An interior architect by profession, a gift gallery owner by passion, Martina Kaiser opened her Loulé business in the midst of the 2012 recession and, despite all odds, met with instant success, proof that being and doing something different is what makes you a winner.
Martina Kaiser was always interested in arts and crafts and ran workshops in the local Montessori school in the South of England where she and her doctor husband lived with their three young children. In 2000, the Kaisers, originally from Germany, made their second major move, this time to Portugal and the sleepy countryside behind Loulé.
“I always liked this little town with its historical centre and bustling fish market, and where you could then, and still can, find coppersmiths, potterers and basketweavers,” she says. “Some years later, walking through Loulé with the family, we noticed the number of empty shops in the town centre and I remarked that now, with so many premises to choose from, would be a good time to open a business.”
The starting point
“It was a casual remark, but a sort of light-bulb moment. That same afternoon we phoned around the agents and looked at two potential properties that were up for rent. One week later I was the owner of a small shop in the Rua de Barbacã which is just around the corner from where I am now. It was a quick decision… and I had my own shop, but nothing to sell.”
So there was Martina, full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm, with a new baby… an empty shop that needed to be filled – and filled fast.
“I went to handcraft markets, visited local artists and tried to make as many contacts as possible. At the same time I was sewing tote bags and colourful sardines and started to design my first jewellery collection,” she remembers.
The world of arts and crafts and the excitement of discovering new talents became all-consuming for this collector of collections. And, once the shop’s shelves and display cabinets were brimming over with unusual handmade pieces, the business took off, and its fast-earned reputation brought in clients from across the Algarve in search of some special.
Just 18 months later, Martina moved into the much bigger premises on a prime corner in Loule’s little walking street, where her shopatelier remains today.
Over the years, the business has come to be regarded as a true specialist, with artists from the region creating pieces expressly for Martina. There are mystical magical sculptures of seahorses, fish and other sea creatures by Sylvain and Tara Bongard; porcelain bowls and jars by Anna Westerlund; wallplates, soap dishes and bowls by Ben & Nadrali; and bowls of Martina’s own design that are hand-thrown by Olaria Francisco Eugénio. She has stamps and notebooks by Poeta Azul and wonderful, quirky bags in linen and suiting fabrics by Sennes.
“My main concern is to buy locally,” she says. “I am in direct contact with the artists who provide me with their unique handmade products. These relationships often develop into close friendships where we can work together and take inspiration from each other. I am able to ask for special editions and unusual colours…”
Martina’s growing passion for jewellery design took her to fairs to buy beads, gemstones, silver components and other materials to create her own jewellery range and a course in silversmithing perfecting her skills.
“One corner in my shop has become my creative work space, where I sit at a big table, surrounded by all kinds of materials and if I am not involved with clients I use my time to design and produce. I am lucky to have a great co-worker and in the hectic summer months one of us can look after customers whilst the other is busy making new pieces. Last year we produced around 1,500 necklaces and an equal number of bracelets; occasionally I meet one of my necklaces in the street!”
As soon as a new piece is created, it goes on display, so client reaction is immediate and Martina can judge exactly how successful it will be. “Yes, I am aware of fashion trends and bear them in mind when designing, but my pieces will always have my own personal sense of style and touch.”
Ensuring the difference
And it is her touch, her style statement, and her distinct choice of the artists whose work she carries, that turn occasional shoppers into regular, returning clients.
“I think what my customers love most about my pieces is that they are unconventional and only exist in small numbers. I spend many hours traveling, scouting, comparing, and negotiating to find works from other artists and also the material for my own jewellery collections. A lot of my time goes into experimenting, creating, beading and rebeading before a necklace is on display. I invest love, passion and pride in every piece that I buy in, or make myself.”
Is she copied? “I suppose it is flattering when there are ‘shoppers’ who are obviously keen to imitate my work. Photographs are openly taken and questions are asked about where I buy my material and how things are put together. I try to stay polite and find pleasure in their interest rather than feel offended. My answer is to hand over a postcard with the words: ‘If you think it’s that simple, then do it yourself’.”
But it is not only perfecting the product offering that is vital to success. Martina tries to position her items so that they are accessible to most people. A guide line would be €20 to €50, though, of course, there are specially commissioned pieces of pottery, handwoven bags and blankets and more exclusive jewellery in silver and gemstones that command a higher price.
“I am always on the lookout for new and beautiful items. Jewellery and clothing go hand in hand and as there is little in the way of unusual fashion here in the Algarve, the idea of a special collection was born last year. I started a trial run last summer with a small selection of dresses and they were a sell-out. Taking this as a good sign, we will be carrying a range of exclusive linen dresses, linen t-shirts and other natural clothing from this spring.”
And moving forward? Here is one lady who genuinely has truly found her own special place. “Often clients ask me if I sell online or if I have other shops in other cities. For me scouting for new artwork, creating new collections and being present in the shop is my priority. And I love the contact with my customers. If I ventured into a bigger business environment or became involved with online activities, I would become more the manager and supervisor of my business and less the creative head and artist. This does not appeal to me; I love being inventive and productive and I agree with the saying: ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day.”
“But that said, who knows what the future might bring…”
Rua 5 de Outubro 68
964 222 612