Karen O’Kane knows how to take inspiration from her surroundings, and it has become the cornerstone of her Kokodesigns silk painting creations. Originally from Stoke on Trent – the potteries area of England – Karen spent a lot of time as a child with her grandmother: “I didn’t really think I had worked in a creative family until I started this myself – but my grandmother was a professional artist and she also taught painting.” Karen acknowledges that her grandmother taught her a lot, but at the time she did not think it was anything special, it was just what her grandmother did: “What she did teach me is you can do anything, if you have something in your head you want to make – then you can make it – all it takes is finding a way to do it.”

Karen moved to Ireland with her husband – initially to Dublin and then to Donegal – just as the recession was starting to hit. She soon discovered there wasn’t enough work for her to get back into her original field of psychology, so her creative instinct kicked in. Karen had been involved in craft all her life and already had a part time hobby business, so in 2010 she decided to set up the business full time.

Local Enterprise Office Donegal Stories

Karen’s hobby business had her working in glass, stained glass and glass painting but she realized she would have to change as she looked to start out in a bigger way: “I always loved silk painting, I’ve been doing it since I was 19 and because I had small children at the time and the health and safety requirements of running a stain glass workshop, I had to switch to something safer, so I switched to silk.”


Local Enterprise Office Donegal Stories

Silk painting is a very old craft, one that would have been very popular in France in the 1900’s but it is not common there now. Karen uses a French technique, and she has a lot of French customers who have never seen it in France. In changing to a niche discipline like silk painting, Karen knew she would have to work hard to get her way into the marketplace. Karen explained how The Network of Donegal Design Makers was incredibly supportive to her when she was starting out and how that support continues to this day: “Before Covid stopped us in our tracks, we all went to events together, like the Gifted Christmas Fair in the RDS in Dublin and we all support each other. Without the knowledge and experience of the group, it would be difficult for an individual.”

Return customers are a key revenue stream for Kokodesigns, Karen says it’s because she makes the effort to get out to the customers and let them see what she has to offer. And while the pandemic has stopped her meeting customers face to face, it has also resulted in an increase in online sales: “The online side of the business really grew this year and initiatives like #BuyDonegal Weekend were a great help and a timely reminder to people to shop and support local. That said, I have customers who will look on the website and check things out but will still phone me and manually want to order. I think some customers still want to have that real connection with the people they are buying from.”

Along with mentoring, Karen availed of a Technical Assistance for Micro Exporter’s Grant (TAME) from Local Enterprise Office Donegal to help take her business to the next level. It may all seem a far cry from the field of psychology she first worked in when she moved to Dublin, but Karen has found her creative niche and is happy: “At the start I worked from the spare bedroom and the landing in the house, but then I bought a shed to use as a workshop and that was a real boost for the business.” It meant she had a lot more space for creating and she bought another shed to use as a showroom. The making side of things is slow but it is what she loves. As for the inspiration, every piece of it comes from the flora and fauna of Donegal and as Karen says: “You don’t have to go far from here to look for inspiration.”
Local Enterprise Office Donegal Stories

Local Enterprise Office Donegal Stories


Technical Assistance for Micro Exporter's grant enables clients to explore and develop new overseas market opportunities.

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