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Career

The near-death experience that led Wicken jewellery creator Kim McKay to become a good witch

For Kim, the journey to mystic enlightenment has been a tumultuous one.

By Emma Clifton
As the quote by Roald Dahl reads: "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
For jewellery designer Kim McKay, who created the company Wicken three years ago, believing in magic was never the issue. It's how it found her that's the real story.
A self-proclaimed witch since she was very young, Kim was always fascinated by the mystical side of life.
Magic had weaved its way through her upbringing "as far back as I can remember", she says.
At her all girls' high school, she would be the one reading tarot cards for everyone at lunchtime. Her bedroom was filled with all things Wicca – stars, moons, incense.
"It was just who I was. Everything was pure gypsy witch."
Kim says that when her old school friends come into the flagship Wicken store on Ponsonby Road in Auckland, their first reaction is often, "Holy crap, it's just like your teenage bedroom."
The store is split in two: jewellery shop out the front and something akin to a Stevie Nicks slumber party out the back. Candles, wine, fluffy pillows, an ancient fireplace, and a table holding crystals, lit incense, moon cards and teacups.
It is extremely common for customers, peering behind the macramé curtain, to plonk themselves down for a chat and a tea with Kim and tell her their life story.
Yes, it's not your typical jewellery shop – and it's not your typical small-business origin story, either.
Life, rebirth and magic – it's the Wicken way.
Back in 2015, Kim was battling with creative burnout.
Having been the owner of two successful hairdressing salons, she was happily married with two gorgeous children, Mitchell and Preston, and she loved her customers.
But she had been suffering from endometriosis for years – a debilitating condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, causing extreme discomfort.
It had reached a stage where the pain was so chronic, Kim was forced to sell her business.
Then 43, and recovering from serious surgery to help her condition, Kim pondered that big question asked by women from all walks of life: what's next?
She and her husband Hugh decided to take a trip to Europe – their first getaway without the kids – and spend some time walking the streets of Paris.
It was perfect, a glorious adventure, just the two of them. And then the proverbial hit the fan.
On the journey home, two blood clots travelled up from Kim's leg, through her heart, and landed in her lungs.
"I had a near-death experience," she says. "I saw what was there. I thought I was awake. I thought it was something everyone could see. I went into this insane panic. I remember kicking and pushing and screaming, 'No, no, no.'"
But then she woke up, and both her husband and the person sitting on the other side of her hadn't noticed a thing. Once off the flight, Kim was taken straight to hospital.
"They inject you with something that thins your blood – and basically you survive or you don't," she says.
Her GP told her she'd been extremely lucky, considering the size of the event that had occurred.
But as with most health crises, surviving wasn't the final stop – it was the beginning of a different journey.
The combination of life-saving drugs took a toll on Kim's physical and mental health, and the threat of clots coming back was ever-present.
"It was panic for a long, long time." And then, one night, in came the magic. Unexpected, yet right on time.
"Four months into my recovery, I got up in the wee hours of the morning, and literally drew every piece in the collection. The bat pendant. The witches' hat. I drew them all – and my drawing skills are not great! I wrote down my meanings, my brand name, everything. Then I went back to bed. When I woke up properly the next day, I was like, 'What… has happened?'"
She laughs. "Look, I know this sounds completely bats**t, but I'm not actually crazy. I've always been a witch, from when I was young. In my family I was always called 'the little witch'. After the embolism and the fact that everything was to do with Wicca – it's almost like coming back to who you are."
At this stage, Kim had never worked in jewellery. But the idea for what would become Wicken wasn't going anywhere.
"I hid my sketches away but kept working on them from time to time," she says.
"I got more and more into the meanings behind my pieces. And I found that started to make me feel stronger."
As you might have guessed, all the pieces in Wicken are based on Wicca, which is a word that means many things to many people.
To some, it's a spiritual practice. To others, it's scary witchcraft.
But really, Wicca is simply a belief system that is part of the overarching pagan theme; where attention is directed to the passing of the seasons, the cycles of the moon. It's also becoming incredibly popular due to the ever-growing interest in New Age, Eastern practices such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
"It's about connecting to energy and empowering yourself – through nature, through that energy, through the goddess," Kim explains.
"The word 'witch'… can be misinterpreted. I'm finding more and more that 'goddess' or 'the good witch' is a massive movement. Tapping back into the universe and what that can provide for you spiritually.
"When you connect into Wicca, you just see things a bit differently. You get away from the pettiness of life. You get away from the whirlwind. Sometimes you just need to stop, meditate a little bit, turn into yourself and be true to yourself. That's one of the biggest things I like to bring through with the jewellery – being true to yourself. The freedom of going, 'This is me, this is who I am.' Wicken embraces you as a woman."
But of course, there was the matter of learning how to actually, you know, make jewellery – a completely new skill for Kim.
She eventually told her husband about the secret project she'd been working on and he encouraged her to go and learn the art. So she went to a jewellery-making workshop in Kingsland and began the process from scratch.
It was clear from the start that the pieces she was working on were somewhat different from what her fellow jewellery novices were creating.
