Tamara Kahn - MAINE+MARA

Life Instyle sat down with Tamara Kahn, creator of MAINE+MARA, about second chances, limitless possibilities and fabulous jewellery!


What was the spark that inspired you to start your own business?

I worked for 17 years as a Creative Director in the advertising industry, so the creativity has always been there. But I think the spark that started MAINE+MARA came after I had a serious cycling accident that resulted in facial reconstruction. It left me with an acute awareness of how impactful what we wear can be, how those shapes balance our features and can have a positive impact on how we feel and see ourselves. So, I decided to leave my advertising career to pursue a passion to design and create products that promote positive self-expression and perception.

I’ve always loved accessories and design so bringing the two together was so exciting - limitless possibilities! Laser cutting was a natural step into this world as it used the same design tools I’d already mastered.


What were those first steps you took to launch? And what would you say was the scariest part/your biggest fear?

Having always worked in a conceptual way, I started by sketching and designing pieces that had a concept behind them. I love things to have meaning and it seemed the most natural place to start. Turning those sketches into cutting files, choosing materials and refining how to best visualise my concepts through the medium of jewellery was the most amazing feeling. I love the creative high of seeing something through, from vision to reality.

The scariest part for me was being so visible. My whole creative career I was comfortable behind the scenes where I could let my work shine from a distance, so stepping into creating my own brand, doing those very first markets and facing the world as the face of my brand was very daunting...the nerves of waiting to hear directly what people thought...would they connect, would they love my creative babies as much as I did? In a real way this journey has forced me to experience what I truly want my customers to feel - confident enough to stand out, be unique and express themselves through style.


Tell us a bit about how you design/ make your product. Who/where/how/why etc.

Having literally been physically reconstructed after a cycling accident, my designs are a personal exploration and celebration of the fusion of materials, asymmetry, mismatching, standing out and embracing our perfect imperfections, with an edgy, contemporary aesthetic, inspired by 80s fashion, and 90s music and dance.

It’s important to us that our pieces are truly unique, so every piece is designed from scratch by me, Tamara, and the MAINE+MARA team in our Sydney studio. We follow conscious design principles, making sure that from the start we are intentionally turning the negative spaces in our designs into positives; all off-cuts are either pre-designed to be made into other pieces or kept and reused in the making of new creations to ensure minimal waste.

We use plastics in our products because these are made to last and don't tarnish. We love local, using a local laser cutter and locally sourced materials in the making of all our work. Our laser cutter gets all their energy from 100% green power from Powershop who topped the Greenpeace green electricity guide. Keeping things local lets us pick up our deliveries in person, and minimise our footprint.


Describe your customers and the community you have built/embraced. 

MAINE+MARA’s inclusive range is designed for those that celebrate uniqueness. What unifies our audience is a desire for positive self-expression, standing out in their everyday environment and looking on the bright side of life.


What is it that you think your customers love about your brand/ product? 

A common thread in the reviews we receive from our customers is the uniqueness of the designs and how they receive compliments whenever they wear them.


How do you/ your team stay inspired and authentic? 

They all originate from my own visual experiences; from watching dancers and how they move, street artists and costume designers, to the patterns, bold colours and textures found in animals and nature. 


Who would be your dream collaborator?

In our first year, we collaborated with well-known Sydney street artist Mulga, who was definitely a dream collaborator. We want to collab with more like-minded, passionately creative and edgy or unexpected creatives or brands. We also want to play more with the concept of wearable art.

What path led you to Life Instyle and what is it about the show that makes it a great fit for you? 

We want to grow sustainably and have the stability of retail to support our brand as we create more new collections. However, it’s important to us that the retailers who represent us align with our values, and as Life Instyle is known to attract quality boutique and handmade retailers we felt this would be the best fit for MAINE+MARA.


Can you share any spoilers on what we can expect from your new collection at Life Instyle Sydney? 

We will be revealing a collection of our best sellers and newest designs in a range of new colours and materials.


Who are some of the other brands at Life Instyle who you love/admire?

We love and admire “A Beautiful Weirdo” as an environmentally driven creative agency that is helping people be bold and have fun in a positive way.


Can you share one of your proudest moments in business so far?

Every time we get to experience the organic growth of our brand, being discovered and supported and worn by people we admire and respect, from comedian and actress Celia Pacquola, Australian artists The No Frills Twins, Singers/Dancers Jason Winston and Lou P Scarlett, to Design speaker and leader Katja Forbes...seeing our creations being loved out there in the world by a unique and diverse audience fills us with pride every time!


What is the best piece of business advice you have been given? 

“JUST BUILD A BOX”. When starting out, a close friend and carpenter who knew me well was listening to me buzzing with the excitement of my concept to start this jewellery brand. He knew that as a creative director, I would naturally be looking at the whole bigger picture of what the brand needed to be and do...his advice definitely helped me focus and take those first steps, “Just build a box” he said “create some designs and explore making them, focus on each step and refining it before you look to the next”


What advice would you give someone else thinking of starting out? 

Surround yourself with inspiring and supportive people, that will help push you out of your comfort zone gently.


What exciting things are on the horizon for 2020 and beyond? 

More exciting collabs, shoots and of course new collections! Spreading our style and positivity worldwide…watch this space!


When you are not busy with the business, what’s your ideal way to unwind and give yourself a little bit of self-care?

In a word...movement! Being in the sunshine, jumping in the sea, aerial yoga and fitness, plus as many hours dancing as possible! 


Karaoke song of choice? 

It's impossible not to love 'Happy' by Pharrel Williams.

Favourite Podcast? 

Not really a podcast person to be honest. Give a good, funky playlist over a podcast any day. However, my top podcasts at the moment are Holly & Co Conversations of Inspiration, The Guilty Feminist and The Business of Making. 

Guilty pleasure?

Skin Wars! It’s presented by the fabulous RuPaul...but mostly it’s the competitive creativity that I love!

Next holiday location?
I’d love to hit Tasmania in June for Dark Mofo, but have also got my eyes on a New Zealand road trip of the south island. 

Find the perfect accessory from MAINE+MARA on stand F43 at Life Instyle Sydney, 21-24 February 2020 at the ICC Sydney in Darling Harbour. Registration is now open.