Way back in the beginning of 2014, I asked all of you to take a survey, and so many of you did! By far the most common question I got was about my story, how I got here, what I went to school for, all that jazz. Then I didn’t tell you all of 2014, got more questions in my 2015 survey (have you taken it yet?) and decided I needed to FINALLY publish this post! And so I’m finally here to tell you my story.
You can really thank my mom for this post. For a surprise bridal shower gift she made me nine (NINE!) scrapbooks that chronicled my life from birth until now. It is such an amazing gift and one I’m so excited to share with my kids some day! But the other great part about it was, it put all the things I wanted to tell you guys right there, in chronological order! Thanks Mom for helping me get a move on with this post! And thus commence the most embarrassing photos I’ve ever shared…
It all started when I was born. No.. ha! We won’t go that far back. My story towards Studio DIY really starts in middle school, so I’ll summarize the previous years for you. I was always doing crafts as a kid. AL-WAYS. I have four brothers and they all played all the sports and I did all the crafts while I sat on all the sidelines. You see, I didn’t get the athletic gene. I did track for a few years once, and was always happy when I came in last because the ribbon was pink. Yep, it’s true. (I did dance though!) I was a big animal lover (I wanted to be a zookeeper and a cat house designer at one point. Yep.) and I was always starting fun side projects with my friend Michelle. We had a paper crafts biz which we called “Paper Crafts” (Original, eh?) and we sold our creations on the side of the road, lemonade-stand style! And that was elementary school. Now for the good stuff!
As I’ve told you before, in 2002 I was diagnosed with stomach cancer (GIST, to be exact. You can read that story here.). I missed most of the 8th grade recovering and during that time I started to get really into fashion design. (At some point I also wanted to be an interior designer, but for the sake of time, I’m gonna cut to the chase that that didn’t last long.) I found some model templates online and started sketching clothing designs. I was always a future-thinking kid. So as my love for this new hobby grew, I started researching. Researching fashion schools, researching fashion careers, all that jazz. I finally came upon The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC and found out they had a pre-college program for high school students. SCORE! It ran in the summers and on Saturdays during the school year. So you better bet I started that very summer, despite still needing some pretty powerful post-surgery medicine, which I would take during the lunch hour. Multi-tasking, people! Overall, I loved the program and it gave me a great taste of what I thought my career path would be… fashion design.
The Other Man in My Life
The only picture I have of Mr. Schwartz (left) and I.
Outside of FIT, I enrolled in art classes as 8th grade came to a close, to start building my portfolio for college fashion school applications. This was probably the biggest game changer in my life. My teacher, Mr. Schwartz, had been my teacher in elementary school and he had since opened his own art school. I remembered loving him when I was little and that love lasted! Outside of my family and Jeff, Mr. Schwartz was and is the most important person in my life. He was my mentor, my sounding board and one of my biggest supporters. He let each student take their own path which was something I really valued. We had a class time, but no two students were doing the same project. Everything you see in this post from here on out, and on this blog in general, was because of him! He has since passed away and that has been harder to go through than all that cancer business of years past. He died just short of when Studio DIY really took off and I so wish he was still here to share in it’s success!
Some of my artwork I did in high school!
As I entered high school, I sacrificed my brief band career so I could take a sewing class. This class is where I really honed my sewing skills. Like Mr. Schwartz, my sewing teacher allowed me to do my own thing. She helped me adapt patterns to my own designs and do some crazy off-syllabus eccentric projects, all because I asked if I could, mind you. ALWAYS ASK! I was so proud of the things I made in that class.
In 10th grade, I started a jewelry business. I had taken a jewelry class at a local bead store and fell in love, and like I always did… I went crazy with it! I sold my jewelry at local craft shows and street fairs. My mom also helped me organize home parties, where we would invite friends and neighbors to our house for a jewelry party! I made a good amount of money doing this (and babysitting my BUTT off!), however I didn’t save any of it. It all went to my former expensive designer purse obsession. Bad life choices, kids. Ce la vie.
