Twenty-three years ago, Kathleen Plate set out to share a new point of view: opening the world’s eyes to the beauty in an empty wine bottle. What started as a single pair of bottle glass earrings made as a gift, quickly grew into one of the nation’s leading eco-accessory brands: Smart Glass Jewelry. Today, her line of fashion jewelry made from post-consumer bottles is sold in museums and galleries nationwide, and she has even had the chance to partner with large companies like Coca-Cola and Aveda to transform their bottles into wearable art.
Between her stunning products and incredible mission, we were thrilled to name Kathleen Plate as our featured entrepreneur for the Bossa Nova Collection. But how did she get to where she is today? We sat down with her to get you all the answers.
Q: Where did your interest in jewelry design and glasswork come from?
A: “I think it all stems from my perspective on the adaptive reuse of common materials which was shaped, in part, by my upbringing; growing up in a small Washington State fishing and logging community where I lived in a solar powered home. Being raised to be conscious of my consumption, I learned to maximize limited resources, which ultimately sparked my creativity. I remember making reusable lunch bags out of scraps of fabric and launching a recycling initiative in my neighborhood. I never thought twice about creating new things from the materials at hand. But when it comes to jewelry, I have been working with recycled glass long before it was in fashion, and the studio techniques I’ve developed are unmatched. I even have a patent on the raw material (I call it my very expensive piece of paper that proves I invented something).”
Q: How did you get the idea for Smart Glass Jewelry?
A: “While pursuing a Master’s degree in English from Georgia State University, I started experimenting with the processes of making jewelry from reclaimed glass bottles. At one point, I had needed a gift for a friend’s birthday so I made a pair of earrings. When my friends ended up raving about them, I decided to take my jewelry to local festivals and craft shows. It took off from there and grew to become Smart Glass Jewelry.”
Q: What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship to start your own jewelry business?
A: “I honestly just sort of followed the demand that opened up in front of me and my product. My business plan was ‘to be the best steward of every opportunity that came my way.'”
Q: What makes smart glass different or unique?
A: “Aside from the fact that we are made 100% from post-consumer recycled bottles, I think we are unique in our position as a “cottage corporation” or micro business. I am an independent artist handcrafting jewelry in my studio, but I have a wicked business sense and have been able to work with large companies and develop studio techniques that are scalable to a mid-tier level. Not a lot of artists are able to work with larger companies and play in that mid-tier level. It’s unique to be able to keep it small on the inside and large on the outside.”
Q: What is one of the proudest moments you have had as a female entrepreneur?
A: “Sometimes I look around at my world, at my home, at my life and travels and think about how it all came from an idea I had, and my ability to transfer that idea into a product and then find a way to place it in the world. And when other women let me know I’ve inspired them to follow an idea they have and do the same, that’s absolutely the best part of what I do.”
Q: Where have you struggled as a female entrepreneur?
A: “A lot of people want to measure retail success at a million in sales or over, not recognizing all the types of successes that happen between one dollar and a million dollars. I want a business where I make the money I need to make, and enjoy a full life having the time and energy to do all the fun things life has to offer. Sometimes when I see people celebrating financially larger success stories, especially in the tech world, I struggle to remind myself of the holistic and sustainable nature of my own personal success. I might not be the richest entrepreneur but I get to run a company, play in a studio all day, and still make it to a 4:30pm yoga class… that’s my version of success.”