INTERVIEW: KATIE DEAN
For our readers who don’t know, give us a little rundown of what you do.
Hi everybody! I’m the owner and designer behind my line, Katie Dean Jewelry! It’s a very dainty, delicate jewelry line that focuses on the minimal aesthetic with attention to detail. So you’ll see a bit of a boho vibe in some of the pieces and then more of a geometric feel in others just depending on the details that make up that vibe. Designing is only one aspect of what I do in the company. I also handle signing up for new markets and events, planning Pop-Up shops, collabs with other artists and companies, tracking inventory, selling at our events and so much more!
Before running KDJ (Katie Dean Jewelry), you were involved in other art forms. What were you interested in and when did you start?
Ever since I was little I’ve always been very involved in art. It really affected me, whether it was abstract paintings, photographs or sculptures. It drew me in and I was always in awe of how a beautiful piece could change my mood or my viewpoint on the way I saw the world. I wanted do it all – ceramics, painting, arts & crafts, you name it! When I was in high school I spent most of my days in the art room, I had approval to do an independent study on ceramics so I spent every day of my senior year making new creations. It was wonderful. In college my focus was ceramics and sculpture but I took classes on interior design, painting and illustration.
When thinking of cities to pursue your artists endeavours, what attracted you to Los Angeles?
I’m from Michigan so the weather was a big factor, haha! I loved that I could be outside year round and that there are endless beaches to visit and places to see in California. But again, a lot of it had to do with the creative energy in LA. It is a very big city and a lot to take in but there are also so many brilliant people out here and I found that inspiring and challenging.
The transition wasn’t exactly easy for you. You shared that there were a lot of tears and doubt in the beginning. What was something that kept you inspired to keep going, even in these rough moments?
Oh man. It was ROUGH in the beginning. Honestly for the first two years I was on the fence about moving back to Michigan. I missed my family and friends and the calming environment and familiarity of the MidWest. What kept me in L.A. was my integrity. I kept looking into the future and imagining myself in Michigan going to a job everyday that wasn’t what I really wanted to do and I couldn’t do that. I owed it to myself to give it everything that I had and go through the journey (in good times and in bad). I knew deep down that it would lead me to doing something I really enjoyed and fulfill my artistic goals so I just kept saying yes to the things that lead me in the direction that I wanted to go.
You mentioned how the biggest concern with moving to L.A. was, “How am I going to make money as an artist?” For all of the other artists asking themselves the same thing: what first action steps do you recommend they make?
I highly recommend that you start by getting a job whether it’s part time or full time that lies within the same field of interest that you want to be in. Even if it’s only remotely related to your dream endeavor, I still think it’s important to secure something when you’re still figuring out how to make money in your craft. I personally feel that it’s hard to be creative when you’re constantly worried about how to pay rent. And just because you agree to do a job doesn’t mean you are stuck there forever, learn the from your mistakes while still earning a paycheck! The reasons for having a part time gig while you’re still getting your dream going is numerous but just to name a few…
You meet new people and make new friends which will immensely help you down the line! When you help someone or become friends with them they want to help you when you start doing your own thing. What goes around, comes around!
Having something going on the side can act as motivation to use your personal time to get busy and work on your craft with more determinism. Have you ever heard of the saying, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person? My case in point.
Let’s be real. Unless you have a trust fund or you have saved up enough money your life to bank roll you, you need to make money to keep yourself afloat when you’re starting your own business, so just do it and have fun! Everything you do, take it as a learning experience. I use skills and lessons from my past jobs all the time.
In the beginning, you worked some jobs that weren’t exactly in line with the vision you had for yourself. Regardless, you thought it was still important to find whatever valuable lessons you could from these situations. Why did you think this was important?
This is SO important! I can’t stress it enough. Don’t waste your life away asking for more ‘days off’ or ‘how can I do as little work as possible’. It’s so much more fun waking up with the viewpoint of ‘how much can I get done today’! So even if you aren’t doing a job that you love, find the things that you do love and do them really well and the things that you’re not so good at, make it a challenge to do them better. When you own your own business, especially in the beginning you have to do everything yourself so it’s only in your favor to take all the skills and lessons you learned in the past and apply that knowledge to your own thing!
How did you find yourself in the fashion industry?
I’ve always loved fashion. I’ve gone through maaaany different phases of personal style… haha! I wasn’t afraid to put my own twist on my outfits and people noticed. I’m also a very hard worker so every job I’ve ever done I did it well and in the fashion industry you have to be willing to work 24/7 with no breaks, not have a personal life, look glamourous when you’re not feeling so hot, etc, etc. It’s not for the weak of heart. With all that going for me, I got asked about being an assistant to a celebrity stylist and I was like, why not?! I had been wanting to transition into a job that was within the arts so the timing was perfect.
While working as a stylist, you started making jewelry in your spare time. When did you realize that your hobby could potentially turn into something more?