Amidst my budding jewelry business, I discovered something called Teens in Fashion. It was a contest for teens to design a six-look line of clothing, the winners of which would get the chance to make their line and showcase it in New York Fashion Week! I still remember getting that call that I won. I totally lost it, sobbing on the phone. My collection was inspired by the Greek Isles and you can see the sketches and the real life versions below. I spent most of the summer before my junior year of high school sewing my brains out, along with the help of my sewing teacher in pattern adaptation so I could showcase my very first “line” in Fashion Week! The show was probably one of the coolest experiences of my life. I got to see my real life designs walk down a real life runway on real life models. And then I got to walk out behind them, as the designer. I was only 16, the youngest of the winners! I was interviewed by MTV and pictured in the Daily News. Fame, folks! Ha, I’m joking. But it was really freaking cool for little ol’ me.
My collection for Fashion Week!
Soon after, I set my mind on a new fashion school of choice, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, much to my parents disappointment. And with that in mind, I got to work on making sure I’d be attending FIDM after graduation.
Work the System. Always.
Some of my sewing projects!
In my senior year, I like to tell people I worked the system. I haven’t discussed it yet, but I truly despised school. Ever since I can remember, I did. I was very very lucky that school came easily to me. I got very good grades and put in very little effort. I think I read maybe 2 of the 20 books that we were supposed to read, and I would study the night before the test, or the day of. I had my sights set on other things, more creative things. In my mind, school was (and always has been) in the way. A roadblock I had to get around. So when I heard that we had the opportunity to do an “independent study” senior year, I jumped. Mr. Schwartz agreed to sign on as my “advisor” of said independent study so we could work on my portfolio together. I took the bare minimum of classes I had to take outside of my multiple sewing classes and left every day at lunch. SCORE! The truth is, yes I did spend most days at Mr. Schwartz’s studio. Were we always working on my portfolio? No. We worked on my portfolio, we did crossword puzzles, we chatted about life and my future career and his newest projects. The life lessons I learned that year from him though, are far better and more important ones than I would have learned in another history or chemistry class. So I’ll stand by my bending of the rules till my death!*
Disclaimer: Education is a very hot button topic, and I am not looking to start a discussion on its importance. I am of the belief that school in its current state isn’t right for everyone and that everyone should be allowed to choose their own path, with good intentions, rather than have one set for them. I very much respect teachers and all that they do. I will say, however that I think our school system could use a major overhaul. But that’s a story for another day!
Long story short, I got accepted to FIDM and in the fall of 2007 I moved my life to Los Angeles. That summer before the move, of course, was when I met Jeff and fell in love! Suddenly my dreams to get the heck out of my small town and into Los Angeles weren’t as exciting anymore, but off I went while he headed to Washington, DC. I made some great friends and I loved LA, but I did not like the school. After being the only one in my fashion courses who had ever sewn before (Go figure!?), I switched majors to Visual Merchandising, but I wasn’t happy there either. I worked for a costume designer on the side, embellishing the costumes for Disney’s Enchanted, but the path I was on still didn’t feel right. So come June, I packed up all my belongings and moved back to NJ to reevaluate what I was doing. I came to the realization that my creativity was best fostered outside of school, but with parents who very much believed in college education, I decided to go to a regular college and just get it over with, so I had a degree behind me. Just in case.
I decided the right move for me was to follow Jeff to DC. I had already made a great friend there, Lauren, on my visits to see him and it just seemed right. While I waited for my application to be accepted, I spent that fall interning in NYC. My very first internship was for StyleCaster. In fact, I was one of their inaugural interns, when the company was still very much a start-up. After that, I interned in the fashion department at Bridal Guide Magazine, which was the beginning of my new career path… weddings!
In the spring of 2009 I started at American University with my main goal being “get. out.” I pushed myself, taking as many courses I could at a time and taking summer classes, and ended up finishing a semester early, believe it or not! I majored in Public Communication and minored in Marketing. I don’t want to talk too poorly of my university, but you guys tend to like when I’m honest… I learned absolutely nothing in my major. Marketing gave me a few great ideas to ponder, but the majority of that money… oh how I wish my parents could have it back! If I could do it all over again, knowing what I (don’t) know now, I would go to business school. And I would highly recommend that if you feel you 100% need to attend college, but you don’t find school fosters your creativity, major in business. You’ll use it.
