PAPERFASHION: WHEN IMAGINATION BECOMES A CAREER
Katie Rodgers is an entrepreneur rockstar and the creator of Paperfashion. Back in May 2010, I came across the wonderful discovery of Katie Rodgers of Paperfashion via Twitter. On a trip to Boston, I interviewed Katie and witness in-person the beginnings of her incredible fashion illustration career. Two years later, Katie and I reunited after I attended her NYC illustration class, and grabbed a few minutes of her time to catch up to talk entrepreneurship, vision, and everything else at Think Coffee in New York City.
When we last spoke (over 2 years ago), Paperfashion was just a year old. Katie was working part-time on Paperfashion and full-time as an apparel designer for Reebok. She was blogging every day and using social media to promote her brand. Now, she has taken the leap into Paperfashion full-time, as she constantly has business knocking at her door. Her clients include Kate Spade, Coach, Dolce and Gabbana’s Swide Magazine, Paul Mitchell, Target, and Modcloth (among others). Her illustrations have expanded from cards to calendars to so much more! It is truly inspiring to see how much her business has grown and how her talent with art continues to flourish. I hope you enjoy our conversation about how Paperfashion has gone over the mountains and through the woods to an imaginative world of aesthetically pleasing success.
Rachael Baxter: How old were you when you discovered your talent? What steps did you take to strengthen it?
Katie Rodgers: I discovered that I loved art way back when… as soon as I could draw! I’ve just always loved art and being creative. It felt natural to develop my art skills… not something I had to think about too much. I was constantly drawing. In high school, I spent two summers at an intensive art program in Interlochen, MI, which influenced me quite a bit.
RB: What fashion icons inspire you? What else inspires you?
KR: I love people with unique visions. Something that really stands out, like Tim Walker. You can recognize his work instantly, as he has one of those whimsical childlike imaginations.
RB: What was the tipping point for Paperfashion?
KR: While I did Paperfashion on the side, I worked all the time (between full time and freelance). At one point, something sparked me to do it on my own when I was going to move to Spain with Reebok but my visa wasn’t going through. I was going insane waiting for my visa to be approved, so I made a cut-off date, which past. It was that and the realization that I couldn’t continue with Paperfashion in Spain and wasn’t ready to give it up. I preferred Paperfashion much more, so I decided to do it full-time. Having a full-time job (with Reebok) allowed me to save enough funds, build up clients, and eventually, go to work for myself.
I quit Reebok towards the end of 2011 and my parents thought I was crazy. However, my Dad said that being young and having no family to take care of meant I could take the risk. I had some savings, but I could always get another job if it didn’t work out. It’s been totally fine though, and I’m really busy all the time. It’s been great. It definitely helped going part-time to full-time.
RB: Owning your business, do you have any insecure moments?
KR: I am most insecure about the business part, and I avoid it, which is the worst thing to do. Someone showed me how to use Quickbooks, and I felt in over my head. That side takes hours and hours for me. I like the business side, but the actual sit-down and inputting numbers is what I do not like. I am slowly figuring things out. Also, within the art industry I feel experienced, but not super experienced. Even this class, I am still figuring out the price of class, the length, how much things cost, etc. You learn as you go, and figure it out. I didn’t know half of the things I know now about business on my own, so I feel like I keep learning.
RB: What does a typical day look like?
KR: There is no typical day! Things change constantly, between shipping orders, illustrating for clients, meetings, keeping up the blog, inspiration research… to the business side of things. It’s all over the place sometimes!
RB: Where do you see Paperfashion in a 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
KR: (1 Year) Having the business part more figured out and less of me doing stuff. (5 – 10 Years) I want more production by someone else for my patterns. For example, my calendars – I do all the production, but I’d love for someone else to do the manufacturing and shipping. The shipping takes a lot of time, especially during Christmas because you have to get all the orders out on time and before the new year. I want to work with companies and have them use my designs. Right now, I’m ‘the blogger’ and do collaborations, but it’s very small. I want more companies to use my illustrations, rather just being a blog.
RB: What was your involvement with Modcloth?
KR: I did illustrations for them to use on their website for their bag section. They used my illustrations as their models for displaying their bags for sale. It was a really cool concept to use illustrations for actual products, and I enjoyed doing it.
RB: What was the high point and low point of Paperfashion?
KR: The high point is being able to do what I want to do on my own schedule. The low point is everything that comes with running your own business. You have to handle everything – do the blog, do collaborations, read emails, do business stuff, and shipping – everything you can imagine! You have to think where it’s going, on top of where it is now – how much bigger can it be? How can I help grow it?
RB: Favorite Cause? Non-profit involvement?
KR: The cause closest to my heart is art education. My friend’s son goes to school in Boston, and they cut the art program due to funding. So, I got together with some other local artists, and we taught classes to the kids. It’s messed up to take art away from children because without art classes, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. This opportunity should not be taken away. Some kids like art, some kids like science, and both should have the chance to get better at what they like.