Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we talk to Katy Messersmith. Katy is the designer and owner of The Katydid Collection, a lifestyle brand that includes women’s apparel and small accessories such as hats, belts, and wallets
1. What prompted you to start your own brand?
I spent my early career as a pharmaceutical project manager and got my start in fashion thanks to a fluke event that happened during a volunteer trip to Ghana, Africa. After graduation from Texas A&M in 2000 before beginning my new corporate job, I traveled to Africa to volunteer at a prenatal woman’s clinic for two months. The airline lost my luggage, leaving me with only the clothes on my back.
I worked with a local seamstress in Ghana to design a replacement wardrobe of colorful local fabrics and found my calling. When I returned to Texas, I placed my designs on eBay which sold like lightning and so I began to create more as well as reselling other brands and designs on eBay.
After a few years of selling on eBay, someone offered to create a website for $200. I took them up on the offer and while initially, the business was retail only, I received multiple requests daily if I would sell my bags wholesale. Realizing the huge opportunity to be one of the first companies to wholesale online, in 2004 I changed my retail handbag website to a wholesale handbag website, which catered to small boutiques nationwide that couldn’t afford to travel to markets and trade shows across the country.
As the company grew, I realized I didn’t want to quit my corporate job to just sell other people’s bags for the rest of my life so I decided to start my own brand and call it Katydid! Today we not only sell bags but women’s hats, clothing, luggage tags, phone rings, earrings, swim cover-ups and more. We are truly now a lifestyle brand.
2. Looking back is there anything you wish you knew before you launched?
I was very savvy and was very interested in learning anything I could to help the business grow, but I wish I would have had a business mentor in the early years. The early years I spent a lot of time trying to figure out things on my own and teaching myself while a simple friendship with a business mentor probably would have gone a long way. Today, I have many successful friends or mentors in business and they always help when needed.
3. Describe a challenge you faced as a business owner.
There are many challenges when you own your own business! Keeping up with the ever-changing fashion demands and trends is for sure a challenge, especially since the world is now online and consumers expect “fast fashion.” You don’t have as much time to plan like in the past, you have to act quickly.
4. What is your business’ most successful form of marketing?
Since we were one of the first companies online 18+ years ago, we have a very large customer newsletter list. Email marketing is our most successful form of marketing, but we are looking into heavily expanding into social and influencer marketing which we fill like will surpass email marketing at some point in the near future.
5. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
I love that the business is at a place where we can truly give back and help make a difference in the world. Whether that be helping employees through rough times or donating money to different charitable causes or individuals in need.
6. What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?
Be prepared that owning your own company is a lot of hard work, but also one of the most rewarding things as well. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears as I call it. Diversity is key in a business today. I learned the hard way that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket and rely on a handful of accounts or platforms. For instance, if you are a brand, you have to sell online via a website, do social selling via Instagram and Facebook, sell offline at events or trade shows, on third party marketplaces, retail and wholesale and so on. You must be everywhere now!
7. Who is a boss lady who inspires you and why?
Sara Blakely! – She saw a niche for a new product. She developed the product and she went essentially from store to store until she got her big break and she scaled with the right people. And she loves to empower other women.