My First Blog
In typical “me” form, I started a side project. A blog! I had been reading wedding blogs for quite some time and was obsessed so I started my own, Notable Inspiration. It was through this blog that I got invited to a wedding seminar called Making Things Happen. Another game changer for me, this is where I met two of my future employers and friends, Holly Chapple Flowers and Bellwether Events. On the weekends, I assisted Janice with weddings. It was a lot of fun, but I quickly discovered wedding planning wasn’t for me. During the week, I helped with admin tasks for Holly and absolutely loved being a part of her flower and kid (She has 7!) filled world.
As I entered my senior year of college, I decided it was time to work the system again. I wasn’t learning anything in my communications classes so I asked if I could do an independent study in place of several of them. Luckily, they were receptive, and I started my independent study… building… you guessed it, Studio DIY! As a part of the study, I took web development classes and was assigned a few books to read. The first version of Studio DIY was born, and never saw the light of day. But I learned a heck of a lot more than I would in another class telling me “the media is changing.”
I graduated in December of 2010 but stayed in DC through the spring semester while Jeff finished up his final courses (though really it was so I could spend a few extra months getting to see Lauren and my other roomies every day. Shhh!). I began working for a DC wedding blog called United With Love while simultaneously working with my former web development professor to build the real first version of Studio DIY.
Studio DIY – The Party Starts!
After our official graduation in May 2011, Jeff and I set our sights on Los Angeles and moved out here in June. I continued working for United With Love along with a handful of other wedding-oriented businesses while I prepared to officially launch Studio DIY. I launched the blog in November 2011, with a handful of “sponsors” to whom I gave a three month trial and some wedding content. In case you haven’t guessed, I originally intended for this blog to be more of a wedding blog, but quickly learned my passion was a bit more broad. And now that I’ve gone through my own wedding, I’m so glad I didn’t stick to just that topic. PHEW!
Some of those sponsors I gave free trials to decided to stay on as paying advertisers and I continued to curate DIY real wedding features and DIY projects. This was one of the first projects I made that was noticed by more than the few people actually reading the blog. I remember Melanie featured it in one of her Babble round-ups and it was THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY LIFE! That project was colorful, fun and party oriented and I think it was what made me realize that that is where my niche should be. I continued to work at my various freelance jobs and gained a few contributor positions. Sponsored posts gradually started to trickle in and I’d say around Valentine’s Day 2013 is when things started to get very consistent and I started focusing more full-time on Studio DIY later that year.
One of the most common questions I get is “How did you grow your blog to be a full-time job?” And I find it a very hard question to answer. What did I do? I put out quality, consistent content that stuck to a strict style. That developed a strong brand. A brand that sponsors could trust, and that they knew what they were getting, and a brand that people could recognize. Sure, I did guest posts and I contributed to get my name out there, but what a lot of people don’t tell you when they hire you as a “contributor” is that it breeds very little click-throughs and thus doesn’t really build your traffic much, in most cases. I went to Alt Summit, WAY out of my comfort zone and Nole (who I contribute for) was the only person I knew. I actually vividly remember sitting down next to Chelsea at one of my first sessions there and awkwardly introducing myself and then being all “OMG! I LOVE YOUR BLOG!” Now I get to call her one of my good friends! Crazy, right?
Producing quality content got me featured in various round-ups which built my traffic, and I continued along my path, slowly and organically growing. The only thing that has ever happened with Studio DIY that was not gradual and organic was being featured by Instagram. That netted me about 30,000 followers… but I gained all other 70,000 myself. So my answer to that question is, there’s no quick way to the top. Decide on what your brand should be, build the HECK out of it and be CONSISTENT. Live your brand. Network, even when it’s terrifying. And always be kind, grateful and humble. Those are really the only tips I can give to answer that Q.
