Interview: Kate Gabrielle

If I see a shop filled with pinks and pastels, chances are, I'll instantly be a fan. Add pop culture references and puns, and you've pretty much just described my ideal brand. If you've spent even a minute looking at Kate Gabrielle's store or Instagram, you know that her items check those boxes perfectly. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I first discovered Kate's work through her style blog (though, as you'll learn, the business actually came first) and it didn't take long to become a fan of her products as well.

Kate first started her business selling art prints under her shop, Flapper Doodle, and while that side of her business still exists, she's also transitioned into her namesake store selling lapel pins, accessories, and apparel. Though her product line has expanded over the years, what hasn't changed is the colorful aesthetic, love of pop culture, and of course, feminism. I loved learning more about Kate's business, what she's learned from building this herself, and the pros and cons of selling on different platforms. I can't wait for you to get to know her better too.

Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?

A: I’ve always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, so it was just sort of the natural path that I took when I was finished with high school. I started out selling my artwork at outdoor art festivals, and then in 2008 I started looking for another outlet to try to sell my art, since the festivals had started suffering the effects of the recession. I started out selling art prints on Etsy, but then it grew into more of a business with multiple product lines as I’ve tried to adapt to changing times, algorithms, and interests.

Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?

A: In 2006 I did a couple of punny paintings that really took off at my art festivals (I eventually titled the series Puns Intended) and I continued focusing on that style for several years. It was much more successful in-person than online, so once I started selling on Etsy I ended up putting more of my energy into my Flapper Doodle drawings, which, for mystical reasons unbeknownst to me, did much better online than the punny art!

Q: I’ve been following along with your blog for years, as I’m sure a lot of your customers have. Did your experience or anything you’ve learned from blogging help with starting your business?

A: I started my business way before I started blogging, so if anything it was more the reverse for me. I think I learned more from being a business owner about blogging. Consistency and being true to myself worked well for me in my art career so I applied those same traits to blogging, too.

Q: How has your experience been selling on different platforms (Etsy vs. Shopify vs. Society 6, etc?)

A: There are pros and cons to each platform. Shopify would definitely be my favorite if it had built-in traffic. It is infinitely customizable, and it feels the most like an official standalone store. However, unless you are driving your own traffic I’ve found it’s very hard to get sales there (and I’m really bad at driving my own traffic, lol!)

I have such a love-hate relationship with Etsy. It’s the only platform where I consistently get traffic and sales, but I feel like the company itself is not looking out for their sellers. They are constantly pushing us to offer deeper discounts and promotions (ie. they just changed their search to favor listings with free shipping, so I am offering free shipping, even though it means I’m now losing about $4 on each sale.) and they do nothing to keep knock-off items out of the marketplace. I’m constantly finding etsy shops selling knock-offs of my designs from China, but Etsy does nothing about it. Unless I find a way to magically turn my Shopify store into a success, though, I’ll be sticking with Etsy indefinitely because I have no other choice.

I like Society6 because of the breadth of products they offer, but sellers get such a small fraction of each sale. My favorite print-on-demand platform is Threadless’ Artist Shops, since they allow you to set your own markups. That way I actually make a decent profit from each sale, rather than a dollar here and there on Society6.

Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?

A: That’s such a tough question! It’s probably a tie between this dress where I drew all of the scenes from the opening titles of The X-Files and made them into a pattern, and this lapel pin that I made from an illustration of my cat Arrietty.

Q: I’ve loved seeing your product line expand. Is there a type of product you like creating most?

A: Lapel pins are probably my favorite because I love the idea of seeing something I drew on paper suddenly become this tangible, real 3D object. And especially lapel pins that are classic movie themed. Classic film is so close to my heart but there aren’t a ton of items available for fans, so being able to make all of my niche paraphernalia dreams come true is really fun.

Q: What’s your advice for someone looking to start marketing their art and creating products out of it?

A: To be totally honest, I’d say try to find someone who is good at business and team up with them. I love drawing and making things but I am very, very bad at selling them. I’ve had a few runs of good luck ever since I launched my career, but whenever that luck runs out I feel very stuck and helpless because I have no business savvy whatsoever.

At the same time, I want to say “go for it!” Even though this can be a very stressful and erratic career, there is literally nothing else in the world that I would rather be doing. I’m currently going back to school to get my BA because I’m worried about my shop and I want a backup plan in case it totally goes under. But I don’t want another job. I LOVE coming up with new things and sending them out into the world, and nothing else feels right for me. If you feel that way, too, then it’s worth trying.

Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?

A: Right now, just to stay in business, lol! It’s been a rough couple of years, but I’m trying really hard to adapt and stick around. This fall I’ve launched a bunch of new product lines to try to inject some new life into my business -- dresses, greeting cards, laser cut wooden brooches, and magnets. I wish I had a loftier goal but honestly just having a steady income and being able to continue to do what I love most in the world would be the ultimate goal for me.

Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?

A: (my mom’s shop!)

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