Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathy Kelehan.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Kathy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m someone who’s always been on the hunt for unique jewelry – in fact, when I was living in NYC, I would even commission pieces from local metalsmiths, but it had never occurred to me to learn the craft for myself. Enter a move to Los Angeles and a co-worker urging me to take a beginner’s course at OTIS, and from the day I took the first class, I was hooked! What began 10 years ago as a welcome respite from the stresses of my career as a design/VFX producer became an essential outlet to express my creativity – not to mention a much-needed activity away from the computer! I lived for those weekends in my garage studio, hammering, soldering or wax carving, while Anne Litt’s show played in the background.
Ever since then, it’s been a gradual progression of developing my skills, expanding my knowledge of the materials and sourcing, improving on my design process and – the scariest part – slowly putting my work out into the world. But once I did that, it became more difficult to ignore the inner forces propelling me forward, and I felt compelled to take the next step. And so, a year and a half ago, I made the leap. While it meant leaving behind a design studio, I’d co-founded 5 years prior and relied on freelance work to keep me going, it created the space I’d been longing for to get my jewelry line off the ground. Since then, I’ve been working to expand my wholesale clientele, attending trade shows in New York and doing trunk shows and select craft shows to get the word out about the brand.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s so simple at the outset when you just want to make jewelry — but there are myriad demands to creating an actual business, and it can get overwhelming deciding where to put my focus. The design process requires real chunks of time where I can experiment with various materials. Then there is assembly and QC of all the pieces, photography, marketing + social media, and website management. Graphic design becomes a significant part of the job too because there is so much marketing involved: creating line sheets, promos, email blasts, and it all needs to have a cohesive look. On top of that, there is the design of the physical display in order to present the line at trade shows as well as one-on-one. And in my spare time, I catch up on the accounting, which is so crucial to making sure the business is on track (despite any grumblings you’d hear from me when I’m doing it). When I look back on the past year and a half, I can see how much progress I’ve made, and I feel proud: this is something I built, and it is my vision, which is truly satisfying.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about K KELEHAN JEWELRY – what should we know?
My jewelry line is called K KELEHAN. I make nature inspired jewelry that combines a strong, minimalist aesthetic with unique details and patterns found in nature. It is crafted in sterling silver, gold vermeil, bronze, and leather with precious gemstone accents.
All of my pieces are handmade in Los Angeles and many incorporate natural forms and textures (from succulents, shells, bones, etc.) that I’ve captured via burnout casting or by making molds. I design everything and create the prototypes in wax, metal or leather. I work with specialized artisans in downtown LA for metal casting, finishing, and leather work. There is a long-standing jewelry industry here that I want to help sustain, so I think it’s important to continue to produce my line in the USA, even if I have to charge a bit more.
I put my name into my brand because the line is 100% my vision and reflects my core values. I believe that there can be both beauty and empowerment in adornment and that you can share your values through what you wear on your body every day.
I use sustainable and/or recycled materials where possible because I believe that we have a responsibility not to squander our natural resources, but to preserve them for the future and to share them with the wild creatures who are as entitled to them as we are. I work to support ethical, fair trade practices, use conflict-free diamonds, and endeavor to source my colored gemstones directly from the mine owners.
I believe that the animals of this planet are just as important as we are, and am deeply disturbed by how many species are now in danger of disappearing forever. Through strategic partnerships and creation of custom pieces, I want my jewelry to fund my philanthropic passions for wildlife conservation, animal welfare, and the environment.
The first two examples of this are the Leopard Ring and the Puppy Fang Studs. The Leopard ring was inspired by Raven, a stunning and sweet black leopard CARE, a big cat rescue facility in Texas (@carerescuetexas). I make them in silver and now bronze, and the eyes are made of Tsavorite garnets which I buy directly from the mine in Kenya where they were discovered. For every one of those rings that sell, a donation goes to CARE.
The Puppy Fang studs are cast in silver from my dog JJ’s puppy teeth. In honor of JJ’s origin story (he was found as a 3-month-old stray in the Bronx), I donate 10% of those profits to the Humane Society of the US.
There are so many organizations whose work I want to support, so as I grow the line, I plan to expand on those offerings. I think that this jewelry can be a beautiful way to both celebrate and give back to those groups who are on the ground, working to make a difference.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Persistence, and sometimes, blinders. It’s too easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing. A good friend of mine gave me a simple piece of advice that I revisit often:
There are always people with talents all around us. Keep looking forward. This is YOUR path.
If I can support myself, and have a positive impact with my work while being able to balance that with travel and quality time with my friends, family, and pup — that will be a success.
- – Rings start at $60
- – Earrings start at $80/pair
- – Necklaces start at $100
- – Bracelets start at $150
- Website: kkelehan.com
- Email: email@example.com
Jamey Kitchens, Kathy Kelehan, Jon Putek, Erin Tanaka