Today we’d like to introduce you to Cat Bates.
Cat, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have been studying metalworking since middle school, and sailor knotting since I was a little kid. I got lucky with an early start. I graduated from Maine College of Art in 2009 with a BFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design. After bouncing around for a couple of years I moved back to Portland and started to grow my business. I took things really slow; developing my skill set, building my brand, and growing a client base. In the summer of 2015 I took the plunge and started working for myself full time.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Sustainable growth is really important to me. I have had to take some leaps of faith, but those were generally calculated risks. Since the get-go I have considered myself to be in this for the long haul.
That said, being self-employed is uniquely taxing as you are inherently invested in the operation. Leaving work at work often just isn’t an option.
Cat Bates Jewelry & Accessories – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I design and create jewelry.
I design virtually every element of every piece I make. I make my own clasps, I process my own cordage. At shows it is common for folks to ask “where do you find these metal pieces?” I’ll chuckle and respond “I don’t, I produce them from scratch”.
Two of the processes I work with set my brand apart: sand casting and marlinespike knotting.
On my higher end pieces I not only hand braid the cords but also work them into the metal components using traditional and original marlinespike techniques. These details are often subtle, and reward those who look closely with the question “How did he DO that?” I like that intimacy. The piece I am best known for is my Pelican Clip bracelet, which comes on a hand braided cord. The ends of the cord are seamlessly spliced together, so that upon inspection it is a continuous unbroken loop. No one is going to notice that at a distance. I like to think that it adds a level of intimacy to the wearer’s relation with the piece. It is their little secret.
Sand casting is a technique I taught myself after moving back to Portland. It is a less precise process than lost wax casting, leaving a richly textured surface. The pieces that I sand cast are chaotic, and vary one to the next. I use simple forms, so that the texture and the irregularities can stand out and essentially become surface ornamentation.
I look a lot to industry. I research how things are mass produced, and then apply those same sensibility to a smaller scale. Sometimes that means working with industry, for instance having parts waterjet cut out of sheet metal and then assembling them by hand. Sometimes this means taking a day to build a jig so that I can cut the time it takes to sand mold a piece in half.
Economic accessibility is really important to me, and I take pride in maintaining a (relatively speaking) low price point. I do this by working in large batches and by prioritizing craftsmanship over material value. Yes, I work in silver and gold, but most of my work is done in copper-based alloys. These alloys are no less beautiful or durable.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Personal happiness is my main criteria for success. This most certainly includes financial well-being, but is as much grounded in integrity and fulfillment. Am I designing that is expressive of who I am? Am I pushing myself to try new things? Am making the world a more beautiful places? Philanthropy is really important to me. Along with giving to non-profits myself, I encourage my customer’s to do the same through a program called GIVE + GET. Basically, if they give $10 or more to an eligible non-profit they get $10 off their order. (http://www.cat-bates.com/policies) During the first year I ran the program, the average amount donated was more than $20. People went above and beyond! I like to think that by encouraging people to give I cannot just raise money for causes I believe in, but get people in the habit of giving simply because it feels good to do so.
- Address: Portland, Maine
- Website: Cat-Bates.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @catbatesjewelry
(Product shots by) Berlian Arts