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August 6, 2011

Shop Talk: Katy Keen

Katy Keen LLC 10 West End Ave., Stamford Owner: Katy Keen Established: 2007 Employees: None (self)

Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Katy Keen, a Stamford-based graphic artist.

How long have you lived in the area?

Eight years.

Tell me about your business:

I am a graphic artist and designer. My business is designing beach towels and other cloth art for superstore clients along with my own vanity boutique line that includes T-shirts and onesies. Locally, I do posters, brochures and logo design work for businesses and special events.

Describe a typical day in your business:

It comes in waves, sort of, with winter being a time that I work on developing and designing my collections. Spring is when I present my work during "Market Week" in New York City _ this is the big fashion week where new fashion lines are presented. The summer for me and my business is going to festivals and artisan craft fairs, where I meet customers, who give me the directions to what next year's designs will gravitate toward. In the midst of this, I keep my books and meet with clients and work on designs for them.

How did you get started in this line of work?

My start begins in London, where I went to art college and received a degree in printed textile and fashion. I traveled to Milan, where I worked in the fashion industry, designing predominately for the swimwear and lingerie companies. A visit to New York City sponsored by the British government brought my current market to me, where I was approached to fill a niche that was otherwise lacking. That area of need was beach towel designs, and I became known this way, as beach towels follow fashion trends along with clothing.

Where do you see this business in five years?

In five years, I hope for self-production of several independent lines of clothing.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

The first one that comes to mind took place at a trade show I was at where this woman came up to me and introduced herself. She said "Hi, my name is Marie Osmond." I stood there for a moment not knowing what to say, but we talked about my designs that Marie was interested in. We then spent quite a bit of time talking about her brother, Donny, as Marie wanted to know how popular he was in England. He was very, very popular, and I myself was great fan of his.

What have you learned from your work?

I've learned to get my inspiration from the people. There is an idea that you read fashion magazines to get ideas of fashion, but it is actually the other way around _ designers get their ideas from the people. I have learned how to be very in touch with the public.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

The most challenging part is the initial presentation to new clients, especially if it is a "cold call," where they may not be completely familiar with my work and what I do. It is difficult to break down barriers at first when they are considering me as just "small potatoes" compared to huge design firms.

The most enjoyable?

I love meeting with people, talking with people, seeing what they like and establishing a relationship (so) that I can create exactly what they are looking for.

How do you define success for your business?

Success for most people may be financial, and I certainly like to have the money, but it is not my first definition of business success. Success for me is happy customers _ I get a real thrill out of seeing people enjoy my designs.

What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?

I have learned to adjust my fees to people in this area. This is not a area that I can expect to charge the same amount as I get from corporate clients in the city. That is really fine by me, because I want to be a part of this community and have the local connections.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

What sets me apart is my personal touch; I am very willing to work with people to develop pieces that fit their needs. I think that the image of working with an artist is tainted by those who are inflexible with customers, who present (themselves) in a way that leaves the impression of "it's either my way or the highway" sort of feeling.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

Get as much in-house experience as possible from other designers. Understand that the bookwork and taxpaying is part of the business, as well as what you are doing. There is no point in having a business if you don't have the information to know what something cost to produce it and how much profit there is. You have to be realistic and when it comes to a design that you really love but are not selling _ you need to give it up and move on. Another piece of advice is to keep in touch with your community _ this relationship is very important.

Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email

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