Alina Barlow studied economics in St Petersburg before she moved to Sydney, finished her studies and became a chartered accountant. All the while, she dreamt of one day running her own business and tapping into her creative side. Which brings us to the next part of his story, the launch of her brand ALINKA Fine Jewellery...
“I used to design jewellery when I was younger, and as I got older my friends would ask for my help in designing their engagement rings and certain pieces of jewellery,” she recalls. She began ALINKA in 2015, and simply through word of mouth the business grew. And grew. In 2018, the brand became global and opened its first boutiques in Sydney’s Double Bay and Harvey Nichols in London.
“Prior to starting ALINKA I felt there weren’t many brands designing fine jewellery with an edge. You either had classic pieces that came with the craftsmanship, or trend driven costume jewellery which lacked the quality. I wanted to fill this gap. I wanted to create beautiful pieces which could be worn day in day out, and added a little edge to our everyday style, and I wanted these pieces to carry the same quality that I had come to expect of heritage brands,” says Alinka.
If you’re looking for inspiration on how to layer jewels, she can layer like no other. And the beauty is, it still looks understated and chic (head over to the site, and you’ll see the brand’s approach is “more is more”). Every ALINKA piece is made in 18ct white, yellow or rose gold and the brand only works with high quality ethically sourced diamonds.
Here, we meet the Sydney-based mother of two to talk about her business and motherhood journey…
Can you tell us a little about how ALINKA started?
I studied Economics in St Petersburg in Russia and moved to the University of Sydney to complete my studies. After graduating, I worked with PWC as a chartered accountant and loved the corporate world, but I always wanted to run my own business.
Despite being very quantitative, I always had a creative side. I used to design jewellery when I was younger, and as I got older my friends would ask for my help in designing their engagement rings and certain pieces of jewellery. I started ALINKA in 2015, and through word of mouth, the business grew. In 2018 we opened our first boutiques in Double Bay, Sydney, and Harvey Nichols in London.
Have you always had a connection to jewellery and diamonds?
YES! I mean when I was younger it wasn’t diamonds, but rather coloured wire, which I borrowed from my father, who is a scientist. It was a much cheaper habit, but I was no less obsessed about the creative side. I’d make these crazy friendships rings and bracelets for my best friends which we would swap between us. I always had a fascination with jewellery. I love the sentimentality and story behind each piece – the memories they carry and the emotions they evoke. That’s why we buy them, because they forever capture a particular moment in time. I often say that we are in the business of selling emotions.
Diamonds are timeless and classic – they are the most desired gemstone. They are also my achilles heel! Each piece has its own unique character and mystery. It always made me sad when friends talked about these incredible pieces they have, which sit in a safe. I think jewellery is an extension of our personality, it is as important as wearing fabulous lingerie under a striking dress, or adding a beautiful pair of heels to a suit – it makes us walk taller, feel more confident, and add an extra dose of fabulousness.
Prior to starting ALINKA, I felt there weren’t many brands designing fine jewellery with an edge. You either had classic pieces that came with the craftsmanship, or trend driven costume jewellery which lacked the quality. I wanted to fill this gap. I wanted to create beautiful pieces which could be worn day in day out, and added a little edge to our everyday style, and I wanted these pieces to carry the same quality that I had come to expect of heritage brands. Every ALINKA piece is made in 18ct white, yellow, or rose gold. We only work with high quality ethically sourced diamonds. We make each style in black or white diamonds, and earrings are sold individually, allowing for endless versatility. I want women to be able to tap into their inner rebel one ear cuff at a time!
Your aesthetic is very monochrome, down to your nails, tell us how this came about?
Well, I’m Russian, so we often look at things in a black and white manner! Though as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised life has a lot of grey! I always appreciated the directness and simplicity of a monochromatic palette. White diamonds have a beauty and lightness to them, but I think black diamonds carry their own mystery, point of difference and appeal. Few brands work with black diamonds, however, I think they are perfect for those seeking a bolder, more daring look.
What inspires you?
Travel, adventure, the unknown – learning new things, opening my mind to new insights, and trying to be the best version of myself for myself, as well as my family and friends. I believe that happiness is a choice and I try to live by this every single day.
Your designs are fun yet glam, would you say that is true and respective of your personal style?
I hope so! I think it is really important to find joy in the every day and have fun in life. I have a lot of fun with clothes and fashion and I don’t take it too seriously. For me, fashion and jewellery are an expression of my mood and an extension of my personality. ALINKA is designed to be mixed and matched, and worn all day, every day, am to pm, whether you’re en route to your morning pilates session to a black-tie gala.
What are your favourite ways to wear your pieces?
The Dasha ear cuff is one of the first pieces I designed. You don’t need a piercing to wear it. I stack the large and medium version and also wear one on the top of my ear which goes down the helix. I also love the Irina diamond double row ear cuff. We have a lot of customers who don’t have piercings so these are great for adding an edge. The clasp adds another degree of security and we have worked on the design for years to make it super comfortable.
What jewellery trends are you loving right now?
I love asymmetric styling and we were one of the first jewellery brands to start focusing on this. From day one we sold earrings individually because I always loved mixing and matching pieces – and that has become one of the pillars of ALINKA. I also love stacking my jewellery and wear a number of pieces at the same time. Our Mala necklace was designed to sit alongside the ID necklace. Add the 8ct Riviera necklace for a truly decadent look.
You have two kids, how do you balance both motherhood and career?
Being passionate about both helps! I love my kids so much – I love being their mother, I love spending time with them. But I also love having a career and running a business. Life is a constant juggle and running a business is full-on – compromises have to be made all the time and there are only so many hours in the day.
Describe a typical morning in your household?
