Read on to hear how Abi started the business, and how she's grown and honed the beautiful luxury brand it is today, and how she still has her breath taken away opening every single package of Japanese silk, even 10 years later...
Abi Keefe, Owner/Designer at Abi-K
"The question I get asked most frequently is: 'how did you get into this? It's so niche and unique, I've not seen anything like it? Did you live in Japan?’.
So in a nutshell, as much as I'd like to, no I haven't lived in Japan. I came to it from a design perspective; I'm a trained jeweller and metalsmith in 3D design, everything from traditional jewellery techniques, stone setting, precious metals, silversmithing, even blacksmithing and architectural steel work, as well as working for contemporary jewellers over the years. I used to mix metals a lot in my work, so I was instantly drawn to these beautiful silks because the Japanese weave combinations of gold and silver threads throughout their embroidery, and even use differing grades of gold, so this really appealed to me, as well as being a huge fan of colour and pattern.
I was really interested in combining unusual materials in my early statement jewellery designs, so I started using off cuts of Japanese silk, leather and stainless steel mesh to produce the cuff bracelets. I knew the silk was Japanese, I just didn't realise at first they were vintage Japanese Fukuro obis - the formal ceremonial sash worn around the waist of the kimono. It took some time and research to find a supplier in Kyoto, I ordered just eight to begin with. When they arrived, I took my first breath of absolute astonishment at their beauty, and every time I open each package to this day, even after a decade of doing this business, I am still rendered speechless by their incredible energy, workmanship and beauty.
It's extremely important to me to preserve the couture philosophy in order to give respect back to the culture in which these silks come from. Which is why I won't mass produce my designs, and ensure each process is meticulously executed. No one does attention to detail like the Japanese, so as a British designer, it's my job to ensure these silks do all the talking, ensuring my designs have clean lines, and the production is on point giving them new life and a new story to tell. Many of my designs have an architectural feel to them, a signifier of transferring my skills from metal into textiles. The cuff won 2nd place in a design competition run by the British Jewellers' Association in 2011, and so from here things really took off. I designed the Luxe Clutch bag to go with the cuff, and the first set made is still my signature branding. Each year I bring out new designs to add to the collection, and so over a decade my brand has grown into a beautifully unique empire of colour, pattern and design not seen anywhere else.
Abi-K is a Brighton born brand; I lived in this vibrant fabulous city for 16 years, and officially launched the business in 2011 as an independent jewellery & accessories label which has grown from a simple home studio to now a beautiful unique boutique in the heart of Brighton’s iconic Lanes. I started out selling into other boutiques, and exhibiting at shows, until I set up my first tiny shop in Steyning, West Sussex in early 2017. The business quickly outgrew its little launch pad and so a move to a bigger shop with on-site studio came at the end of 2018 to Arundel in West Sussex. We had a brand and logo re-fresh at this stage, with our iconic model image with her orange lipstick; anyone who's met me knows my signature orange lipstick! The black orange and gold clutch bag and cuff in this image was the first set ever made, I could have sold it a million times as I get asked constantly if it's available. But of course, every piece is unique.
The iconic Abi-K brand image:
Arundel boutique 2018 - 2020
I always knew I wanted to bring the business back to its hometown in Brighton, so after further growing the business in Arundel, in 2020 I had the opportunity of securing the Hanningtons Lane boutique. I knew this was the right time, despite being at the start of a pandemic! It was a brave risk, but over two years later in 2022 and Abi-K is now firmly established in the Lanes.
Our Brighton boutique opened in 2020
We’ve grown with staff too, Zoë joined us in 2020 who has been freelancing with the business for 2 years. Zoë is a creative homeware designer herself, with an impressive business background, so her acutely creative eye, fine attention to detail, endless reliability and genuine loveliness means she’s learned the story of my brand and delighted customers with it since I opened the doors in Brighton.
This summer 2022 saw my eldest daughter Summer join the Abi-K team... Summer has grown up watching my brand grow; it’s as old as she is. I started designing the wrist cuff when she was just one year old when she was in nursery one day a week. No one knows the Abi-K story better than Summer and I could not be more proud to see her charm customers with her expert knowledge and passion for delivering excellent customer service. While Summer continues her studies at college, she’ll be with us part time.
I still design and cut every collection myself in our onsite studio, and almost all my designs are expertly crafted by a London workshop. Some designs are produced right here in Brighton by local talented artisans. My statement necklaces are laser cut locally by a marquetry expert, then made right here in the studio. The move to Brighton brought the opportunity to expand further into ceremonial kimonos, which I find sell as art, as much as a garment. They are truly magnificent and it's a joy to learn more about their fascinating history and cultural significance.
So what’s in store for Abi-K in the next ten years? For every decade that goes by, another decade becomes vintage. So these beautiful silks will continue to capture my heart and I’ll continue to bring out new designs. We’ve already had a website makeover and updated our in-store payment system to be in synergy with the website, so you’ll see more of our beautiful designs through an online experience, as well as in store. My brand has always been a bricks and mortar business; while the high street has seen many changes in how people shop, I’ve always found that people want a boutique experience - my products are a visual feast, and nothing replicates seeing them in person. Once customers find my shop, often when on holiday in Brighton, they are prepared to travel to visit again, to see the products in person and to hear the story of each silk in person. It’s the beauty of an independent boutique, you receive a truly bespoke service, because we’re passionate about what we do through every aspect from designing to the history of the vintage Japanese kimonos.
You can feel special knowing no one will be wearing the same one as you, all while ticking the ethical, sustainable boxes too. Not least, you’ll feel good for supporting an independent business, which means we can keep designing and making beautiful unique collections for you, whether a treat for yourself, or a thoughtful gift."
Our most popular clutch purse design worth £49 could be yours… just follow the rules here:
This contest or giveaway is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram. Prize applies for October 2022. Competition ends midnight, Wednesday 12th October 2022. T’s&C’s apply below:
PLEASE BE AWARE OF FAKE ACCOUNTS SENDING LINKS AND ASKING FOR BANKING DETAILS. This is a FREE competition and we do not require any personal information. If you are the winner, we’ll contact you via Instagram or Facebook from @abikdesign and ask for an email.
Here’s the T’s&C’s:
1. Follow @abikdesign on Instagram and/or Facebook & ‘like' the post with animation ‘celebrating 10 years' #AbiK10years.
2. Tag your friends. Each unique comment = 1 entry. If you repeat the same tags, they won’t count towards your entries
3. BONUS ENTRY - Share the post to your story using #AbiK10years
4. Competition ends midnight Wednesday 12th October 2022
5. 10 winners will be selected at random. One clutch purse per winner. The more entries you have, the more chances to win
6. Entrants must be over 18 and UK based
7. Winners will be notified via your Instagram or Facebook account and will be asked to provide your email address. We will email you from email@example.com and ask you to confirm you entered the competition and are happy to receive a discount code for our website
8. Winners can either visit our Brighton store to choose in person, or you can receive a single use discount code for our ‘Clutch Purse’ collection on our website
9. To pick your favourite, browse our Clutch Purse collection here: https://www.abi-k.com/collections/all/clutch-purse
10. Please note all clutches purses are UNIQUE, therefore clutch purses seen advertised may no longer be available.
11. GOOD LUCK you lucky people! Thank you for supporting my independent business. Here’s to another 10 years!