Today in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Kacie Fleming of Youngsville, NC, who is the one-woman-show behind boutique jewelry brand Katya Valera. Kacie also runs a crazy-smart subscription jewelry box program called KV Wishbox. Welcome, Kacie – we’re thrilled to have you!
LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?
In 2011, I was browsing Etsy in search of jewelry for my bridesmaids, and I fell in love with all of these clay rose pieces I kept seeing. A few YouTube videos later, I decided I could totally make some myself, and within two weeks I’d ordered supplies, gotten to work, and had ten pieces up for sale in my brand new Etsy shop.
It was all done on such a whim, and I had no idea what I was getting into, or how much I would love something I’d never thought of doing before. But I really am glad I just went with it, because overthinking may have held me back for who knows how long.
My jewelry has become an invaluable outlet for me, as chronic illness keeps me from being able to work outside the home. I started my shop not too long after I became sick but before I’d fully realized the day-to-day repercussions of chronic illness, and my shop has been a lifesaver in many ways.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Since it started as such a whim, I don’t think I envisioned a whole lot initially. I think I was envisioning elegant yet very affordable jewelry largely composed of those tantalizing clay rose pieces. My jewelry vision has definitely changed a bit since then.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
At Katya Valera (pronounced KAH-tyuh Vuh-LAIR-uh) you’ll find jewelry with an elegant, vintage-bohemian quality in a wide range of styles. I also offer gift sets of original poetry prints with matching sterling silver necklaces in my 3D Eloquence Collection. As of this year, I’ll also be releasing themed seasonal collections, which adds a new creative element to my work that I absolutely love. But what I’m most excited about is the launch of KV Wishbox, my seasonal jewelry box that lets you get in on the upcoming collection weeks before it’s released!
LBC: Where can we find your products?
You can browse my newest and most popular pieces at KatyaValera.com, and all of my jewelry is for sale in my Etsy shop. KV Wishbox is available at KVWishbox.com and in my Etsy shop. The Spring Wishbox will be available until February 12, and the Summer KV Wishbox will be out in May.
LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.
For several reasons, my work day is definitely not the norm, and it varies based on which design phase I am in. For example, I just completed months of rather franticly-paced work gearing up for my first KV Wishbox and the Spring 2016 Collection. That phase included daily hours of planning and designing, to making the pieces and photographing them (dependent on the sun’s fickleness, for the latter), to wrangling with code to complete the KV Wishbox website. It was definitely my most intensive work period yet.
Now that the Wishbox is released and the Spring Collection is ready for its March 1 debut, my work days are a bit calmer, as I have a couple weeks’ break before it’s time to do it all over again for the Summer Collection.
In addition to all of that, my work “days” tend to take place at far different hours than most, as chronic health problems currently leave me with odd sleeping hours. My work times are often dictated by the whims of my body’s abilities each day/night, so most of my work is accomplished in the evening and night. The flexibility of being in charge of my own business is perfect for my health needs and varying symptoms.
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
1) If you can afford it. Of course every business undertaking involves some risk, but really think through how much each piece will cost you, how much you’ll have to charge for it, and if you’ll have the finances to keep it all going.
2) Your business name. As I mentioned, my shop began as a whim, so I started with a name that I had only thought about for a few days. A few months down the road, I realized that it needed to be changed, and I had to go through the trouble of rebranding, redesigning my shop, and getting new business cards, etc. The process was worth it, but it probably could have been avoided.
3) The legal side—licenses and taxes. This type of information oddly seems to be a secret in the world of small business, but it’s important. Find out if your state requires a business license (probably) and if you need to be collecting sales tax and paying that, along with regular income tax (also likely). Your state might have a small business association you can consult.
