Forget online shopping – when you’re in the market for something special, it’s worth seeking out one of Jersey’s much-loved alternative retail destinations. Because the island is home to a wealth of truly brilliant boutiques. From flowers to fashion, interiors to gifting each one of Jersey’s carefully curated boutiques has a unique vision, but there’s one thing they all have in common: a bright business brain behind them. Who better to kickstart our new series of small business spotlights on the island’s best boutiques than Karen MacKay of Wild Atlantique. We chatted to her about the transatlantic journey her boutique has made as well as what it was like to launch a business post-Covid, having never set foot on Jersey before.
Karen was born and raised in Upstate New York, by an American father and a Scottish mother, “I was schooled in Ireland and the USA and am fortunate to have tri-citizenship” but it is by the ocean that she feels most at home. “I have always had a particular affinity for the coast and its environs and have spent all of my adult life living in close proximity to the sea.” That might go some way to explain how someone with university degrees in International Business and Finance, an MBA and a degree in Interior Design with a prior LEED certification as well as an illustrious career as a banking analyst, a promotional merchandiser for J.Crew Group, a qualified interior designer, a residential project manager and a real estate consultant ended up starting a business on a small island like Jersey.
“I have always been fascinated with eco-friendly, sustainable and affordable luxury in both products and design. By creating my own eco and coastal lifestyle brand, I was able to bring all these facets of my experience and passionate interests together.” Did you always want to own your own business? “Certainly! I had my own Interior Design firm in Darien, Connecticut for many years and worked on projects in Connecticut, the New York Metro area and Ireland. I decided to start my own lifestyle brand once I was ready to move away from Connecticut. I wanted a brand committed to only selling or creating products that were truly sustainably made and environmentally friendly.” And so Wild Atlantique was born. “I came up with the name Wild Atlantique when I was visiting the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ route on the Western Coast of Ireland. ‘Atlantique’ means ‘near the Atlantic’ in French. So I combined them to define my brand as taking design influences from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Wild Atlantique’s beginnings, it seems, are just as well travelled as its owner. Initially the business was based in the US, operating as an online store in Florida before Karen took a design hiatus to Ireland to create a capsule collection of ‘apres surf and sail’ wear for men, women and children, made from the eucalyptus Tencel fabric and produced in small quantities in Europe. After two and a half years of operating Stateside, Karen made the decision to shutter the US company, and held a closing down sale in a warehouse in Darien, Connecticut. It was a lightbulb moment, “we sold more in three weeks at that sale than in a whole year online! People who attended were telling me I should have my own boutique. They loved the combination of home decor and clothing- the combination of which perfectly showcased the ‘coastal lifestyle’ and customers loved hearing the provenance stories of the products.”
But it was 2019, and like the rest of the world Karen was unaware that a looming health pandemic was on the horizon that would hobble much of the retail industry and delay store openings. Luckily – Covid did little to sway her business enthusiasm, instead she spent the pandemic in Ireland, researching the best fit for where to open Wild Atlantique’s first flagship store, design atelier and online hub once the pandemic had cleared. For a number of reasons St Helier, Jersey floated to the top of the list, “it had the perfect island vibe that matched our branding. A clean and special environment with roots in both English and French heritage, much like the brand.” Karen recalls how she applied for her licence to headquarter the business here, a process which took quite some time and was entered upon with some trepidation seeing as she had never been able to visit Jersey due to the Covid restrictions. “It was certainly a leap of faith!” But an educated leap nonetheless. After discarding other locations based upon population numbers, VAT and import tax as well as local competition – Jersey was the ideal choice.
“I love a challenge and creating a unique St Helier based, Eco + Chic + Coastal + Lifestyle brand has been a passionate mission!”
It seems the leap was worth it – since opening in April 2022 the store has become a popular shopping destination on the St Helier highstreet selling everything from eco and sustainable clothing, home decor and custom furniture to the brand’s own scent and soap range. “We offer a relaxed coastal vibe in the store, sort of Hamptons style meets modern beach. It’s a true boutique with items paired and displayed to encourage you to take your time to have a good look.” When chatting about Wild Atlantique’s aesthetic, Karen uses words such as “signature,” “unique,” and “small batch” to describe the stock on display and whilst these words mean nothing much on paper, in person (or rather in store) it’s easy to understand what she means. The back wall of the shop is decorated with a “signature” grayscale coral reef wallpaper and the rails are stocked with “small batch” clothing designs.
The shelves are bedecked with “unique” curiosities all of which are for sale. A fun and helpful store feature is the online hub- an in-store touch screen displaying the boutique’s website so customers can peruse items in images, check stock and see different colour ways to what is displayed, “it’s a tiny shop and we can’t fit everything in so there is lots more in stock than on the shop floor.” You might also notice the TV screen on the wall where Karen plays the brand’s own YouTube channel, showing documentaries about the coastal environment, and infomercials highlighting the design of coastal homes. Every detail has been thought out – offering a store experience that is undeniably original.
For those who want to take the entire Wild Atlantique style home with them, Karen’s skills don’t stop at the store. She also offers interior design services with customers encouraged to take the Coastal Design Personality Quiz on the Wild Atlantique’s website and read through the Atlantic Coastal Design Guides.’ “I love working with clients in the first floor Design Atelier or visiting with them in their home. I like to provide an affordable service that saves people time and money while helping them create their unique style at home.”
“Special doesn’t mean expensive. I love doing the buying and trying to find just the right item, size and colour.”
What do you think you would have done had Jersey not worked out, I asked Karen, “I did have some backup plans! Guernsey actually was very keen that I opened there instead!” Plans for brand expansion are already on the cards, perhaps to a large location on Jersey and then potentially a boutique in Guernsey, Salcombe, Dublin and maybe even the Hamptons. It is undeniably an exciting time for Wild Atlantique, even more so for Jersey who can now boast such a brilliant boutique right on our highstreet.