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?
For me a very practical piece of advice that I got which I like to pass along to others is, don’t quit your day job. It may not be what you were expecting to hear but honestly, starting a business is a lot all on it’s own. Don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by quitting your day job and not being able to pay your bills. You can do both and just know that that work load won’t last forever so just have fun with it. Set yourself goals of what you want to accomplish each month and break it down by week. After you’ve done that you can set aside blocks of time in your calendar like before or after your day job to get those plans into action. You could also meet up with a friend for ‘work dates’ to focus on your side hustle so you’re doing two things at once. Friends + work!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve ever learned? I would say for me, it’s not just one thing. It’s a few different things combined like you have to know that NO ONE has a magical business plan that will instantly make them successful. There are some ‘rules’ I guess but at the end of the day everybody’s way of starting and running a business is different. From there I would say that you have to be willing to learn new things and take advice from others but also make sure you’re in tune with your own perceptions. If something feels off, don’t do it. Don’t sign the dotted line of anything if you’re having doubts. Also, on a more practical subject invest time, energy and money into your marketing materials. Especially if you are going to be based online, you have to make sure your imagery and how you present yourself impinges on the person viewing your website (and social media platforms). They should be able to take a quick glance at your website or Instagram and instantly get a feel for the personality of the brand.
What is next for KDJ? We just re-did our website to improve our user experience online, which was a huge deal for us! (would love for you to check it out on www.katiedeanjewelry.com) And we’re also in the process of re-doing all of our product and lifestyle images. It’s a fairly big project so we’re aiming to have that all updated by January of 2019. Also, since I’m very involved in the social media side of the business, we’re going to have a Shop My Instagram page on the website where you can shop entire looks that I’ve posted. We are evolving to be not only a destination for jewelry accessories but also a destination for inspiration when it comes to overall style, beauty and travel. I’ll also be traveling a lot doing events for the line through the end of the year. I announce all of our in-person events on our Instagram as well as on our email newsletter so feel free to follow along and be a part of the KDJ family on either or both of those platforms!