But for some more tips on getting started + building a business…
1. Work the system. This is my NUMBER ONE TIP (!) for those of you who are high school or college-age readers. If you know that you want to do something that you can’t learn by the curriculum your school has laid out for you, get creative. It NEVER hurts to ask. Ask about independent studies. They’ll usually be impressed that you have the initiative to do so and in my case, they always said yes.
2. Don’t just rely on school. This is another one for those still in school. Work. Or intern. Or create your own job. Or all three. If school isn’t fulfilling your creativity, find it elsewhere. Take up a hobby and turn it into a small business, work retail at a store in line with the area you want to focus on, intern at a local company with similar goals. Be a self starter. It’s important if you ever want to go into an industry like blogging.
3. Own your brand. This is the single most important thing I did to grow Studio DIY to what it is. I figured out what I wanted the style to be and I became VERY strict on what I featured in order to stick to it. If I have to (or want to) use a product that doesn’t have color, I add it in in my styling. Because color is my thing. Without color, a post on my blog would feel weird. Dark and moody is not my style. Dark wood, dramatic lighting… that would be weird. So I don’t use those elements. Think about everything from the design to your social media posts to your styling props and don’t let anything slip. Similarly, develop and own your voice.
4. Work your butt off. Any book you read by an entrepreneur, I’ve read #GIRLBOSS and Barbara Corcoran’s book recently and loved them both, they work their BUNS off. They know what they want, they know their brands and they work hard to get them. Ain’t nobody got time for laziness here.
5. Be scared. If you aren’t scared, you aren’t progressing. I was terrified when I left each of my freelance jobs that I would be broke the next month. I’m still terrified when I send an important email, hire a new employee, sign a new studio lease. But without doing those things, I wouldn’t have grown. If you are comfortable, something is wrong.
I think I’ve hit my writing quota for the year now, eh? And I still have a survey recap to discuss next week! If you haven’t taken it yet, be sure to weigh in. Thanks for listening, and to those of you who had asked this question over a year ago… thanks for being patient with me! Excited to see where the next 25 years take me (and us!)!
Ashley | Sugar & Cloth says
I knew it! I KNEW one you three had a secret cat thing going on! 😉
Love ya Kel, great post!
Great post Kelly and thanks Mum for helping make it happen – I was one of the people that asked this question.
I love your insight into school and why it didn’t work that well for you. I majored in Dance and apart from a few Taylor Swift dance parties in my lounge with the bf, I use NONE of it now. Life experience has taught me way more.
Definitely going to be braver with my blog and networking in 2015, thanks for the endless inspiration! x
Thank you Kelly! Great post! I really admire you! The number 5 tip is really helpful! Everyday I’m concerned about being scared. But if you say it’s right being scared I trust you!
Janice Carnevale says
Oh the Congrats In a Box. Love that one. great post my dear!
Kristina B says
LOVE your post and really one word sums it up: A-MEN.
It is SO hard for a creative person to finish and stick it out in school…I had such a hard time focusing when nothing was really feeling useful. Also a Communications major and wish I had taken business classes, even though I would have hard a hard time keeping up, I think.
DOUBLE YES on the importance of internships. Experience is GOLD.
Love hearing your story and agree agree agree on EVERYTHING.
(PS I totally also sold paper niblets lemonade-style when I was little!!)
Thanks Kristina! I agree, I think I would have struggled through some business classes but can’t help but think what help they would be now! Love that you also had a little paper biz as a kid! Ha, so awesome!!
Holy cow, Kelly! I LOVED reading this! Seriously, bravo on all that you’ve accomplished! I’m already a fan of your blog, but after reading this story, I love it even more knowing all that you’ve done to get where you are today. High five!
What a wonderful story – thanks for sharing!
Liz @ http://www.shoppingmycloset.com
Mary Costa Photography says
Kelly! I loved this post!! I learned so much about you….! And can we talk about HOW YOU WORKED ON ENCHANTED?! Amazing. You’re the best! Thanks for being such an inspiration and for keeping it real!!
