Making a business making what they love
In Wilton, there is a common scenario for many women. They went to college and had a successful career. Somewhere along the line they met Mr. Right, got married, and decided to start a family—not necessarily in that order. Many of them are fortunate, financially and otherwise, and were able to choose to stop working. Now, as their children are growing and they have more free time, some of these women have become active in charitable causes and fundraising efforts. Others get involved in local politics. Some are happy to perfect their tennis game. Some even decide to go back into the corporate world.
Then there are the women who start to explore their creative side, a side they haven’t connected with since childhood. They make something beautiful and people take notice. Friends and family encourage them to pursue their rediscovered or newfound passion. Some, by serendipity or sheer courage, take the leap, start their own business, and enjoy the benefits and responsibility of being their own boss. Following are profiles of six talented women who are figuring it out. All but one fit the scenario. Kristen Williams, the exception, managed to figure it out earlier than most.
As a child growing up in Wilton, Kristen Williams showed potential as a fashion entrepreneur. She was always interested in fashion trends, and at the precocious age of ten, started selling hair scrunchies at local football and lacrosse games. Later, while in boarding school, she made and sold ribbon belts from her dorm room. Despite this flair for the fashion business, she majored in more pragmatic subjects—political science and economics—in college. But her love of fashion won out and, after graduation, she went to work for Vineyard Vines. There, Kristen played a key role in their expansion into women’s clothing and accessories.
In 2008, after a few years as a sales rep for the company, she decided the time was right to start her own clothing line—a bold move for a 25-year-old woman. Kristen wanted to create a line based on her two loves: glamorous fashion and cozy pajamas. The result is a line of tunics, gowns, and pants sets fashionable enough to wear out of the house but cozy enough to sleep in. She decided to make everything out of micromodal, an ultra-soft fabric, based on a favorite shirt that had stood up to repeated washings. Her designs are available in vibrant patterns and colors that appeal to a broad age range. With sales taking off, Kristen’s mother Sheryl joined the company (kmadisondesigns.com) to help with trade shows and “pajama parties”—like Open House trunk shows.
With a daughter in college and a son in high school, Wilton resident Kim Hoag describes herself as a typical PTA mom. Her career as a designer began when she added trimming to an evening bag and friends wanted to know where she bought it. She made more bags and they sold well. Around this time, she met a woman from Fairfield (another Kim, as luck would have it) who designed belts. The two Kims hit it off and decided to launch a business together. When they discovered their mutual love of all things madras—a light cotton, patchwork-plaid fabric—their business, Just Madras (justmadras.com) was born.
Just Madras includes women’s tops, skirts, and accessories, men’s belts, dog accessories, and tableware. Each collection is named after a favorite beach or resort and made with fabric imported from India. Kim and her partner continue to expand their product line; the newest entry is “Cocktails at the Beach,” a madras-themed picnic set. They sell their products at Sea Bean Studio in Wilton as well as many other stores in Fairfield County.
Shawn Kahal has always loved arts and crafts. Growing up in California, she saved scraps of paper and other items to turn into beautiful works of art. She took art classes throughout school, but like many people, made the more practical choice to go into the business world after college. After many years selling office products, Shawn had her first of three children and decided to quit her job. During this time, she began scrapbooking to preserve memories of their childhoods. She soon built up an inventory of beautiful papers and started using remnants to make cards she sent to friends. When those friends asked to purchase cards for themselves, she recognized an opportunity to launch a business which she named Shawn’s Things (shawnsthings.com). Shawn’s approach is to “take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.” She now designs and creates stationary, clipboards, scrapbooks, journals and memo pads. She makes all of her products by hand, and sells some of her designs at Sea Beans Studio. She also loves to work with clients on personalized projects such as party invitations or holiday cards; she even provides photography services to those who want the perfect photo for their holiday card.
Sharp Hill Designs
Kate Woodman claims she’s not a typical PTA mom. She does have two sons—one starting college and the other in high school—but for much of their youth, she had a successful career as a corporate lawyer. When she retired in 2001, she wanted something to keep herself busy so she became involved with several different organizations and served time on their boards. Because of her sons’ interest in theater, one of these organizations was the Wilton Children’s Theater. There she discovered her next career move: designer.
It had been many years since Kate had sewn anything, but while working on costumes for the a production of Aladdin several years ago, she was reminded how much she enjoyed it. After the show, she started sewing again for pleasure, making a few silk scarves and a belt. When her sister saw them, she knew Kate was on to something and encouraged her to launch her company, Sharp Hill Designs (sharphilldesigns.com). Scouring New York City for unique fabrics, Kate made more scarves and shawls. When these sold well at local craft shows, she expanded her line to include belts and handbags. About a year ago, Kate resigned from all three boards and decided to “go for it.” Through an organization called Ladies Who Launch, she participated in an “Incubator” workshop designed to support women entrepreneurs. While she currently makes every piece, she is looking for a manufacturer to produce her accessories and expand her retail distribution—she sells her creations at Earth Garden, H.M. Oliver, and the Village Market—so she has more time to focus on the design aspect of her business.
Jennifer Angerame has been in business for herself for over ten years. It started when she was newly married and living in New York City. For their first Christmas together, Jennifer decided to send out a homemade card. Friends and family liked the card so much they encouraged her to produce her own line of greeting cards. Her first break came when a local Papyrus store agreed to carry them. Jennifer named her company Southern Yankee (southernyankee.com) because she originally hails from Texas while her husband is a northerner.
But it would be another pastime that would lead Jennifer to the next phase of her business. She has always loved to haunt flea markets and antiques stores for vintage linens, but her husband questioned the practicality of storing her large collection in their small apartment. Soon after Jennifer had her first of three children, she had an “aha” moment—she realized she could sew vintage linen handkerchiefs to onesies to make “dresses” for her infant daughter. Soon these one-of-a-kind pieces became the main focus of her business. When she moved to Wilton, she started selling her onesies at local craft shows. At a Memorial Day Show at Staples High School in Westport, her dresses sold out on the first day; she had to stay up all night sewing more. She sells many of her designs at Open House and through her website.
Faye Kim Designs
Faye Kim can barely remember a time when she wasn’t in the jewelry business. After college, she worked in business but quickly realized it was not for her. Her mother suggested a six-month, intensive gemology course offered through the Gemology Institute of America. This led to jobs at Tiffany & Co. as a pearl buyer and later at Bergdorf Goodman as a buyer of fine jewelry. During this time, Faye got married, had her first child, and realized that she wanted to design her own jewelry line. After her second child, she and her husband moved to Connecticut. For many years, she enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and selling her jewelry at home trunk shows. Her designs were in demand, but she was able to slow down when family life took precedence. Content with her successful home-based business, it was a friend who urged her to open up a store. One day, this friend insisted Faye look at a retail property available in Westport. The space was perfect, but she wasn’t sure she was ready. A few months later, her friend mentioned that it was still available and after some soul-searching, Faye made the leap into retail.
That was five years ago and Faye Kim Designs (fayekimdesigns.com, 190 Main St., Westport) is still going strong. Her pieces, modern versions of classic designs, range in price from $25 to thousands of dollars. While Faye often considers what her next steps might be, for now she feels lucky to be where she is, working for herself making beautiful jewelry.