Tackling this confusing world is the price we have to pay for getting to be small business owners, and you have to do a lot of digging to get answers. But keep calling and asking questions until you know everything that’s required of you—the squeaky wheel really gets the grease.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Probably my husband. I tell him my problems, and just doing that helps. But I also bring myself back to focus by just doing my best, and then taking a break for a bit. I am glued to my computer probably 80% of the time, and am also a perfectionist with crazy-high standards for everything I do. So when I’m overwhelmed by tasks I need to accomplish, for example, I push through the ones that are most pressing, and then give myself a chance to relax. Then I can come back to my job with a clearer, calmer mind.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.
One would be changing my business name and branding. I know Katya Valera is a bit of a risk in the realm of pronunciation, but I find it’s worth it because it is unique and has so much more meaning than my original name did.
Another has been deciding to offer remakes of my pieces. In the past I’ve made lots of one-of-a-kind pieces, which is fine now and then, but I would run into the issue of multiple people wanting remakes – and it’s harder to build momentum when only one of each design is available. So designing pieces in collections with multiples available has been a great decision.
And I can’t say just yet if it’s been the best decision, but I know it’s definitely been the most exciting and fulfilling creatively: Planning and releasing my themed seasonal collections, and the KV Wishboxes that precede them.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
I made a mistake from the very start that seems like such a no-brainer now, yet is so common starting out: not taking my photos in natural light. Photos are possibly the most important aspect of selling online, and I can’t believe I thought taking them in my bedroom at night would work, but you live and learn. You simply can’t beat natural light.
Browsing other pictures on Etsy and reading online about how to improve my photography really helped, but my biggest improvement has just come from trial and error. I’ve taken thousands of pictures, dozens and dozens of each piece, just to ensure I get five awesome ones. My photographs are night and day compared to what they once were…literally.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
I am definitely passionate about chronic illness awareness, for obvious reasons, and spreading the hope of alternative treatment. Life with chronic illness is very isolating and lonely, because chronic illness – especially at a young age – is not the norm. People also simply cannot understand what they haven’t experienced.
I am just one voice, but I do what I can to share insights into life with chronic illness on my blog in hopes that others will gain a better understanding of the struggles that we deal with, and what they can do to help. I also share what I have learned about the world of alternative treatments and holistic healing, in hopes that those who are suffering will also find the hope that I have found in options I once didn’t even know existed.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
1) My camera, of course, since it’s how I showcase my pieces for the world to see.
2) PicMonkey. I guess I could make it without it, but life would be a whole lot harder!
3) Google. There are few problems or questions I haven’t been able to resolve with a couple of quick searches.
LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
I would hope that my seasonal collections and KV Wishbox are in full swing, and I would probably have my jewelry for sale in additional online outlets. I would also love to be having customer-hosted jewelry parties several times a year, as I have done in the past.
LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?
My first reaction is to go with plantains—plantain fried in olive oil and pink salt are out of this world. But the smarter option would probably be chicken, as it offers more variety. Plus, I’m all about meat. Will you smuggle me in some fries now and then?
LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…
Music is one of the few things that I love as much as jewelry, so I constantly have it going while I work. I definitely go in phases of the same artists for weeks at a time, and lately I’ve been addicted to The Civil Wars. I discovered them after the duo had already parted ways, but I continue to be no less heartbroken over it. They powered me through the past few months of gearing up for the Spring Collection and KV Wishbox, along with Joy Williams’s own music. In my book, she and The Civil Wars are not only the perfect background for a happy workplace but also inspire me in my own music. I also absolutely adore Emily West—it’s about time to be stuck on her music again for a few weeks.
LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but one of mine is Psalm 107:14-16: “He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.”
These verses really blew me away a couple of years ago, for both their powerful imagery and their even more so powerful meaning—I continue to deal with many obstacles, particularly with my health, that are overwhelming and upsetting. But these verses can apply to much more than that, and knowing that God can conquer anything, no matter how huge, is so comforting.
Thank you, Kacie, for sharing your talent with us! We absolutely love what you’re doing and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Katya Valera and KV Wishbox. We’re cheering you on…
Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!