Katie Dean and I met a few years ago at Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco. Her smile was so warm, her booth was swarming with ladies, and you could tell she had a real knack for connecting with her community. Her jewels are dainty and perfect for everyday wear. I have a few of them myself, and can't seem to take them off. Every time I see Katie I am blown away by her authenticity and kindness (also her cute outfits). I asked her a few questions about her success and her business practice.
What were you doing before, and how did you first get into jewelry? Before I started my line I was working as a styling assistant and dressing celebrities and people in the spotlight for their red carpet events, magazine editorials, etc. It was a really fun but also intense job. I met so many amazing people but the truth about styling is that 5% of the job is creative and the other 95% of the time is shlepping the clothes around, emails and errands. At the end of the day it wasn’t my passion and I wanted to get back to my roots of making something with my own hands. After a while, when I wasn’t feeling creatively fulfilled, I started to do art projects at night when I would get home from my styling job. It awakened me because I was re-energized by creating. Making jewelry was one of the art projects I started. :)
When did Katie Dean Jewelry become your full-time business? I worked for almost three years doing both my styling job and running KDJ. I had a lot of success from the beginning because people in the spotlight were wearing it so there was media attention on the jewels fairly fast. But even so, it takes time to create a loyal customer base and get orders on the regular. After I had a steady stream of orders coming in and I felt that the company was sustainable, I started doing it full time.
What do you love about Oakland? I love the authenticity of it. I moved here from LA and I honestly still love it there because I’ve been there since I was 18 years old but I do feel that Oakland has a realness to it that is harder to find (sometimes) in LA. I have a whole running list of places that I have discovered in Oakland (mainly coffee shops!) like The Cro Cafe, Highwire Coffee, Flowerland, etc. Also, there’s a lot of support within the creative community here which is really refreshing.
Why do you live partially in LA? I partially live in LA because my entire line is made there. I’m a really big believer in keeping my pieces made in California. I may eventually move my production to Oakland but we’ll see!
Who are your customers and how do you relate to them? My customers are women between the ages of 25 - 35. They are for the girl who cares for quality jewelry and loves a dainty, minimal vibe.
When did you first start hiring help? I actually independently contract people per the type of work I need help with. I started doing this about a year and a half ago when I was traveling almost every weekend and I just couldn’t keep up with the demand. I needed to sleep at night. ;) How do you stay hands-on in your company without over-exhausting yourself? That’s a tough one! It gets easier all the time to balance things out but man, when it’s a business that you’ve started by yourself from the ground up I think it’s hard for people to let go. That’s definitely been the case with me. Jon, my husband, helps a lot with this! He’s always planning fun things for us to do and it makes me get up from my desk and take a break. I think making lists helps a lot and prioritizing them. Keeping things in perspective is also a huge part of staying balanced with work / life. I always remind myself that I’m really fortunate and it’s not a life or death situation if I don’t answer an email right away.
What is your favorite way to stay grounded? Oh man! I don’t know if I have just one answer for this! On a day to day basis, working out helps me a lot. Keeps my head clear and gives me a break from technology which is nice! Equally though, going on date nights, making plans with friends, spending as much time with family and traveling — those all are key to helping me stay grounded.
What is the biggest thing you’ve ever manifested? Hmmm.. I’d say, about the time when I was on the edge of going full time, I needed to make a very big wholesale order come through so that I could buy a bunch of new supplies and also start paying myself. I didn’t know how I was going to do it or where it was going to come from but I just decided that I had to create that. I booked a flight to NY and started to email people that I had met at various events or knew through another person. From that I made a few meetings and when I left NY I had a deal with a company to make a few thousand pieces for them. It was pretty magical.
What is one piece of advice you can give us at GGC about following your dreams and still paying the bills?