Kelsea, 27, Owner & Jewelry Artist at Kelsea Echo in Seattle, WA, USA
Kelsea and I have been commenting on each other's blog for a long time now, so I was really excited to see that she'd quit her full-time job to start a jewellery business, Kelsea Echo. I'm certain you'll be inspired by her colourful style and no-nonsense approach to making her dreams come true. Plus, she was kind enough to send me a few pieces from her shop so you'll see photos of how I styled them interspersed throughout the interview. Take it away, Kelsea!
How would you sum up what you do?
Kelsea Echo is all about converting the rainbows, fantasy creatures, pictures, glitter, and stories inside my head into unique, wearable art that's both pretty and practical.
What unconventional career path brought you from there to here?
People have a hard time believing this when they see my bold, colourful pieces, but I actually began as an accountant! I'll warn you now... this story is a long one!
I fell wholly in love with polymer clay at a young age, happily mixing colours and sculpting for hours on end. After clay, it was beaded and wire jewelry, friendship bracelets, CDs decorated with Sharpie designs, ceramics, card-making, illustrated story books, and memory books. The one thing that remained constant was that I almost never made anything for myself, preferring to give everything away to friends and family.
Despite my clear love for art and making things for others, it wasn't until the end of college that it occurred to me to turn that into a living. I was studying in Prague for my last quarter of college and had signed a contract with one of the Big Four public accounting firms. It seemed too late to change courses, so I decided to start a side business. The summer between college and work was spent holed in my apartment, happily and madly cranking out polymer clay and mixed media jewelry for my fledgling Etsy shop (now closed). I swore I'd make time for my business, buy supplies with my corporate earnings along the way, and someday be ready to go full-time.
Then I began working long hours (up to 17-hour days) and studying for the five-part CPA (certified public accountant) exams. Free time and energy were hard to come by. I eventually switched to a less demanding job, but even so, the dream was drifting further from reality.
One day, my boyfriend (now fiancee) asked me why I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do. I told him I was - I wanted to get experience with leadership, become a manager, and move up the ladder. He asked me what had happened to my dreams of owning a jewelry business. I said that dream was dead - I had given it up long ago. "No, you haven't," he said. "If you had, you wouldn't spend every minute of free time you have talking my ear off about all of the collections you're going to make someday. When is 'someday'? Let's make 'someday' happen this year."
A few months later I had trained my replacement, said goodbye to my coworkers, and was starting my preparations for Kelsea Echo.
What measures did you take to prepare for leaving your job and working on your jewellery full-time?
First, I made sure to make the transition as easy as possible for my work team. I gave my boss two months' notice and spent that time teaching coworkers how to perform my work functions. If at all possible, it's really worthwhile to leave on good terms. The massive emotional support my coworkers offered through well wishes, goodbyes, and thank yous helped me through a lot of the lonely months afterward. And my boss told me that if I ever wanted to work there again, she'd find me a job in the department, even if her team didn't have an opening. Given my risk averse nature, hearing that was quite a relief.
My boyfriend and I also sat down and took a serious look at our finances. I estimated how much I'd need to spend on start-up costs like packaging and software and saved up a hefty chunk before quitting. I did my research on the cost of individual insurance. By the time I left, we were fairly confident that we could manage even if it took years to become profitable.
What does self-love mean to you and what role does it play in your life?
This is actually very relevant to something I've been discussing recently with one of my best friends. I was very confident at my old job. I worked hard, led extracurricular teams, was happy with the work I produced, and received plenty of recognition. I thought that confidence would translate to starting my own business, but it turned out that confidence as Kelsea, Accountant, didn't translate to confidence as Kelsea, Jewelry Artist. Without the external recognition and assurance that I was good at my job, I had to generate it on my own... and it was harder than I thought it would be.
My friend, on the other hand, had never before been accused of laziness. She has worked at many jobs over the years, sometimes two simultaneously, others while attending college. Recently, she quit to become a housewife, and discovered how much our society looks down on anyone who is not currently employed.
We've both been learning that self-love really is just that. It comes from yourself. You can't get it from your friends, your boss, your family, acquaintances, or even your partner. And it's about truly loving who YOU are, not just feeling validated by your title, your awards, or your accomplishments. It's knowing that you are valuable, that you have something to offer, and that it's okay to be happy with yourself, whether or not you fit someone else's definition of success or societal worth. It's something I'm actively working on.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I kid you not when I say everything and everywhere. I can find inspiration in a novel, a jewelry supply, a photograph, the park, a season, a candy shop, or a colour. The biggest problem I have is trying to whittle those down into collections that make sense!
What advice would you give for someone with a monumental dream looking to make it a reality?
Former accountant speaking here: take a good look at your finances. Try your hand at estimating a budget. If your dream requires a big investment or substantial initial loss of income, you might need to scale back your lifestyle for a while or build some savings before you start. Not only will it help ensure you don't go broke in two months, but the preparation will help you feel less stressed and allow you to focus more on your dream rather than worrying about money constantly. And if you're risk averse, like me, don't try to fight your nature - just have a backup plan! A friend of mine has been thinking about quitting for years. She asked me how I finally got the push to go for it and we talked finances. Once she crunched the numbers, she came up with a financial projection and back-up plan for herself. I'm happy to say that earlier this year, she quit her office job to run her business full-time!
Break down the steps you need to take into a list. "Start a jewelry business" is fine for an overall goal, but it's too vague and overwhelming to be your catalyst. Write down everything you can think of to do in Excel or Google Spreadsheet and put them in order by priority/time sensitivity. Ask friends and family for help where their skills match up. Then... dive in!
All of that aside, let go of those fears! Don't worry too much about 'failing' and what people will think of you. People are going to think you're incredibly brave for following your dreams. If something's not working, you can always tweak it along the way or take that as an opportunity to implement your next big idea instead. The biggest loss you can take is not trying in the first place!
Thank you so much, Kelsea! Your story is so inspiring and I had so much fun styling your jewellery. I love that they had a pop of colour and playfulness to any outfit. Although I have to admit, they make me a little hungry. ;)
And tell me: who's been inspiring you lately?
Lots of love,
Photographs of Kelsea by Jess Juergens.