Kara Whitten was fresh out of college when she made a bold decision to quit her job and follow her heart into crafting. A decade later, she's built a successful business doing what she loves.
Kailo Chic (Austin, Texas)
Type of Craft:
Handbags, accessories, DIY blogging
Years in Business: 10
I had gotten a chemical engineering degree and started working in my field when I suddenly realized I didn't want to spend my life in a lab. So I quit after a week. It took months to find another job, and I needed a hobby to fill my free time. I'd learned to sew by making costumes when I did high school theater, so I found a handbag pattern and some scrap fabric and made a few bags for fun.
I asked a store in Austin that sold Texas artists' products if they would carry my bags—and they sold out in a few weeks. People were actually willing to pay for the stuff I made. That was so cool! Though I got a job working for the state, I kept making bags and reinvesting the money.
I approached boutiques, did trade shows, mailed postcards and sent out press kits to build sales. I got a big break when a local company that made laptop bags carried by major office supply stores asked me to design a co-branded line.
Within two years, I was making enough to support myself, so once again I quit my day job. I had gotten married, and my business was growing so much that my husband quit his job to help me. We've worked on Kailo Chic full-time since 2007. Even our three-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter help now by putting price stickers on products whenever we do craft shows.
Bags are still our bread and butter, and I still hand sew a lot of smaller accessories, but I wanted a new creative outlet, so I started blogging about my passions—home décor, DIY crafting, party planning, cooking and baking. Blogging is incredibly time-consuming, but I enjoy it.
Everything I do is super-colorful and patterned, never neutral.
I get inspired by fabrics and patterns. I love fabric stores and sites, and even places like Target, because I can find interesting tablecloths to repurpose.
The key is having a well-stocked craft cabinet so you can create things without having to run to the store or wait for materials to be shipped. If I'm not sure what to make, I'll just look at my supplies and they'll spark ideas.
Also, start small if you're doing handmade stuff. Don't make anything too complicated or time-consuming. And don't get stuck in trends. I always try to make something unique and, of course, something I would buy myself.
When I started my business, I didn't even have a digital camera. I got film developed and scanned in the photos. Good photography is essential now. You can have the greatest craft out there, but if you can't photograph it well, people aren't going to notice it.