Surprisingly calm and relaxed… of course that is not always the case! We have two dogs and two kids – a teenage son and a pre-teen daughter. The kids are now at a stage where they are pretty independent and we are lucky that both are organised and have an easy-going Aussie attitude… most days.
As a household, we rise early. I’ll put the TV on, and make coffee for my husband and I. The kids usually let the dogs into the garden, and while they have breakfast, I’ll make their lunch. Most days I do the school drop off, and we try to be out of the door early. As a family we love our little rituals. We stop by the local coffee shop for a takeaway hot chocolate and coffee (and sometimes a cheeky muffin!).
After school drop off I try to make time to exercise. Fitness is a big part of my wellbeing and I like alternating between ashtanga yoga and spin. This year I have started ocean swimming, and now a couple of times a week I head to Bondi with my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles. I’m usually at work by 10am with an extra hot piccolo.
What has been the most difficult part of motherhood so far for you?
I think learning to let go. As a parent you want to protect them from everything, however, I found that once you let go, you empower your children to become responsible, organised, and independent. I strongly believe those skills are essential for life.
What’s the best part of motherhood so far?
Being able to see the world through my children’s perspective, and learning from them every day.
How do you handle the more stressful parts of motherhood?
Yoga, diamonds and reading.
What kind of mum are you – relaxed, strict, routine?
All of the above depending on the day and how much coffee I’ve had! I try to be relaxed – I think it is important to let kids develop at their own pace and find their own paths, in saying that… of course I have my days…
Do you have any tried and tested mum-hacks that make getting out the door each day a little easier?
Ask for help when needed and if possible! Understand that you can’t be everything to everyone all the time! Prepared food is a godsend and a time stealer. Life360 (the app!) all the way.
How do you make time for your marriage outside of work and kids?
I find that the simple things ring the truest. Valuing the other person’s opinion, involving them in the decision-making process, and just being considerate and respectful. Don’t get me wrong, getting dressed up for a date night, and going dancing helps, but maintaining and nurturing a connection is a work in progress that extends beyond date night.
It is important to find things you enjoy doing together and make time for it. For my husband and I, it is exercising, usually running, which gives us an opportunity to have fun, connect and talk about things other than the kids. Also, wake him up with a good coffee and a kiss – it works every time!
Let’s talk style – what sort of brands do you love to wear and where do you often shop?
I love the beauty and craftsmanship of heritage brands like Chanel, Dior and Saint Laurent – I mean don’t we all! For me, their clothes are works of art. I definitely believe in investing in pieces that will stand the test of time and are multi-functional. I am a very considered purchaser – I don’t buy a lot, but when I do, the items have to speak to me.
Dresses form the large majority of my wardrobe – and I seek out David Koma, Attico and Rasario. I love the tailored aesthetic, and have a bit of a soft spot for body con! I love supporting my friends – Rebecca Vallance does the best party dresses! My go-to activewear is Alo Yoga and Lucas Hugh London and a good pair of Nikes.
I do most of my shopping online and I love the ease of FarFetch, Net A Porter and MatchesFashion. I definitely dress for myself, and I think women become more confident and more unapologetic with age.
What about kids’ clothes?
Covid has done wonders for tracksuits and loungewear! My kids are very active so they are usually in their school gym kits and trainers. FeistyLittleMouse in Sydney’s Rose Bay is great for children’s clothes and gifts, and I tend to buy a lot from Munster Kids and Scotch and Soda, which is also stocked there. I find kids’ clothes need to be practical, cool, and comfortable – before you know it they’ve grown out of it!
Describe a failsafe outfit you always have on standby when you don’t have much time in the morning...
A classic Chanel jacket covers up a multitude of sins, including when you’re running short of time. They smarten up the most casual of outfits. I find dresses make life easier (particularly when travelling). I have a couple of Azzedine Alaïa ones that are more than a decade old and don’t seem to age. Their heavy fabrication means you just hang them up and don’t need to iron them. I also love my Stoulz leather leggings (which are machine washable!). I pair them with a white tee and a jumper and I’m ready to go!
What’s your definition of self-care and how do you make time for it?
Taking time out for myself, with myself, by myself. My morning yoga, meditation, spin class or an open ocean swimming sessions are this. My own health and mental wellbeing is a priority to me as I believe can’t give what I don’t have.
What’s something you wish you had more time for outside work and motherhood?
1. Meditation. I started meditating a few years ago and have found it incredibly beneficial. We are surrounded by so much noise, it is nice to try and reprogram the brain and tap into my creative side more often.
2. Studying for an MBA or a post-graduate course at the London School of Economics or Harvard is high on my wish list. I loved university and I was always a very diligent student so the idea of going back really appeals to me.
They say the first year of motherhood is the hardest – how would you describe motherhood now that the early years are behind you?
Well, I think I probably look at it through rose tinted glasses because so much time has passed! I remember the good times more than the difficult ones, and the early years are very much a blur. Kids change so quickly – I always tried to remind myself that everything is a phase – even the challenging times, they too will pass. I think over time we become more confident and adapt to handling what is thrown at us. I am not sure that we worry any less – different issues bring a different set of problems with them.
I would say now that my children are older, interacting with them and raising them requires more thought and presence. I make a conscious effort to be present, to provide an environment where they feel they have a voice and can speak up and be heard. I want them to feel comfortable in raising concerns or questions they might have – whatever the issue, and nurture and support them in finding their own path. I want to empower them in learning and living their life and encourage them to pursue their passion.
Alina’s Little List of Loves:
ALINKA Rose Gold Riviera Necklace
ALINKA Summer Playlist
Nike Pegasus trainers
Jet Surf board or E-foil
Haigh’s dark chocolate
ALINKA Black Caviar Ring
Sunsets over the harbour city – I still get blown away by its beauty!
Hermitage walk from Rose Bay to Vaucluse via Shark Bay