Carousel, Designers, Exclusives, Rising Stars — November 16, 2011 at 8:45 am


Katie Bartels

Katie Bartels



“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” -Henry Ford

 I recently sat down for an interview with Katherine Bartels in which we discussed her passion for designing Gemstone jewelry, to her journey that has got her to where she is now.  I can truly say she knows what she wants for herself and her brand, and with the strong dedication and determination she possesses, I’m more than positive that this is only the beginning.   Katie Bartels is not only a Rising Star Designer for January Skyy, however, star in the making.




Tope: What inspired you to start designing jewerly?

Katie: I’ve always loved jewelry ever since I was very little.  My second sentence was “I have pearls” when I was eighteen months old.  My parents knew they were in trouble, I think.  I’ve always loved jewelry design, so I started making my own pieces in jewelry while in college because I could never find exactly what i was looking for.  I was getting so many compliments on pieces that I made, so I decided to start selling everything, although it was never my intention to start a company, it was just something i loved doing so much.  And I kind of fell into it over time, and as things grew, and I started getting better feedback, so if you asked me five years ago if I would be a full time jewelry designer, I would’ve probably thought you were nuts.

Tope: Your company is named after your late grandfathers signature sock color.  Can you tell us how he has influenced you?

Katie: Stylistically, not so much influence besides him having a signature sock color which was kind of cool, and we don’t actually know why he chose yellow so we figured maybe he just didn’t like white, who knows.  But in terms of  influence, he definitely influenced my personality; we were very close.  I grew up going to my grandparents every Thursday night for dinner, and he was also my emergency contact at my school, he was at all my soccer games, softball games, all of that, so he was very important to me.

Tope: Where do you draw your ideas for design, color, and texture?

Katie: Everywhere.  Which is not a specific answer.  Umm, I’m always inspired by color in the most random places.  I take photos of everything, flower arrangements, signs, wine bottles, even sometime the labels on random products will inspire me.  Also, a lot of my designs come from me buying the stones and then playing with the actual stones.  It’s not so much me thinking of a style, and then going out to purchase stuff because I use pre-drill stones and I’m not carving stones myself, so it’s a bit hard for me to think of stuff organically, I kind of just go with the stones first then go from there.

Tope: How did you build up the courage to invest in a business as such?

Katie: Fortunately, when I started I had a corporate job so this was very much on the side, and it’s made it difficult adjusting from being a side business to a full time business.  The courage part came from me being miserable at my corporate job, it was not what I wanted to do with my life.  My corporate job changed a lot when the financial crisis started, I was in charge of accounts receivable for a law firm and at first it was fine, it was a lot of financial forecasting and then all of a sudden I became a bill collector which is not my personality or what I wanted to do, so getting up the guts to take that leap of faith was actually fairly easy since I had become so miserable at my job and I knew I just wanted to do something that I would wake up everyday and be excited about.   However, I still struggle with it at times.  It’s definitely a process.

Tope: What designers influence you the most?

Katie: I would have to say Kate Spade  is the person whose had the most inspiration since the very beginning.  My first real handbag was a Kate Spade bag that she actually signed.  I was thirteen years old, and it was the thrill of all thrills (I spent my babysitting money on it) and I got to meet her; it was just very very exciting.  I guess a lot of different designers influenced me initially.  I’ll never forget picking up my first Vogue magazine when I was twelve, and it wasn’t on purpose I bought it for a project we were working on and I thought to myself “What is this world that I didn’t know about?” so I familiarized myself with all the different designers and what their aesthetics was, but Kate was the one that stood out the most.

Tope: If you could design for anyone who would it be?

Katie: That’s a really tough question.  There are a lot of people I’d love to see wearing my pieces.  Kate Spade and Jenna Lyons being two people I’d definitely want to see wearing my pieces.  Mainly because I wear so many of Kate’s vintage accessories; the stuff that she actually designed.  Also, because I wear a lot of J. Crew items, I’d love to see Jenna Lyons wearing my stuff; like my wood pieces especially.  Besides them, there’s no one celebrity that I think has a fantastic jewelry sense except for maybe Michelle Obama.  I would die to have her wear one of my pieces because I think when she wears something, everyone is focused on who the designer is, not so much that one individual piece, but who the designer is as a person.  And she has such an impact on the fashion industry from a business perspective.

Tope: How does living in NYC influence your design choices?

Katie: I think living in NYC allows me to be more daring.  I’m from Connecticut originally, and you dont really think outside the box there.  I wear my pearls when I go back home, every now and then I’ll wear one of my sparkly necklaces and I definitely get some stares at my outfits.  I think the great thing about NY is being able to do/wear whatever you want, and people respect you more for wearing something more daring.

Tope: Where are all the locations that your jewelry are being sold at?

Katie: I have an online store and I also do a lot of trunk stores… I have seven coming up between  now and December 4th.  Also, I have two stores in Connecticut and one in New York.  In NYC, I sell at Nest which is on 9th and 22nd a home design store.

Tope: At what age did you start designing jewelry?

Katie: I think I got my first beads in summer camp at age four and we’d get those plastic beads with the shells.  I loved arts and crafts, and during recreational time I would always want to stay behind and make pieces instead of going in the water and stuff.  They would always have a counselor stay behind with me (laughs).  I did things like this throughout my childhood, but in college is when I really became serious about my designs.

Tope: Why Gems?  What is it about gemstone jewelry that you love so much?

Katie: The color options.  The Gemology degree that I got sort of happened when I quit my job, I knew I had to do something to get a better knowledge about the industry.  I knew I had to have formal training of some sort, since my education background is in government so I missed the boat in getting a degree from FIT or something like that.

Tope: Can you tell us about your Passports And Pearls blog site?

Katie: I started it when I was applying to business school two yrs ago… one of the questions for Cornell was to make a table of contents for your biography and I came up with the idea of Passports And Pearls and talking about different styalistic infulences of my travels and different adentures and at the time I was like “Maybe I can turn this into a blog”.  It was initially very rough, and I would post every three months but then I realized what blogging can do for your company, and how it’s free marketing where people can get to know you as a person.

Tope: What is in store for the future of Katie Bartels?

Katie: One thing I really want to do is a Men’s line of Gemstone cuff-links.  Definitely in two to three years but I have to master what I’m doing right now first.  I also have a wood collection of earnings that are laser drilled and I want to start designing my own laser drilled designs.


-Tope Ajayi

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