I’ve always been an artist and have had my fingers in a lot of pies through the years. I especially love to paint, but with young children it’s hard for me to do that.
My last painting was a multimedia portrait of my son at age 2, and that was 5 years ago!
Before I started making millinery I was creating jewelry, selling at local galleries and boutiques, and then my daughter was born. My beautiful daughter was bald for the first 2 years of her life! And when her hair started coming in it was a mullet, long in the back & super short & fine on top! I didn’t have the heart to cut it, so I started making headbands for her.
That was in 2007/08. I experimented with feathers and vintage remnants, and everywhere we went people would stop and ask me “Where did you find that headband? I want one!” And so it began. Basically I fell into millinery! No formal training, just plunging in.
I’ve always been a “Do it yourself” kind of gal. I believe that you can do anything you put your mind to if you believe that you can do it. And in my case, necessity is the mother of invention.
I’ve evolved the past few years partially through trial and error, but largely through instinct. I know that what I create isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t bother me. I make what I make because I’m driven to do so- it’s not motivated by trends or anything like that, it’s much more organic. I really love what I do! I lose track of time when I’m working and will often stay up way too late working on a project. I simply get lost in the work; it’s the magic of creation!
I have a keen sense of texture and quality. My passion is vintage materials- new/ old stock and upcycled remnants. I suppose part of that passion is the treasure hunt, and then there’s the history and untold stories that give old things a particular energy and mystery that appeals to me. Also, there really is no comparison between the factory made items of today and the handmade items of yesterday. For me, even the slight anomalies- what some might call “mistakes”- in antique handmade stock are treasured. Those anomalies are shadows of the humanity of the item- a little knick in time by the original creator.
My process is largely organic. I’m inspired by the individual I’m designing for, or by a particular theme, or sometimes it’s simply the materials themselves. The MOE Project Runway contest was a fabulous project for me. I chose the gown shown as my “muse” by Momosoho on Etsy
I used all vintage and antique repurposed materials to build a headpiece to match. I used a vintage hand beaded belt from the 1920s for the front portion (as well as to make two matching wrist cuffs that aren’t shown here). The belt was dry rotting from age, so I had to re-bead the entire piece, and I used excess beads to create the tassels hanging on each side of the face. I used velvet and organza florals from the early 1900s as well as some modern and vintage feathers. I really love this piece, it’s one of my favorites! It will be hard for me to say goodbye to it when it sells.
I’ve struggled with getting my work “out there”. I’m not a business major, so the business and marketing side of things have been a huge learning curve for me. Also, when you’re doing everything yourself, it can be overwhelming. I was lucky enough to fund the business with the business in 2009, but 2010 has found me in a bit of a predicament; keeping up with orders when you only have two hands is a challenge! I’ve had to turn away a lot of potential buyers who want to buy wholesale in order to sell my items in their store. Basically, right now it’s “do or die” time. I’ve been working with a few people on finalizing a business plan, creating a website, coming up with samples for a few items that I’d like to have produced on a larger scale to sell at wholesale prices in 2011… it’s time to take things to the next level, and for me that means capital. So in 2011 and into 2012, my goal is organization and expansion- the two go hand in hand really. I’m looking forward to having a team of people helping me in the near future rather than being a lone soldier! I want my focus to be on design, but that means having a team of focused, likeminded people I can trust to manage everything else.
In the beginning I was reluctant to be a part of a team on Etsy simply because of time management issues. Finally I joined “MOE: Milliners of Etsy” and then two others, “Beyond Bridal” and “Offbeat Etsy Wedding” Teams. All I can say is that I am so glad I did! I’m meeting new people (virtually) and feel so much less lonely. I mean lets face it, when you’re working from a studio in your home and you have a young family, socializing is a rarity. Being a part of the Etsy community and a part of a team is a great way of finding support and friendship online. I feel so blessed to be a part of MOE and I’m enjoying every minute of it! I love my Etsy family! Thank you Etsy and thank you MOE.
Etsy Store: http://www.KatSwank.com
Courtney Love, SPIN Magazine, March 2010
Headdress LIAISON Collection by Kat Swank
All other images Kat Swank