Did you know that Instagram tracks how long you spend on it a day? Scary, right? While I’m ashamed that my time there is too much, it was what led me to Kate Gabrielle. A sucker for pastels, her subtle vibrancy caught my attention during a scroll fest and alas – I was hooked. Plus, her embrace of ’90s nostalgia was right up my alley. Indulging the past is one of the many things we talked about as Kate Gabrielle dished about not only about girl power and a lack of sweetness in today’s youthful pop culture, but also the bumps she’s hit along the way towards her goals.
Kendra: Has designing been something you have always envisioned your life involving?
Kate Gabrielle: Absolutely! I wanted to be an artist when I was little. I’ve always been painting, crafting, making things and dreaming up new ideas!
Kendra: When did all of this go from ideas on paper to an actual business?
Kate Gabrielle: When I was 17 I started doing outdoor art festivals to try to sell my paintings and art prints and it’s technically been a business ever since then. I use the term business lightly, though, since there is really no professional organization to the business part. I just love making things and then I put them in my online shop and hope that someone out there wants to buy them!
Kendra: Your nostalgia kits are definitely some of my personal favorite, especially the book fair ones. While kids today have the Scholastic Book Fair, it seems the ’90s had the last great era of them. Why do you feel that is?
Kate Gabrielle: Thank you! Other than some obvious factors — ‘90s kids grew up without cell phones and internet access so we had a much more tactile and analog childhood than kids do today — there is something visually different about toys and cartoons now. It’s so hard to pinpoint, but I just feel like everything looks more intense and exaggerated. Even comparing the look of ‘90s Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Pony with their rebooted counterparts you can see what I mean. It seems less cute, less sweet somehow?
Kendra: Speaking of the ’90s. We had plenty of amazing female role models but not a lot of feminist-centric products to wear proudly. What do you think changed and inspired you, and many others, to present products that celebrate and scream girl power from the rooftops?
Kate Gabrielle: I honestly think the main thing that started to change that was The Spice Girls. I don’t remember ever having feminist merchandise until they came along and I fashioned my backpack with “Girl Power!” stickers and pins. Personally, I became much more invested in making and buying feminist products when Hillary Clinton was running for president. And ever since she conceded it’s felt even more urgent to me that anyone with a voice (especially creative makers) use our platform to promote feminism and encourage girls in every way possible.
Kendra: It’s clear that the ’90s and the ’00s are big for you, but if you could go back and spend a few weeks in any decade for some style and design inspo, which would you choose and why?
Kate Gabrielle: Definitely the ‘60s! Even though a lot of my illustrations and projects revolve around the nostalgia of the ‘90s, the sixties are my absolute favorite decade. I love the movies, the fashion (so many bell sleeves!) and the colors. It seems like the one decade where people really embraced color. I wish I could go back and live in that universe for a little while. I can’t even imagine seeing pink and sky blue cars on the street, candy-colored storefronts, and everyone walking around in bright mod dresses! It would be a dream!
Kendra: On top of the kits, you have a whole myriad of items to choose from. Are there any products you’d love to create that have proven to be difficult to get going?
Kate Gabrielle: There are a lot of projects on my to-do list that require way too much of an investment (either in time, manufacturing costs, or supplies) for me to make them a reality. Especially if it’s such a niche or unusual idea that I might end up producing something that never actually sells. Lately, I’ve been sticking to things I can make from home at little cost, like buttons, pocket mirrors, and keychains. That way I can indulge my daily impulse to make something new without having to invest any money in something that nobody wants.
Kendra: What advice do you have for anyone looking to start a similar business?
Kate Gabrielle: Part of me wants to say GO FOR IT! You’ll never know until you try. Just open an Etsy shop or a Shopify store and start listing the things you make. And then make more things. Keep making things until somebody buys one of those things, and then make more of them. But part of me also wants to say – be prepared for failure and know that it’s not only an option. It’s almost certain that at some point things are not going to work out. Every time I fail, I just keep trying and hoping, but failure has happened to me a lot. And if you want to freelance you kind of have to be okay with that and keep working through it.
Kendra: Where are things going for you in 2019?
Kate Gabrielle: With luck, things will look up, probably stationary, and hopefully not down. 2018 was a rough year for my business. So I’m cautiously optimistic that with a lot of work and a whole lot of luck, I can get things back on track this year. I’m planning on adding new products on a more regular basis than I did in the past and listening to specific requests for items. That way I’m not just producing items that *I* want to own, but my friends and customers would want to buy.