"I remember cutting out the little bat necklace and they all thought I was mad," she laughs. But she's got the last laugh – in the years since, the bat necklace has become one of the biggest sellers.
All of the pieces are imbued with meanings that fit with Wicken's core values: empowerment, and turning stereotypically bad, "witchy" symbols on their heads.
That bat, for example, represents strength, happiness and self-care.
"Going back to the cave, going back to Mother Earth," Kim says.
"They rejuvenate, they rest, and when they're ready, they have the strength to fly back out.
"I found exploring those original meanings of what a witch is, and everything that's associated with it, to be the complete opposite of what we've been taught or told. The broom? It's to help clear out negative energy. Black cats? They're actually good luck."
The world of the witch, Kim says, "is a much safer place than what we have been told it is".
Once the collection shifted from being a fever dream to a reality, Kim knew she had to take it on the road.
It was early 2016, and she found a community she knew well, that would be welcoming to a bat-shaped necklace – the Greenhithe Healing Haven, a wellness market held on Auckland's North Shore.
"I started seeing the interest immediately," Kim says.
"People would walk by and then they'd backtrack. You'd see the little glint in their eye."
Sometimes, it would be a lot more than that as well. It became more and more common for those trying on Kim's pieces to have surprising reactions.
"When I'm in front of people, and they put a piece on, the emotion that comes out of that piece can be overwhelming for them," she says.
"I've had ladies in front of me start crying and they're like, 'What's happening?' When I first started having these things happen, I'd come home and tell my son or my husband and they would be like, 'Oh, that's nice.' And then they would come in and help me and see it for themselves because it happens over and over and over."
It's a reaction Kim herself had experienced during the process of creating the jewellery, particularly working with the crystals.
"I would breathe them in – I know this sounds crazy," she laughs. "But I swear it would work. I would imagine the colour of the crystal going into my lungs; imagine them coming in, down through my lungs and clearing and healing my body. I had actual medicine doing that for me too, but it helped to imagine the crystals doing it as well.
"I still fully believe in mainstream medicine – if I didn't have Clexane [a blood clot medication], I wouldn't be here. But I think the power of the mind and how it can control you in illness, as well as stress, is insanely powerful. You can either wind yourself up or find the tools to calm yourself down. If you're calmer, it's easier to heal because your body isn't in a constant state of panic or fear."
The reactions from the women at the markets made Kim realise she was on the right track, as did the growing worldwide trend towards the world of Wicca and spirituality.
"I remember sitting at Waiheke after I had finished designing my first collection, and thinking, 'I feel like there is a massive awakening coming.'"
She opened a pop-up shop in Ponsonby Central, right in the heart of the Auckland shopping scene.
Demand for her Wicken jewellery was growing, so in 2018 she set up a flagship store right across the road in the hip retail district. Turns out, before the previous occupants (a clothing company), it had been a health store for almost 30 years.
"I'd love to know who the original owners were, but I reckon it must have been some kind of healer, because the energy in this room is amazing."
Kim designed the first full collection, The White Witch, which was based around symbols for strength and transformation.
She found a high-profile fan early on in supermodel Rachel Hunter, who went on to model the second collection, The Green Witch, focused on reconnecting with nature and the life force.
"The minute we met, we didn't stop talking for four hours," Kim recalls. "There's no small talk, we get straight to the big stuff."
This has been a consistent theme with many of the people Kim's met through her Wicken journey. They're not just looking for jewellery, they're looking for a message, a sign, a spark. Conversations hit "witch level", as Kim calls it, very fast.
"The people that are drawn to the shop are often women on the same journey I was once on," she says.
"I do believe I've been kept alive to do this – to help guide others through what I've been through. Of all the women who come in, there aren't many situations where I don't have some understanding
of where they're at. I can just quite intuitively guide them to what's going to help them."
There's a reason why that soft and comfortably textured back room gets so much use, not only from women looking to share their story, but also those looking to start a new one.
As the witchy world gets less scary and more intriguing, there are lots of people out there looking to dip their toes into the metaphysical. Psychics, astrology, tarot readings… there's a whole world to get curious about.
Find a couple of crystals that speak to you, Kim advises, and start reading.
"A lot of women, once they start researching, will be like, 'Oh, that's me,'" Kim says.
"You don't want to get overwhelmed by it all – start with a little bit of research and then find out how much further you want to go. You'll instantly know if you want to get more into it, if you're ready."
Wicken has become well known in its homeland, recently taking part in New Zealand Fashion Week, and has growing overseas markets in Los Angeles and Melbourne.
"I did once sell a white witch ring to someone in Alaska, which was very cool. I like to imagine she was in a castle," Kim laughs.
In an unfortunate twist, Kim is unable to travel to these locations.
The very embolism that sparked her Wicken journey remains an unmovable object and she can no longer do long-haul travel.
Officially, she can start taking flights of under three hours in a year or two, though psychologically, she's not sure if the PTSD she suffers will allow her to.
But at the moment she's very content.
"I have to constantly pinch myself and realise what this is," says Kim, looking around at the new life she's built for herself.
"That always brings me back to why I'm doing it, and every day, another woman walks into this shop."

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