IN PROFILE: Karine Lepeuple, deputy director, Goldsmiths’ Centre
“Always listen to your gut. Sometimes your head or your heart is telling you one thing, but deep down, that feeling in your tummy, that’s what you need to listen out for. If it doesn’t feel right, just don’t do it.”
This is the greatest piece of advice Karine Lepeuple has ever received, and if her career is anything to go by, it’s one to take note of!
Starting her career in the travel industry, working initially for French Railways and then Eurostar, in sales, marketing and product development, Lepeuple caught the design bug whilst managing a £35m refurbishment project under the artistic direction of Philippe Stark.
In 2004 Lepeuple moved to Glasgow and joined the Lighthouse as commercial director. From there she worked at cultural institutions such as the V&A and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich before joining the Goldsmiths’ Centre in 2014.
“My ‘niche’ is to provide business acumen to cultural and creative organisations,” Lepeuple explains.
In her current role Lepeuple oversees the day-to-day running of the Goldsmiths’ Centre, checking that its many projects stay on track and finding solutions when challenges arise.
She shares: “I joined 18 months after the opening of the building to put in place the structure and processes to help the team develop and market a growing programme of activities for people aged 16+ who are developing a career in making jewellery or in silversmithing. At the beginning, there was only the Foundation, Getting Started and Setting Out annual programmes. Now we have a full programme of exhibitions and talks, we run short courses for the trade and have 2,000 members in our Link community. We also run over 300 commercial events every year and Bench, our café, is thriving.”
The Goldsmiths’ Centre team really lives by its values of creativity, craftsmanship and community. The culture of the company is informal and fun-loving; with many remarking that the place has a can-do attitude and positive atmosphere.
It’s a place people can go to dream big, no matter their age, background or experience. This is reflected by the Centre’s diverse team, which includes 38% (soon to be 50%) of its board of trustees being female. “Fairness and equality are really important to me,” shares Lepeuple, who is proud to work somewhere that’s a member of the Living Wage Foundation and supports events which contribute to raising awareness of equal opportunities within the industry.
“When joining the industry six years ago, I was struck by the fact that the majority of craftspeople appeared to be men, while the majority of jewellery designers seemed to be women,” Lepeuple reveals. “The jewellery trade is still quite a traditional industry overall with a large proportion of microbusinesses. The manufacturing sector in particular is vastly underrepresented by women. This means that equal opportunity policies and whistle-blowing mechanisms may not always be in place. Raising awareness of these issues is critical to bring the jewellery trade on par with other industries.”
Reflecting on gender equality within her own company, Lepeuple adds: “This gender unbalance was until recently also reflected in the profile of Goldsmiths’ Apprenticeships. We have worked hard to improve gender representation on our training programmes. We now attract an equal proportion of boys and girls onto our Foundation programme, meaning that approximately half of the young people on a Goldsmiths’ Apprenticeship are now female.
“Conversely, there has traditionally been more women in our Getting Started programme, the reason being that degree courses are massively weighted towards women. The good news is that this is now changing and there seems to be a growing number of men starting their own businesses as designers.”
When it comes to work, Lepeuple enjoys identifying a gap or an opportunity to make things better and working through a plan to make it happen.
Doing something to improve people’s lives and doing it right is really important to this female pioneer, and she feels like there’s still work for her to do in the jewellery trade.
“As the director told me when I first joined the Goldsmiths’ Centre, the devil is in the detail. This industry is small, yet full of quirks and complexities and I feel that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what there is to learn.”