I recently wrote an article for KCFreePress.com about eco fashion in Kansas City, spotlighting three fabulous Kansas City brands. Today, a closer look at Early Jewelry. Kylie Earlene Grater grew up on a small Kansas farm, but rather than leave those roots once and for all when she moved to Lawrence in, she has translated her rural upbringing into the aesthetic that defines Early Jewelry: “Capturing the spirit of pasture and prairie, and the excitement of old made new again.” Grater’s eco-friendly nature is reflected in her minimalist lifestyle and design aesthetic, she says. Grater’s designs are made from recycled metals and vintage and natural materials, from one-of-a-kind buttons and cuff links to feathers and bone. She handcrafts each individual ear wire and necklace clasp, which underscores the handmade origins of each piece.

Occasional interns and part-time employees help with basic production steps, like trimming wires, but Grater does all the finishing herself. “Quality control,” she says. Grater’s skill set comes from a degree in sculpture from the University of Kansas, including a year spent studying craft-making in England through an exchange program. She has now been building Early Jewelry full-time for three years and has worked with several major distributors, including a 6,000-piece order for Urban Outfitters in and a Free People order that just shipped out in February. As you may have noticed, I can’t get enough of Kylie and Early Jewelry — her aesthetic complements everything that I think is good in the world. When I visited her Lawrence studio earlier this spring, she made a necklace of repurposed vintage buttons and even showed me how she makes her custom necklace clasps, which are beautifully designed yet perfectly practical.

Anyone interested in jewelry construction will appreciate these videos.

We also talked more about how she started her business, which is a great case study for any artistic entrepreneur. In general terms, it goes something like this: She got the best education possible in her field, learned about wholesaling by working at a retail store in her industry, sold her designs at as many local art and craft shows as possible to figure out her market and what they would buy, did valuable business research through her local small business development center, expanded her distribution by entering the world of tradeshows, and now, Kylie has made Early Jewelry her full-time job for three years.

One catalyst of Kylie’s success has been LOLA, Ladies of Lawrence Artwork, an event/collective she co-founded in. 

At the first LOLA show, she and three other local artists hosted an evening event to sell their goods, and today, a larger group hosts several shows a year, all in venues that allow them to keep 100% of their profits. That initial collaboration of Kylie’s led to many more, and it’s striking how much she has partnered with friends and other creatives to create and maintain her brand, from her identity design to photography to copywriting — some of which she has traded jewelry for. You can listen to Kylie talk about how she got her start and how she launched her brand in my other video excerpts. The next LOLA show is this Saturday in Lawrence, and I can’t wait to see Early Jewelry at the Renegade Craft Fair here in Austin May 15-16.

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