I just came across your blog last year and just loved the spirit and vibrancy immediately. I’m not much of a crafter, but I love the creativity and delightfulness of your ideas! This was a great post. I love reading how people get to where they are now, its never a straight path! Truly inspiring. Looking forward to seeing how your brand grows this year! 🙂
Man! I feel like YOU could write a book on this. I’ve had many struggles of my own in education, I actually rarely look back on them and evaluate how they may have impacted where I am today. I am not yet where I want to be (regarding blog + career) but absolutely am here because of my experiences/defiance/independence/etc while growing up. I like how you call it ‘working the system’ 🙂 Thank you for your advice and perspective, its super motivating.
LARY@Inspiration Nook says
Great post Kelly! Super inspiring story.
Between us, I am sad we never got to hangout while I lived in L.A. Next time I visit we should grab coffee or a donut or two 😉
Pat Newman says
all I can say that that was great stuff you just wrote. I always knew you have what it takes and that blog proves it.
That is so awesome that you are a cancer survivor! I had a terminal cancer when I was 14 (I’m 27 now…I’ve been in remission for 11 years) It is really neat to see what you have been able to achieve since then! I don’t get the chance to hear about many people who have survived. So thanks for sharing!!
Also, a little encouragement for you–my doctors said that the chemotherapy that I was given would make me infertile. I’m pregnant with baby #5 🙂 I know it’s a different situation..but hopefully still encouraging!
Wow!! GO YOU! That is so encouraging to hear you’re pregnant with #5 despite the odds!! Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing.
Jessica Brown says
Wow, thanks for sharing! I loved learning so much about you. And the throwback photos were great!
Thank you so much for sharing this, Kelly. I always find it so inspiring to hear where the people I admire came from and how hard they worked to get to where they are. School was a total waste of time for me (I majored in philosophy of all things….whyyyy?) and I always wish I had chosen a different route. Hearing your story just makes me really want to get up of my rear and make things happen!! xoxo
Monique | WritingMonique says
I loved reading this! Your story is so inspirational; you’ve worked so hard for everything you have accomplished!
Leonie @ Ashlee Rae says
Thanks for sharing your story! I loved reading about your thoughts on school and working the system…totally agree!!!
Airin A says
I’m so pumped up after reading this entry! You inspire me alot! Hugs & kisses for you from Malaysia!
Sherry Lou says
I LOVED reading this post so much. I am sitting here thinking “omg, I can’t believe there is someone else out there in this world who thinks just like me!” I’ve always felt like college was a huge waste of my time (and money!!) and all of the biggest lessons I learned was from interning and working day and night on my school’s fashion magazine and my side projects. It’s always hard for me to articulate this to people without them thinking I’m anti-education blah blah blah. I think education is great, but like you said, our system could use a major overhaul. I majored in Communication and wished I had chosen business since that’s something I’m actually using right now for my online shop. I’m still in the process of deciding whether or not to quite my stable full-time job to grow my business even more. It’s absolutely scary, but after reading this, you’ve helped me feel more at ease about it.
Thank you for this post! I wish this were a book so I could read more! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Glad to hear someone else feels the same way I do! And I agree, it’s so hard to articulate to people without sounding out of touch or entitled! Going full-time self employed is totally terrifying but so gratifying, sending you all my best for if/when you make that leap!!
Sara Budisantoso says
Thank you so MUCH for sharing your experience. I can’t tell you how helpful this post has been to read. I recently launched my own blog Hola Sara and I am bit terrified and excited at the same. It is nice to read that the road will be fun but also scary. I am just starting out and I admire your blog so much — it is part of my daily read. You’re so fun and creative. Thanks again.
Thanks, Sara! Congrats on the blog launch, so exciting!!
Aileen @ At Home in Love says
This is amazing!! Thanks so much for sharing this post. So many good points and things to think about…and it’s fun to see all the photos of you from the way past! You are SUCH an inspiration, girl.
Ana Perez says
Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us! I’ve been a little stressed lately because I am kind of freaking out about being out of my comfort zone at work–but after reading this I feel so relieved! You’re right–if you’re not scared, you’re not doing something right.
I just LOVED reading this post! Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed hearing the journey that got you to where you are and love the tips on business and blogging! I’m a little lost in how I want to brand myself and I need to work on that. And talk about being scared. It’s a good reminder that being scared means your taking a leap! I forget that too often. Seriously loved reading through this. It’s incredible how you ran full speed in the direction you wanted to go. Love it!
