I just emailed the tutor because I knew she was connected. I asked if she could recommend someone to mentor me and we arranged to meet up for a walk and a chat. She didn’t generally mentor people herself but at the end of our walk she said that she would like to mentor me – it was a relationship which really flourished.

I think my whole journey’s been like that; connecting with various people and when I felt there was a natural flow, making sure I nurtured it. That’s what’s worked for me. I really believe everything happens as it should and that the right people come into our lives when they need to.

What have been your “pinch me now” moments of your Dear Rae venture?

Firstly, having my own shop and space. Every now and then I look at my shop and space and see it all working and flowing and I look at the eighteen staff busy working and being creative and it feels incredible. It’s still a big thing for me and I think about it a lot! The fact that it pays me enough to live the life that I want and it pays enough for other people to be creative and free in their careers; I really feel like I’m making a difference.

If there was one piece of advice you could go back and give to yourself in your early 20s, what would it be?It would be to play more and to connect more with my authentic child-like voice. Also to disconnect more with social media and those kind of creative influences, because I think they encourage comparison, which is unhealthy within my creative process.

Social media is obviously an incredible tool for connecting with people and the world and it’s an outstanding marketing tool. However, I find it quite toxic for my personality and it doesn’t flow with my creativity, so now I actually have someone else who deals with that side of things for me.

I think if you really want to tap into creating something original and true, you have to spend the most time with yourself and dig deep - not just reach out and then make something similar to something else. It’s so important to be yourself and create strong personal values within your business – then create a business culture around those values. It’s very hard to change a culture once you’ve developed it and that’s why it’s so crucial to be very strong about what you believe from the offset.

I think if you really want to tap into creating something original and true, you have to spend the most time with yourself and dig deep.

For women that want to make a positive change in their lives but don’t know where to start, what advice would you give?

I think I would start with taking a little bit of time out and maybe reconnecting with who you are and what you really want, and then probably a brainstorm session. That always works for me, it’s such a powerful tool. Only once you know what you actually want can you start to implement the steps to get there.


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