Kaitlin Rhodes was just your average college junior working in customer service at a restaurant when she discovered her true passion: creating unique, stylish bow accessories. She wore colorful bow headbands to work every day until her persona as “Katiebowhead” became a reality.
Kaitlin took apart the bow headbands she bought from thrift stores in order to figure out how they were crafted. Before long, she’d made over thirty of her own headbands — some of which featured bows and others that were even more unique, featuring miniature holiday ornaments and wrapping paper bows.
The idea behind the now-signature bow bracelet, which is at the center of Katiebowhead today, came from one of Kait’s sorority sisters, who showed her a photo of a similar design and asked if she could make it. Kait had made a variety of headbands before, so she figured attaching a bow to a bracelet was possible. She worked with Velcro and buttons as options for fastening the bracelet before she discovered the magic of toggle clasps and jump rings, which she still uses to craft her bracelets.
The name behind Katiebowhead, which has now become Kait’s full-time business, began during her days in the restaurant when she connected with a little boy whose family were regular customers. “We had a routine,” Kait explains in an interview with Germ. “He would run through the door and jump into my arms, go sit down with his family, and then immediately come back to play in the lobby with me until his food arrived. Jake and I became best friends.”
One night, when the restaurant was busy and Kait disappeared for a moment to help in the kitchen, Jake screamed and cried, “Where’s Katiebowhead?”
Kait had the perfect name. She had style, and she had creative flair. She also had the design and production skills necessary. She started successfully selling her bracelets in 2014 while still working at the restaurant. After about a year of juggling both, in December 2014, she decided to make Katiebowhead her full-time job.
“One day, next thing I know, I am literally my very own boss,” Kait says.
Kait’s style inspiration comes from a variety of places, including classic painter Claude Monet, fashion icon Lily Pultizer, and designer Kate Spade. Her love affair with Kate Spade’s ‘Glitterball’ collection is what pushed her to create a glitter collection for Katiebowhead.
After a few days of researching online, Kaitlin found the perfect glitter fabric to use and ordered it from London. “I remember the day the package arrived with the large square meter of sparkly fabric, I literally wrapped it around myself like a cape,” she says. “I felt like I could take on the world. Maybe glitter is my superpower?”
Working with the tough glitter fabric was more difficult than Kait imagined, and she ended her first day of production with bruises. After some trial-and-error, she figured out how to work with the material and began producing and marketing her first collection of glitter accessories.
Since her first glitter collection launched, Katiebowhead has had several iterations of the collection, with bow bracelets, planner bands, key fobs, lanyards, card cases, and more. She comes up with new ideas in two main ways: upon seeing a product that she loves and thinking, “That’s cute, but it would be way better if it was made of glitter!” or by receiving custom requests from her customers and followers.
“It’s an amazing feeling when someone trusts me with their ideas,” she says about creating custom designs for others. “When they believe in my creativity so much that they give me a concept and say, ‘Run with it, I can’t wait to see what you create.'”
Some of her other creative projects, such as party hats and Disney mouse ears, come from her desire to show off her own flair with her wardrobe. Once she designs something for herself that she believes customers would also love, she perfects the project for about a week or two before selling it on Katiebowhead.
In the future, Kait would love to explore men’s designs as well as mommy & me collections of matching accessories for mothers and their children. Her first concern with creating products for younger users is safety, so she intends to place her full attention on the fabrics and materials used before she launches.
“There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of something new that I want to make, create, paint, or sew,” says Kait when asked what new product lines she’d like to experiment with.
She’s most interested in crafting clutches, wallets, and small handbags at the moment. Her goal for 2016 is to have at least 2-3 other makers join the Katiebowhead team to help her with the production of her regular products. Then she’ll be able to channel her design skills to try her hand at handbags and other new collections.
It takes a great deal of self-discipline and hard work for Katiebowhead to run smoothly, and being your own boss isn’t as relaxing as it sounds. Kait wakes up between 8-8:30 every day, dedicated to her business and its growth. She spends her mornings on social media and replying to emails, and then a vast majority of her afternoons are focused on production and design in her craft workshop. Her workshop is her creative oasis, with a gallery wall that’s accented by a gold-and-pink tassel garland and a painted faux deer head.
“This is my happy place,” she says while describing the space.
The most difficult part of owning your own business? Leaving work behind. Kait admits it can be hard to get away from it all, especially when her “office” is twenty feet away. “What do you do when your favorite hobby and passion becomes your career?” she asks. “I used to craft, sew, and paint for fun… and believe me, it’s still just as enjoyable, but now I’ve realized I kind of lost my hobby.”
She keeps it all together by making sure she has daily routines that she sticks to when possible, including watching the television series Switched at Birth — which inspired her to learn American Sign Language and to someday volunteer with young children in the Deaf community. Additionally, she receives a hefty amount of support from her mom, nicknamed Momma Bowhead, who keeps finances straight; her grandmother, Meemee, one of her biggest cheerleaders; and her boyfriend, Damian, affectionately known as “The First Man of Glitter.”
“Damian doesn’t even bat an eye when the barber mentions the confetti in his hair,” explains Kait. “When the days get long and I have my mild breakdowns and question my ability to continue, he is right there beside me telling me to never give up and reminding me that this is what I’m meant to do.”
When she started wearing handcrafted bow headbands to work, “Katiebowhead” was just a cute nickname, and designing was Kaitlin Rhodes’ passion. Now, her passion has become a fully-fledged business that financially supports her and gives her a full-time creative outlet.
“To my fellow dreamers, continue to follow your passion,” is Kait’s biggest piece of advice for fashionistas and aspiring creatives. “There is no better reward than, at the end of the day, when I’m physically holding something in my hand that didn’t exist that morning.”
The most memorable aspect of Katiebowhead is the personality that she adds to every accessory. Each package from Katiebowhead comes with an adorable personalized note from Kait, handwritten and signed. As a repeat customer of hers, I’ve even received two gifts simply because Kait cared enough to pay attention: a custom bracelet with glitter and hand-selected charms that represent my style personality (for graduating college), and a glitter bracelet with my name on it (for the holidays this year). It’s those sweet details that show how dedicated and passionate Kait is about not only running her business, but making every single customer feel like a true bowhead.