So glad, Faith! Branding is key! It took me a long time to figure it out but it’ll all come together and you’ll know when!!
What an awesome story Kelly! You’re such an inspiration =)
caroline lee says
love this, lady. you’re a wonder + an inspiration. pumped to call you a friend + colleague. thank you for sharing a bit of your journey with us! xx
heidi @ a week from thursday says
Kelly, this is a fantastic post. Thank you so much for sharing. Your blog is one of my favorites and I’m so glad you shared your journey with us. When you mentioned being scared, I couldn’t help but think if you’re scared or challenged, that’s just proof that you’re experiencing growth.
I’m working hard on branding. Your style is always spot on.
This is a great read as I start a new year and plan all of my own goals & hopes. Encouragement keeps the dream alive 🙂
Thank you so much Kelly for sharing your story. I think we might be soul sistahs (seriously). From selling paper crafts in elementary school to selling handmade jewelry(and in my case purses as well), to nursing a fashion dream, I can relate to every bit of your journey because I’ve been there.. After getting a college degree (in Medicine no less), I feel like school might have been a waste of my talents. Currently working long hours in a hospital and still spending whatever free time I have baking (commercially) and crafting(and sharing through an epileptic blog,lol), I’ve been toying with the idea of just sticking to my true self and ditching the ward coat for good. It’s scary but like you said, you have to be scared! Thanks for the inspiration again and God bless all your endeavors.
Pat newman says
Such a well written and couldn’t stop reading story. Girl you have what it takes to succeed in whatever you choose Bravo?
Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke says
Loved reading all of this, WOW on the early years! I’m curious why you took off banner ads, working with too many conflicting companies? I LOVE color, too, my brain just doesn’t tend to be as organized…and driven…ha!
I am so excited to have finally found and read your origin story (now you sound like a cool comic book character) – I have been following you for a while on Instagram and have been pinning your DIY projects on Pinterest for agessss, and I was always very curious about the woman behind the fun! I’m pretty sure you’re my spirit animal (human? probably more appropriate) – I am also obsessed with color, anything that sparkles and DONUTS! Beyond that though, our life stories are also quite similar which really shocked me! I’ve always been very crafty, started out at one university and transferred to another that was a better fit for me, enjoyed school for the social aspect but wasn’t the best student, took an independent studies class my senior year of high school (I made my focus on graphic design and wrote/illustrated a book, have had a failed blog and I actually live in Washington DC now! I currently work on a government contract as a graphic designer, but would love to work my way into the events / wedding industry, and someday after gaining wayyyy more knowledge than I have about planning events currently, have my own company in some capacity. You are a huge inspiration to me, not only for the way you’ve cultivated your career, but also for how I live my life on a daily basis – I love seeing your posts come through my Instagram feed as they make me absolutely crazy happy, and I’ve made it my life mission to re-create all of your donut crafts. I recently did the donut beach hat, I ordered the sunglasses to make those next and I’m trying to see if I could create a donut rug somehow… Your projects also majorly helped me during my planning process for my Galentine’s Day party I threw this past February – I didn’t make a gold heart pinata, but used your tutorial to create a fringe gold heart as wall art – it actually still is hanging in my dining room! Anyways, back to the point – I saw your Instagram post four hours ago about it being your birthday and the infertility struggles you’re currently facing, as well as your goals for this next year and I’ve been falling down the rabbit hole that is Studio DIY ever since, reading all of the posts and clicking all the links and I just had to stop and thank you for everything you do. You create such a beautiful world and I really cherish the moments when your posts make it into my life, and while I know it’s not all sunshine and roses 24/7, you do an amazing job at reminding me to stop and enjoy it. Happy Birthday Kelly!
Great post Kelly, I will follow your website
Mary To-Saturnio says
Kelly, Cannot thank you enough for sharing your story! You are so authentic and fun – I love it! I am leaving so inspired to think about my brand I just launched, IZZAROO. Thank you again for being such an inspiration! – Mary