Yes! I began making jewelry late at night as a creative outlet (in my little closet underneath the stairs in my apartment which we nicknamed the ‘Harry Potter’ closet). I started wearing it out and people were asking where I bought it and where they could get some. They ended up buying it directly off me and that was my first moment when I knew this was potentially something I could create more on and do for a living. I’m very much a do-er so at that point I went all in and started sketching out an entire collection, planning photoshoots, getting a website together — all with no business experience at all. So if I can do it, you can do it.
What were your biggest insecurities in the beginning? How did you overcome them?
After I designed a full collection and really started to put it out there I was a little self conscious of what people’s reaction would be. Would they love it? Would they hate it? Also, doing in person sales was terrifying to me!! I love talking to people but what if they didn’t buy anything? Did that mean I was destined for failure? I had so many thoughts and insecurities going through my head but I overcame that (and continue to do so) by telling myself that I’m doing what I love and to always have fun with it. That’s a really key thing when doing sales, have fun! People are more attracted to you and your brand when you’re genuinely having a good time. So that’s been my motto. Have fun, get out there, learn from everything. What worked? What didn’t? Also, just knowing it’s not the end of the world if you have a bad sale, it happens to all brands and lines. You have great days and not so great days. It’s important to persevere and realize that not all people like the same things – that’s why there is room for so many designers and brands. There are millions and billions of people in this world so there are plenty of people that will love your brand and pieces!
What was your first ah-ha moment, when you knew all your hard work was coming together as a reality?
I had an ah-ha moment early on when I got a wholesale order for 3,000 pieces. That blew me out of the water but I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket and drop everything else that I was doing. I worked really hard to make that wholesale order happen while continuing to work my current job because I didn’t know if that’s how business was going to continue. It was all still very new but it did validate me that my dream was becoming a reality.
When discussing the journey of running your own business, you said something that I love. You said: “You find out what you’re made of.” Can you tell us about a time you surprised yourself in finding out what you were made of?
Haha, I’m glad you liked that! Last year in the end of August I had just gone through signing up for all my holiday markets, had a new collection coming out and I was stocking up on inventory for the upcoming holiday season. Needless to say I was really investing in the company both monetarily and mentally. I was taking a big chance at investing that much all at once but I knew that it was the right thing. I had help but I was still doing a lot myself and for about 3 months I got very little sleep and had a constant to-do list that was running through my mind. I then went on to travel for 3 months for all the markets and events and there was not much time to turn off or relax. I was challenged daily not to doubt the decisions I was making. I had to stick to my daily to-do lists and properly plan things out to get everything done in time. When I look back at that time now, I think, if I can do that, I can do anything. When times get hard you either sink or swim and now I know I’ll keep swimming…even if the waters are a bit choppy!
You emphasize how a healthy work-life balance is important to you and your company culture. What advice do you have for other leaders looking to implement the same mentality?
I’m constantly striving to achieve that perfect balance of work-life! It’s harder than you expect because when you own your own business everything you do personally seems to affect your business. Sometimes there are weeks that are flat out work, work, work and that’s totally fine but after you make your goal or finish that project it’s important to look up, see the sky, go for a hike, go swimming in the ocean…do the things that bring you joy and then high tail it back to work! Also, I think ‘balance’ is a personal thing. Maybe it’s taking time to work out every morning or go for a walk at night or write letters to your friends and family. Whatever it is for you that refreshes you and revitalizes your creative energy, make sure to keep that in your life too. It helps me to always have a notepad or keep notes on my iPhone for work purposes so if I have an idea or remember something I need to do for work I can write it down and I’ll get to it when I get back to work the next morning.
Working for yourself, how do you stay disciplined when it comes to maintaining your workload?
I prioritize all the time! I have a daily list of things I have to get done and typically I won’t go to sleep until they’re checked off. There are always things popping up that need to be handled right away so the daily list changes but having a daily list is vital for keeping me on task. Also, doing one thing at a time, starting and finishing it in one go, is something I’m trying to get better at too. It can be hard to focus your energy on one thing only but as much as I can, I try to do that. Do one thing, then go on to the next, and so on.
What KDJ moment are you most proud of so far?
Wow this is a tough one!! Hmmm… There have been many moments but I’d say one that stands out was when I got an email from Forever21 saying that they wanted to chat about carrying the line in their Branded Section online. I was blown away. When they actually placed an order and we delivered the product to them and I saw it go live on their site I was really proud!
L.A. LADY CULTURE.
Favorite area of L.A.? Brentwood!! — beautiful tree lined streets, gorgeous cafes, great shopping and yummy food.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? Canele in Atwater Village
Menu item we must order there? Boeuf Bourguignon, absolutely delicious!
Favorite happy hour? Bar Covell
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Ghetty Museum, bike riding, outdoor movies (Cinespia and Street Food Cinema), Brentwood Farmers Market, Melrose Place Farmers Market, Brunch Cafe Stella… Hikes in Griffit Park and then coffee at Trails… Hit up Malibu Beach with a book and then din at Cafe Habana followed by a movie!
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? I’m such a mix when it comes to music! Adele, Jeremih, Sia, Kiiara, Nat King Cole to name a few faves.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Go to the Broad museum!! Specifically to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Facials at Kate Somerville on Melrose Place – so relaxing and beautiful.