Kim Atkins - Hand-outs fail to empower people and have negative effects. On the other hand, making work available to a person goes along with dignity and empowerment.

Kim Atkins
Kims Atkins - Owner and designer, of Kim Atkins Jewellers

KIM ATKINS is the owner and designer of Kim Atkins Jewellers. The company predominantly makes and markets jewellery and has developed into a social enterprise. Kim provides opportunities for students who need work and assistance with their studies and to young jewellers needing experience so that they can become established in their own right.

Kim prioritises looking after the people who make the jewellery in her business. She believes that this approach influences customer satisfaction. "First look after the people working for you, then you will make the customers happy," she says. Her very busy daily activities also include designing jewellery, overseeing social media, marketing, and general business issues. Kim went to "A little art school in the Cape" to study. Her subjects included textile design, spinning and weaving, jewellery design, painting and drawing. Afterwards she worked in the textile industry, but unfortunately, "The local textile industry almost died due to imports".

She looked around and travelled overseas before starting a handmade jerseys' business. Several women who had been trained by the Anglican Church to knit and sew, worked part-time for her. "The valuing of their creations changed something in these women, and they took pride in doing something well."

Creations with a theme

The loss of her first baby affected Kim badly and she felt unable to do creative work for ten years. During this period, she undertook ceramic restoration work. Although agreeable, fixing people's things rather than creating something was ultimately not fulfilling. A friend suggested beading work, and after been given money to buy beads, she started making jewellery.

Things went very well until Chinese imports started to impact on the business. Kim looked for ways to differentiate her creations from the imported products. "My quality was very high, and I only used semi-precious stones, pearls or crystals and sterling silver rather than plastic and inferior materials. I
started differentiating further by creating jewellery that represented biblical pictures or themes. This worked very well, sparking the business to thrive." In this context, Kim is often asked to speak to women groups.

Faith in God

Kim says that many people have added value along the way and helped her to get to where she is today. Her studies and courses have contributed, and the mentorship programmes she has attended have been valuable. "Flourish and Thrive, an online company in the USA that helps people with their jewellery business, helped me transition my hobby into a business."

Much of Kim's inspiration and her drive to make a difference for people comes from her confessed faith in God. "I am also driven by the beauty I see in people. Artistically I am inspired by the aesthetics of colour and shape."

In her experience, men and women approach business somewhat differently. "Men tend to focus more on the bottom line and profits, whereas for women it is often more about the people and bringing out the best in them," she says. She thinks both approaches are necessary.

Achieving a work-life balance has been made easier now that Kim's children are predominantly studying, allowing her to focus on work. She tries to compartmentalise things to prevent work from becoming all-consuming. Being close to the people working for her, she finds it difficult not to get pulled into their stories. This can affect a work-life balance and sometimes requires her to take a step back.

A strong social focus

Kim is happy to be where she is, but "still wants to change the world". When assessed for career guidance, the report called her "naïve and idealistic". Many years later she is still focused on making a difference, now particularly in the jewellery industry. There are still many issues where she feels she could provide hope and bring real change.

Trying to address South Africa's parallel economies is one of her key focus areas. "Some people come from an advantaged background, they can move into their dreams and what they aspire to, but others cannot aspire to change anything."

In reflecting on her achievements, Kim believes that using students to make jewellery and gain experience has worked well. In addition, the disparity between the relative ease for her to start a business due to her background and access to resources, compared to students with almost nothing and for whom the business system does not work has become something she wants to address. Consequently, to help bridge that gap and bring value to the students' work she has transitioned her business to have a strong social focus.

Due this transition, a project was born to build an incubator; a studio facility where people can work and learn to run their own jewellery business. Kim is the managing director of the company formed, Legacy Jewellery Projects, which will assist people who are skilled, but not yet empowered. "Hand-outs fail to empower people and have negative effects. On the other hand, making work available to a person goes along with dignity and empowerment," says Kim.

Anything is possible

If she could, she would advise her younger self, "Don't be conformed by what other people think of you, or by things seeming impossible. Whatever you dream becomes possible if you work at it." Kim concluded, "Looking back at where my business started and where it is now shows anything is possible."

Kim Atkins

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