Nestled within the rolling valleys of Stroud is the light and airy Studio of Fashion Designer, Katey Jane Smith, where she creates unique collections inspired by her travels.
Having spent time living and working in Laos, Southeast Asia, her pieces are handmade from natural silk and cotton fabrics and printed with the traditional dying and printing techniques of the Laotian H’Mong people.
I was immediately struck by the unique colours and designs of her fabrics which were inspired by the monsoon season – giving them a misty and soft, yet rich colour palette. The lightweight fabrics are perfect for rolling up and popping into a suitcase and Katey says she designs her collections specifically with stylish travel in mind.
I wanted to get to know the lady behind KJS Studio a little better, to discover more about her inspirations and what it’s like to put yourself out there in the competitive world of Fashion, as a female entrepreneur….
- What first inspired your interest in fashion?
“It’s been there as long as I can remember. I’ve always been fascinated with how people express themselves through their clothing, the stories behind the choices they have made and how they are representing themselves, whether as part of a sub-culture or a tribe. I’ve studied other cultures and am also very interested in history. Fashion weaves a wonderful narrative through the ages and throughout the world in a symbolic and beautiful way.
There is so much more to how we present ourselves to the world than people may first presume and I find this wonderfully fascinating.”
- Your brand is unique in that your designs are highly influenced by your travels – did you have a clear vision of what you wanted your brand image to be from the outset?
“I’ve always found beauty in our natural surroundings and have been obsessed with sunsets for as long as I can remember, therefore the colours and ‘feeling’ have slowly and subconsciously seeped into my creativity.
The image of the brand developed quite organically, I think when you love what you do and it is you, heart on sleeve, paintbrush on paper it comes together quite naturally.
The choice to marry my wanderlust with my love of painting and making was never intentional. From my first big adventure to India when I was 18 I have just found there is no limit to inspiration out there. Make no mistake, the British Isles are spectacularly beautiful and I feel very blessed to live here but the warmth and the haze of a tropical sunset is something I want to encapsulate and continue to behold forever!”
“…Going alone is in no way
a mean feat, but so rewarding…”
- The fashion industry is notoriously difficult to get into and very competitive, what was it that gave you the confidence to strive out on your own as an independent designer?
“It is, it really is and I often wonder what an earth I’m doing! Who do I think I am?
I think in retrospect it was just a matter of time until I would go it alone. I have worked in the past on many different projects, freelanced and worked for some amazing brands but have always wanted more control on the situation.
I would probably say that I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. I could never really be satisfied if I couldn’t put my vision fully into practice. It comes with some HUGE sacrifices though and has so many ups and downs.
Luckily I was and continue to be surrounded by an insanely talented, go-getting group of women who are running their own independent businesses. I witnessed through them that going it alone is in no way a mean feat, but so rewarding – so I just went for it and quit my wonderful job as a Designer – most ridiculous, but fantastic decision I’ve ever made!”
- What have been the biggest obstacles to your success to date?
“I have learnt that you really do have to put your business first on so many occasions and if you don’t absolutely love to the core what you are doing it will never work. Apologising to my loved ones on a regular basis for never seeing them and having zilcho money is rubbish, but you have to see the light at the end!
At this stage in the business it is imperative that I invest all the time and finances into it that I can. There have been so many obstacles it’s impossible to count – I thought that I had it all set out when I went it alone, but oh no – nothing ever goes quite to plan!
I’d say the biggest obstacle is fighting the balance between my creative side which is overflowing and my business head which is fairly non-existent. I do wonder sometimes, if we were all free just to create without the worry of having to make it pay the bills – oh the world would be such a beautiful place!”
“…I feel very blessed to do what I do
and I don’t take it for granted in the slightest…”
- As a female entrepreneur working on your own, do you ever have to wrestle with doubts about the direction you are taking?
“Yes, I have to admit I do have the odd 4am ‘what the hell are you doing!!!’ wake up from time to time, fewer as time goes on.
I often wish I was in a partnership or a team as it is hard only having yourself to soundboard with and answer to. Every decision is on me and I have had to learn how to fulfil so many roles in one that I didn’t quite anticipate. I’m too much of a control freak to have it any other way though.
I know where I want KJS Studio to go and I have to keep that vision in mind constantly, there is a lot of temptation to make sacrifices on the integrity of the brand for faster growth or profits but I’m not willing to do that.”
- And finally, what do you hope the future holds for you and your designs?
“I hope to be able to continue to travel the world and be inspired by the people I meet and the places I see. I would love to expand the collections and would really like to collaborate as a print Designer with other brands – it would be really fun and exciting to do something away from fashion too, something unexpected.
I feel very blessed to do what I do and I don’t take it for granted in the slightest, so I’ll just keep on riding this wave and see where it takes me.”
It was lovely to find out more about Katey’s inspirations and the challenges of being an independent Designer and female entrepreneur.
Looking through her collections, it’s clear how versatile her designs are, items that are not only perfect for travel, but will also mix and match with your wardrobe at home for festivals or events and layer up with other pieces in the cooler months.
Photo Credits: Zoe Lower. Studio Photo, William Glossop.
Whilst writing this post it struck me once again, how fortunate we are to have such a wealth of creative people in The Cotswolds – Authors, Artists, Chefs and Actors as well as the many ambitious Entrepreneurs who base themselves here.
If you know of a rising star who you think we should know about, please do get in touch as we always love to hear from you!