I WAS INTRODUCED TO Caroline Khoo's incredible art, when a friend tagged me in one of her dreamy Instagram posts. She had just started her business, and our PR team engaged her to create some divine gold foiled chocolates for an event we were producing. Caroline, to my delight hand delivered the chocolates to the event & I was lucky enough to meet her. If you can imagine the demeanor of a crazy, hyperactive dog (me) meeting a beautiful, softly spoken Persian cat (Caroline) for the first time - That is the best way I can describe it. I went into fan-girl mode telling her, at what was much louder then I had intended 'How truly, AMAZING, like, incredible, like, wow, you are amazing. Your work! I Mean, WOW!. How did you get started? I am such a fan. You are Incredible. INCREDIBLE!!!' Caroline, the most polite person on the planet replied (when I finally stopped speaking AT her), 'Oh, thank you so much!). Then she probably went home to wipe the dog slobber off her face from my mauling! My admiration of her & her work has only grown since that initial meeting a few years ago, but I have learnt how to better control myself in her presence now, and as I watch her business & craft grow as such exponential speed, I am as excited as hyperactive dog to have her featured here. It was hard to make a selection of images to feature, so when you are finished reading, be sure to go & loose yourself in the beautiful @NectarAndStone Instagram Account. I am going to stop talking (You'd think I would have learnt by now!), and hand it over to Caroline....
NAME: Caroline Khoo
COMPANY: nectar and stone pty ltd
TITLE(S): Creative Director
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Passionate, Creative, Spontaneous, Loyal, Ethical.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I studied a Bachelor of Arts – International Relations in 2000. When I finished this degree I found myself working in the fashion industry in footwear first and then in handbags. I loved being able to speak with agents and retailers and it developed a real framework and love for colour, texture and design.
I made a change in career into the Medical Device industry after my sister and brother in-law had a conversation with me about potentially being a product consultant. As medical discussions were always a topic of conversation at the dinner table, I began to develop a real interest in the area and thought it would be a great change and break for me. In addition I felt that it would build new skills and teach me more about sales and marketing. I travelled to New York to study and then returned to Victoria and built great relationships with surgeons and nurses.
I then fell pregnant and in 2009 had Isaiah and in 2011 had Dimitri. As my previous role didn’t offer part time work I made the decision to stay at home and see the milestones of my children. Through raising my kids I learnt many things along the way – fussy easting being one of those things. Having always had an interest in food, I started to design and create fun things for my kids, especially Isaiah to eat. Whilst this was all happening, my younger son Dimitri had a short neck muscle and to get him to recover from this it required 1 year of physiotherapy. This was a difficult time for me and I found myself after his recovery needing an escape – something to forget all that I had been through with him. With friends and family seeing the potential in my food creations and a few outside opinions – I made a decision in 2013 to start nectar and stone.
During the time I was at home with my kids, I always wanted to stay on top of my skills – so I made a conscious effort to teach myself things I didn’t know on the computer like photoshop and built my photography skills. I wanted to have something to show if I ever went back into the workforce. When nectar and stone started, I treated this in almost the same way – it was a project that I could showcase to potential employers that I had started something from the ground up. I just never expected it to become what it is today.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? Pushing the boundaries on how we interpret food, style, fashion and homewares. We design desserts, create imagery and style.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) No not at all. 10 years ago I was in the fashion industry travelling Australia and dealing with agents and retailers, this is where I thought I would still be, working my way up through the ladder.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? ‘Success’ to me is not dollar value. To me it means making a difference to the world, helping people to see things in new perspective, being a positive role model and helping people to be inspired, motivated and driven. In many ways ‘yes’ I think I have been successful in creating a strong community who each day demonstrate to me how I have impacted their lives in a positive way.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) There is so much that I have to achieve yet. Being able to travel the world and share my work with my global community, doing more public appearances and speeches and connecting with people. Having a global brand.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? No, my background is Bachelor of Arts – ‘International Relations’. When I started dessert designing and styling I started with no foundation. I began with mastering one skill at a time by experimenting and learning from my mistakes.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Having an amazing community who believe in my work and encourage me every day. And working with amazing brands that support women in business, small business and the liberty to create and design with no limits. I have been very fortunate that trust is given to me and it is freedom.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? My office is minimal. One long wooden desk, white walls, lots of white bookshelves and a pretty Persian rug. Keeping things to a bare minimum with lots of natural light helps me to think clearly. My studio workspace is also very similar, everything is white. Inspiration for me comes from a blank canvas and I like to pretty things up with flowers each day.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? I wish there was more time in the day. It really is the one thing I need more of.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? I cried for a long time when my plans for my Richmond Cakery fell through. It was a difficult time for me and I felt like I had failed myself and my community. But I knew that the best thing for me was to keep moving forward and pursuing what I love.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Absolutely. Each and every day – “do better, be better” is my mantra.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? I am yet to take a proper holiday. I am always working but when I give my attention to people, it always 100 per cent.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Not really. I started the business wanting to create something that worked with my family and personal life. I set myself rules in the beginning and when I would work. At times yes the juggle can be difficult but I never wanted that to interrupt my relationships and promised myself that I would always find a way to make sure I was there for the people in my life.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? I have been lucky in that I have always had my husband, family and close friends always supporting me. The journey has never lonely. They are the backbones in my life and so when times have felt frustrating, dark or scary – I confide in them.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Leading up to an event I am always wanting to make sure everything is just perfect.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? Yes, I think I would have done some form of business degree. Not that you need this to be successful in business, but I think for me personally it would have given me some insight before I started and helped give me a framework to build off.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Lisa Messenger – drive, passion and hard work – she is definitely a mover and a shaker. Janine Allis – self-belief. Kim Kardashian – branding. Alison Watkins – (chief executive – Coca Cola Amatil) – look her up!!! Samantha Wills – it goes without saying, she is incredible, hardworking, stylish and great business sense.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? I admire people who challenge me.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? No, there is no such thing. Having two kids, family, friends and a business is a juggle. I try to do a lot of my work when my kids are sleeping, aim to have a date night with my husband once a week when possible but it is not easy. But I always try to do my best by being a good friend, thoughtful daughter, good mother, kind wife! It can feel overwhelming at times but as time goes on it does get a little easier, you learn how to operate things more efficiently.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes I have to be completely honest. I don’t think I am alone in thinking this. For me personally it was more at the times when I felt like all my hard work was being replicated time and time again. I wanted to celebrate my designs, my hard work and my ideas. This took a lot out of me to begin with but somehow I found myself realizing that I had become a role model to so many people and started to re-channel my thinking, my energy and focus. I wanted to be a positive person especially to our youth and this has been a driver for me to never think of quitting again.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That it is easy. Coming up with concepts, designing, making and photographing each and every day is not easy.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Be disciplined. Work hard. Know your goals. Keep trying – never give up – stay determined. Focus. Be Positive
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I am sure I would do it all over again, I love what I do.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? “Make a difference” – “Think outside the square”. For me personally, there is nothing greater than being able to give something back to the world in a positive way and making a difference small or big. Being able to be challenge the industry, community perspectives and create new content.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? To be able to share things I have learnt along the way, inspire women to believe in themselves. That no road is easy but certainly a journey that many have travelled and sometimes you just need to know that you can do it.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” – John Heywood.
“Create your own style…let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others” Anna Wintour.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do” – Steve Jobs.