She swears by green smoothies, a good cry and quotes Galaxy Quest in the same breath as Steve Jobs. An hour in the refreshingly honest company of Karine Kong, founder and creative directior of online concept store BODIE and FOU is just what we need to kick off the new year. Enjoy!
How did the BODIE and FOU story start?
It all started around the time I bought my first flat. I was living with my sister and we were talking about decoration all the time. I have always been hugely into interior design. I think it must come from my mother. She used to take my sister and I to flea markets at a very early age and I could always spot things that no-one else would see. Even now, my sister hates going vintage shopping with me because I’ll always spot the “find” first!
So, back in 2005 I started to talk about setting up an interiors business with Elodie, my sister. I wanted to do something I could be passionate about. We thought about opening a shop or a stall at Spitalfields Market but none of our ideas felt quite right.
At the time, Steve, my partner, was working for a digital marketing company. He came home one evening talking about the founders of an online company he had met. I listened to him talking and that night I started to think. I will never forget it, my mind was going at a hundred miles an hour. We were out on a run and by the time we got back home, my decision was made. Whatever we were going to do, it had to be online.
I started the business about 2 weeks before giving birth to Mila, my daughter. I spent huge amounts of time and energy making the website look great. It seemed obvious to me that if the site looked beautiful, people would find their way to it and never leave. But the web doesn’t really work like that… I didn’t do any PR or marketing in the beginning. So the first month we only had one sale. The second month we had two so we opened a bottle of champagne and drank all our profits! And then I got my act together and started to think seriously about PR. I contacted all the big interiors magazines I wanted to be in and called them relentlessly until our first break-though: Time Out. And from there, things started to snowball.
The web is a notoriously competitive environment. What do you think made you stand out?
You must remember that this is not today’s market we are talking about. Back in 2005, most of what was online was awful! Everything looked exactly the same. Everyone was using the same template. I wanted to create a website that would be totally different, something more personal with a boutique feel. And of course, the collection was very different to what was available in the UK at the time. It was much more European, much more cosmopolitan.
You run BODIE and FOU but you also have a very successful blog and work as an independent stylist. How does the jigsaw fit together?
The blog is a huge part of my daily life and is in the process of becoming a business in its right. I am also going to write a decoration book next year. Of course, this all means working differently to fit everything in.
How do you like to work?
I like to feel independent. We have offices in an amazing industrial building in London but I do like to work from home too. My home office space is my happy place! It’s where I can be surrounded by everything I like: my books, pictures of my family, artworks and little knick-knacks that I’ve collected over the years.
The poster range is a big feature in your house. What was the inspiration behind it?
Over the years, we have received so many mails from people wanting to retail the BODIE and FOU collection. People thought of us as a brand despite the fact that we were a multi-brand retailer. In the end, I decided to go down the own-brand route and to develop the print range. We were lucky enough to join forces with VIPP - I am very proud of the Love Life and Family bin that we created with them - and we used the collaboration as a springboard to launch the rest of the print collection.
The prints are all mantras in a way. Do you have a phrase to live by?
I do (laughs). It’s from a film about aliens, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” It’s a really accurate reflection of how I run my business! The other quote I absolutely love is from Steve Jobs: "It's better to be a pirate than joining the navy."
Do you have any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs?
It’s a marathon. You need to have more stamina than anyone else. So first of all I would say be healthy! I started a business from home and used to eat chocolate muffins everyday! Now I just make them for other people! But no, seriously, making time for myself and being healthy makes a huge amount of difference to the way that I handle stress.
Secondly I would stress the importance of having really good relationships with your suppliers. If something goes wrong, they will stand by you. We had a major cash-flow crisis following the credit crunch and without the relationship that I had with our suppliers, I dread to think of what would have happened. The first few years of the business were hard, very hard. They put my family under huge amounts of pressure. I feel like we turned the corner five years ago but until then, phew, well, let’s just say you need broad shoulders.
And my last piece of advice would be to cry! I cry a lot! It’s my way of releasing tension. And when I’ve finished crying, I just pick myself up and carry on.
What are the women you admire in the online world?
I admired Little Fashion Gallery hugely. Marie Soudré Richard is very inspirational. I also really admire Garance Doré as a content creator and business-woman. And although she’s not in the online world, I also really like Vanessa Paradis. We were about the same age when she “exploded” with Joe Le Taxi and I’ve followed her since then. I really admire her artistic choices. And I love her music. When I have to do my accounts, if I listen to her music and drink huge amounts of tea, I can just about bear it!
You have an impressive social media presence. What Instagram accounts do you follow?
@kayla_itsines - amazing abs!
@sincerelyjules - I love her style, her hair, everything
@milasienna - my daughter
@emmanuellealt – the editor of French Vogue
@Carolinedemaigret – I love her style
@giseleofficial - a beautiful girl inside and out
@Curated_by – I love Renata's eye
@frenchbydesign - by my friend Sihamz
What blogs do you read?
I don’t read many blogs to be honest. I found that they were preventing me from progressing with my own blog. It’s very tempting to get caught up in negative comparisons. I also recently desactivated my facebook account to spend more time on doing things slowly, exercising and reading about nutrition rather than sitting in front of my laptop.
And last but not least, what sites do you buy from?