Karolina Barnes – Friday Future Female

This weeks Future Female, is the wonderful Karolina Barnes. Her courage and strength is inspirational. Discover how Karolina lives with a Menioniomas brain tumour, the side effects and treatment she endures and the balancing act of being a mother and an entrepreneur.


FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?


KB: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My parents started an importing and wholesale business in the fireplace industry when I was 14, so I had to help with every aspect of growing and getting that business established from that age. After I did my A-levels I moved to London and started studying for degree in business and economics. In my second year, we moved to Germany with my husband, followed by Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland and back to Germany again.


When I finished my degree we settled in the UK to raise our family. My daughter was 3 years old when I decided to come back into the family business but run the international branch from scratch. I built up a wholesale business with 120 retailers in the UK and Ireland, which included small brick and mortar shops and bigger DIY chains.


Things were going really well, with rapid growth in the first 3 years, but recession caught up with us and when many of our retailers closed down or went into administration, we were battling for our own survival. I spent 4 years trying to save the business but my diagnosis and other events happening around that time made me realise that the best way forward was to close it down and move on.


I started ESTILA bookazine after I finished my second round of treatment as I got frustrated with the lack of intelligent, informative and inspiring publication on the market that would speak to me and write about design and creative business in one.



FF: What does Future Female mean to you?


KB: I think Future Female for me is about having confidence and freedom to pursue your own dreams and reaching your own potential. Society will always be judgmental, putting barriers and challenges in front of us. Future Female should be able to overcome those with grace and sophistication rather than aggression and inappropriate behaviour.


FF: The recent #MeToo hashtag caught the attention of many women who joined the conversation, what is your view and have you been affected by misogynistic behaviour during your lifetime? If so, is it something you feel comfortable discussing?


KB: To be honest, I’ve never worked in the corporate world. I had opportunities to work for other small family businesses but I have never been exposed to any behaviour highlighted by the #meeToo hashtag/ campaign. While trading in male-dominated industry I overheard the occasional inappropriate comment towards me but I was told by my grandmother and mother to always ignore it, so I did. It never reached a stage where I felt it affected me in any way, or that I had to report it.


FF: Describe your current work role and your creative process?


KB: Where do I start? I juggle many balls and roles at the moment. Apart from being the editor-in-chief of ESTILA, where I’m responsible for curating the best possible content while working with our amazing team of editors and contributors, I also run a business consultancy advising small creative businesses and emerging brands on their business issues; from brand identity and language to marketing strategies and PR, strategic partnerships and long term growth and market positioning. I also have ESTILA Studio where I provide graphic design services and collaborate on brands photoshoots for lookbooks, websites, social media and of course content for ESTILA.


FF: What do you love about being your own boss, and what are the challenges?


KB: I’ve been working for myself for such a long time that I can’t imagine not being my own boss anymore. I love challenging myself daily and having creative freedom. The biggest challenge at the moment is juggling many projects at the same time so time management can be still a struggle for me sometimes.



FF: Is there a project that is inspiring you at the moment?


KB: Creating content for ESTILA is always very inspiring. I love meeting and interviewing other creatives. We all have stories to share, something we all can learn from. My job is to pin-point those experiences, those big lessons learnt and bring them in the pages of our publication.  This means that sometimes I have to dig deeper and investigate what’s underneath the surface. I love working with “givers”  who are not afraid to say things as they are, straight and honest. To me, those stories are most inspiring.


FF: I recently read that you have a benign tumour called meningioma, how do you manage this and what have been the challenges dealing with this illness?


KB: I was diagnosed with meningioma while being pregnant with my second daughter in 2007. Menioniomas are usually very slow-growing benign tumours but they can cause big problems and side effects. Mine was discovered when I was going blind in one eye and by the time I had a proper treatment plan put together, I lost vision in that eye completely. After almost 2 years of steroid treatment and two set of stereotactic radiotherapy, I’m currently on no medication. My battles are mainly severe headaches, nausea, lack of focus and balance. Afterwards I feel complete exhaustion. I get them on average 2-3 times a week. The only way I’ve managed to keep my mind healthy is through practising mindfulness and blocking the pain and side effects mentally. I find for example that speaking to people helps, while being on the computer or sitting in front of the screen makes it worse. So the more phone calls or meetings have, the better, avoiding as much as time possible away from all devices. I usually catch up on those once I feel better.


FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?


KB: I don’t think I would change anything.


FF: Are there key messages you are passing on to your children when it comes to gender equality, how important do you think it is to change your story around gender?


KB: I have two girls so my message to them is to “stay true to who you are and don’t get influenced by others or other forces outside of your control”. I also try to tell them to ignore fools (female and male) and to avoid them at all cost. Even though I’m all about supporting gender equality, (truth to be told, I believe that, if females were running the world, it would be a much better place), I’m slightly skeptical about ever achieving it in my life time. Having said that, I’m an optimist and hope that next generations will have to battle their generational issues in a more positive and equal environment.



FF: What are you reading at the moment?


KB: My library is full of biographies and I keep adding more and more to my collection. At the moment, I’m reading “My fight to the top” by Michelle Mone, the founder of Ultimo. As I was speaking recently at Pure London, I also quickly read the “TED Talks – official guide to public speaking” by Chris Anderson.


FF: How would you describe your style?


KB: I was brought up with a notion “to do things with grace”. So my style reflects that. I’m all about always being well-presented, expressing myself through style that is timeless and sophisticated. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’ve never taken any drugs or go out very much. I don’t speak like a builder or how the younger generation speaks these days. I’m polite and respectful but firm when I need to be. I prefer to be in a company of like-minded people who are passionate about making a difference rather than waste time on small talks with fools.  To some, I might be boring and not very trend-focused but I don’t care. In fact, I hate the words trend, fashionable and influence. I think those words can trap us in the world of being someone we think we are, or want to be, but one thing I’ve learnt is that you can’t escape from your true self! Sooner or later you’ll find out and your own unhappiness pushes you hopefully in the right direction. So to me style is about embracing my inner soul and purpose.


Thank you so much for being our Friday Future Female Karolina. Take a look at Karolina’s beautifully curated lifestyle bookazine ESTILA and subscribe to it here.  https://estila.co/

To join our Future Female conversation get in touch by emailing deborah@deborahcampbellatelier.com