Meet Karolina Rostkowska, the Polish woman celebrating Maltese craftsmanship through Il-Lokal
You have probably heard of il-lokal – but you might not have heard of Karolina Rostkowska, the inspirational Polish woman who came to Malta for a holiday and ended up founding one of the country’s leading online platforms dedicated to local artists.
Fueled by the need for a radical change of environment, Karolina came to Malta with very different perspectives in mind than those she had ultimately ventured onto.
Lovin Malta sat down with Karolina to find out more about who she is as a person, how her journey brought her to the island of Malta in the first place, and how she ended up being the catalyst for the Malta’s local artists can easily showcase and sell. their works.
So how did you end up in Malta?
“I arrived in Malta in early summer 2017 with a suitcase full of flowing, summery dresses and a departure date in mind. At that time I was ending a decade-long relationship and felt a strong need for ‘a drastic change in environment to rewire my mind,’ she said.
“A friend of mine told me about the EU program which facilitates the exchange of skills between aspiring entrepreneurs and established business owners across Europe. So I came up with a business plan, applied and almost instantly connected with a German who ran a small business in the arts and design sector here in Malta,” she explained.
While Karolina’s training was only supposed to last six months, halfway through she already knew she wanted to stay here longer.
“I’m from Poland so the concept of almost permanent summer completely blew my mind.”
“Those first few months were one of the most fun and challenging times of my life. And just when I started looking for opportunities to expand it, my host shared that he was selling his business to a emerging local art studio and that there might be a full time job opportunity for me. Now what luck is that!
“That’s why I always joke that Malta chose me. And I’m very happy about that!”
How was il-lokal born?
“The idea for il-lokal, including the name, came to me quite early, certainly in the first year of my Maltese chapter.”
Karolina explained that having a creative background herself, as well as being a newcomer to the island of Malta, she was extremely curious about the local creative scene.
“At that time, fine art, photography and creative crafts within the film industry were quite prominent, but I struggled to learn what was going on in terms of graphic design and objects, of illustration, of pottery…”, she declared.
“It’s not that the people and the work weren’t there. I was close to the founders of Te fit-Tazza, I knew 2point3, Maltatype and a few other established names, but really to find out about someone who was doing something cool locally, you had to first connect with friendship with someone who knew someone who was doing something,” she said.
She emphasized that as an expat, it takes real effort and sweat to make a name for yourself.
“I felt a growing need to share this personal repertoire with other newcomers to Malta to help them see a different side of the islands. such an initiative,” she explained.
“In mid 2019 I was hired as Sales and Marketing Manager at Valletta Contemporary and as my office was quite close to the gallery entrance I had the chance to meet and bond friendship with many local artists and visitors.”
“During this time I realized the bubbling frustration within the community and a throbbing need for something new. I really appreciate meaningful motivation and this was the kick I needed.
Il-lokal was launched on Instagram with the idea of posting mini-portfolios of local creatives, organized in terms of quality of work, but inclusive in terms of discipline.
“I wanted to show that the creative game on the islands is strong, that there are Maltese artists, designers and makers with an original voice and that there are foreigners living here who find inspiration beyond the cross Maltese and the notion of the sea.”
Karolina had also worked as a costume designer since her university days, and she can well understand that creative pursuits can be financially difficult.
“So one of the pillars of il-lokal is helping artists get exposure and hopefully create full-time work that they’re good at. That sector doesn’t get a lot of support or recognition from the government and even with the locals, it has only recently been on the rise.
“I don’t understand buying a mass-produced candle from an international chain brand if, for almost the same price, you can buy a sustainably produced, hand-poured soy wax candle in Rabat . In fact, it makes a difference and it’s just a better product.
Karolina also said that this situation had a lot to do with accessibility issues, and that’s why il-lokal had to move to an online store and a physical location.
“Malta’s creative community needs to be heard, but as with all independent initiatives, this can only happen if we are together.”
Where is he-lokal now?
“As a boutique, we started online with just over 20 creatives on board. I enjoyed an impressive level of trust from people who believed in the concept and shared the enthusiasm to do something again as a collective.
“Now we are a group of over 70 people and even though our store in Valletta is rather small, everyone has a fair space to display their works and products!”
“Il-lokal is truly a bridge between these talented people and the people who find value and joy in supporting them. I witness this exchange of passion and energy every day and believe me, the local creative scene is booming!
In the same spirit, il-lokal and 2point3, a graphic design studio based in Valletta, organized a Nice Things Market this past Christmas season.
“We felt that the limited space of a retail store is not capable of providing an honest representation of what is currently happening in Malta in terms of creativity. The momentary hype that events of this magnitude can generate provides an opportunity to reach people who might not consider themselves buyers of creative works.
“Someone who comes home from such an event with a print, handmade jewelry or homemade jam, that’s what motivates me.”
il-lokal is always on the lookout for new local talent, and they have some really exciting things to come.
If you are interested in visiting il-lokal for yourself and familiarize yourself with some of the top artists in Malta, check out their website or visit the newly opened shop at Triq it-Teatru l-Antik, Valletta!
Image credit: Matt Thompson
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