How This Maker Built a Career out of Candy-Colored Crafting
If you love bright colors, neon gradients, and rainbow everything, then you’ve probably swooned over one of this maker’s beautifully styled parties, clever DIY projects, gift-worthy Etsy products, or her most recent undertaking, The Fomo Factory. Meet Kara Whitten, the designer and joyful visionary behind Kailo Chic.
Anjelika Temple here, Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Brit + Co, and longtime Insta-fan of @kailochic! :) As part of our epic Holiday Shop in partnership with Etsy, I had the honor of selecting a colorful collection of products by some of our fave makers, and, obvs, Whitten’s entire line of goods is at the top of that list. You can shop some of my personal after we hear a bit more from the maker herself.
For today’s edition of Creative Crushin’, I’m beyond thrilled to be able to share more about Whitten’s creative process, how the need for a cute laptop bag led to a full-fledged design career, and what she’s got on her future to-do list.
Brit + Co: First, the basics. Where are you from? What did you study in college? Where are you based now, family life, etc.
Kara Whitten: I was born in Austin, Texas and grew up in a small town outside the city. But I moved back to Austin for college. I studied and graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. A far cry from what I do now!
I still live in Austin with my husband and two kids, Madeline, 9, and Parker, 5.
B+C: Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional artist/creative?
KW: I didn’t. I loved math and science in high school and received a scholarship to study engineering in college, which I planned to make my career. But I was also crafty and loved to sew growing up, so the creative gene was there. After college, I had a job for about a week when I realized the chemical research life wasn’t for me. I quit and while unemployed looking for a new job, I started my business, Kailo Chic, which started as a handbag and women’s accessory company in 2005. I found my true passion in creating new things and eventually grew my brand into a DIY blog as well. Now I run my brand as both a DIY blog and a shop where I sell colorful home decor, party goods, and accessories.
B+C: I realize the term is a little outdated, but do you have a day job? Or do you work full-time for yourself?
KW: I don’t have a job outside of Kailo Chic. I actually only worked for about two years at a job in my degree field before quitting to pursue Kailo Chic full time. About a year later, my husband quit his job to help me and we have now both been self-employed for 10+ years.
While I do some freelance photography work or contribute craft project DIYs to other blogs, I consider myself fully self-employed with Kailo Chic.
B+C: What types of day jobs did you have before you were able to focus fully on making things? Tell us about your career path.
KW: I worked for one week as a pharmaceutical researcher and then two years as an air permitting specialist for the Texas Environmental Agency. But for the last 11+ years, I have been selling my designs in my shop, Kailo Chic, and blogging as a content creator.
B+C: What was the turning point like when you realized you could dedicate your time wholly to your artwork? Was it scary taking that chance on yourself?
KW: I partnered with a company back in 2007 to design a line of laptop bags for stores like Staples, Office Max, and Best Buy. Once I had that partnership in place, I felt comfortable pursuing my business full-time. I am lucky that it really was a simple choice for me.
B+C: Why do you love to make things? What’s your north star?
KW: I honestly just like to create something that wasn’t there before. Or to put my own spin on decor and party goods. While I love to shop and am inspired by what is out there on the market, I love being able to create something that is uniquely me and what I love. Which happens to be lots of color and pattern!
B+C: We’re so excited to feature a few of your products in our Brit + Co x Etsy Holiday Shop, and have swooned over your DIY projects via Instagram for years. It seems like you do ALL the creative things! Tell us what all makes up Kailo Chic.
KW: As I mentioned, Kailo Chic began solely as a handbag company. I would sew all the bags and sell them on my website and wholesale to boutiques (this was actually before Etsy!). Once Etsy started, I jumped in and began there selling in 2008. In 2008 I also took over the laptop bag design and production and began to get my laptop bag designs manufactured. I continued like this, selling small bags and accessories that I hand-made and laptop bags that I designed and had sewn for me online and in boutiques. Then in 2015, after being tired of the same thing day after day, I started my blog, A Kailo Chic Life. Here I talked about recipes, DIY projects, crafts, and home decor. I also started my social media accounts in 2015. I was a little behind the times!
Since starting the blog, I have grown my product line to include more home decor, gifts, and party goods. I have also had a few of my pieces picked up by larger retailers like Home Goods and Paper Source. On the blog front, I work with a number of brands to create colorful content both for their social channels and mine as well as for my blog.
I recently jumped on the trend of pop up interactive museums and became the creative director of The Fomo Factory. It is an Austin based interactive museum that is all about nostalgia and childhood. I was able to design and execute all the rooms in the museum, which was both challenging and rewarding at the same time!
B+C: In terms of products, tell us about when you decided to take the leap and start manufacturing things.
KW: I started to manufacture laptop bags because I saw a need in the industry for a fashionable women’s laptop tote. This was back in 2008 when there were only solid red and solid black bags available. But this was something that I couldn’t sew myself, so I needed to work with a manufacturer to get them made.
Since then I have tried getting pillows, confetti cocktail shakers, and felt ball garlands made. But believe it or not, I still hand make most of what I sell! Someday I hope to not have to, but for now, it makes the most sense. That way I can offer a huge selection of items and not have to pay or store inventory that manufacturing would require.
B+C: What advice do you have for artists and designers considering making products and selling them on Etsy?
KW: Just start. You can spend months or years waiting until you have everything perfect for your launch, but the amazing thing about Etsy is that you can set up a shop and start selling in one afternoon. There really shouldn’t be anything barring you from just starting! You will figure out all the details as you go.
B+C: What are your favorite Etsy shops?
Favorite Quote: Just do it! (is that a quote? Ha!)
Trivia About You: I make an amazing cheesecake!
Go-To Karaoke Song: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper
Favorite Art Tool: Spray Paint
Late Night Snack: Cereal
Currently Reading: HGTV Magazine
B+C: Your aesthetic is so candy-colored and joyful — how did you hone in on your particular style?
KW: I just do what I love. I have always been drawn to color and unique color combos. So I honestly feel it’s just ingrained in who I am! But I have become more experienced in mixing colors and patterns and styling as I have gotten older. I just think it is a skill like any other. The more I style photos, the better I become and the more cohesive my style becomes.
B+C: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
KW: I do! First thing I need to do to get creative is clean. When I am creating, I tend to make a huge mess, but sometimes that can hinder creativity. So I clean, then I go out and shop. I love looking at store displays for inspiration on DIY projects I can recreate.
B+C: If you could give younger you a piece of advice, what would it be? Or rephrased: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
KW: To just start. I wish I would have started my business earlier. And to start social media earlier. I think waiting just set me back, growth-wise. But as far as life goes, I keep telling myself to enjoy the now and not constantly look for the next thing. It’s a big life lesson I am still trying to learn.
B+C: What’s next for Kailo Chic?
KW: My dream goal would be to design a collection for nationwide brand. I love to create, but my time to actually make all the things is limited. As is my budget. So to be able to design an amazing and colorful collection with a national audience would be a dream.
But as reality goes, I will still be plugging away and creating new things and products until the big break comes!
Shop more colorful awesomeness in our curated Holiday Shop! We spent hours on Etsy finding the perfect gifts for Y-O-U — and we've got someone for everyone on your list.
For more maker inspiration, check out the Creative Crushin' archive and stay tuned for next week's edition. Happy making!
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