In this series on The Southern C, readers get to “meet” many of the interesting and creative entrepreneurs we know online through our social network and also in “real life” at The Southern C Summits. These individuals are the CEO’s, founders, creative directors, artists, designers, makers and doers that are shaping our landscape with their vision and ingenuity. Take a peek into their day to day life, find out what they are working on, discover their “a-ha” moment and gain insight into what motivates and inspires their work and lives.
The subjects and their niche may vary but many share the paradoxical traits of creative individuals – they daydream, observe, ask big questions, people watch, seek new experiences, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, take risks and bounce back all while following their true passions. We hope you will be inspired as we spotlight the creativity that abounds in our region. According to Einstein, “Creativity is contagious”, and we are happy at The Southern C to do our part in sharing the creativity!
This week, I’m excited to introduce our readers to some dear Southern Coterie friends, Chris Hutcheson and Christie Shepard, the creative power houses behind a new online lifestyle brand Dear Keaton. With a shared passion for travel, living with intention and great design, this duo, former execs of an established home textile company, came together and envisioned an online marketplace with a highly curated selection of home furnishings, gifts, apparel and accessories channeling the relaxed vibe of some of the most beautiful resorts around the world.
Keeping that vision in mind, Dear Keaton was created for those who have traveling spirits or simply dream of wondrous destinations. A believer in the value of fair trade and global artisanal communities, many of Dear Keaton’s globally sourced products are artisan made, sustainable and fair trade wares that create a well-traveled home. Offering some of the freshest finds and latest trends, Dear Keaton transports you across the globe all from the comfort of your home…
Christie Shepard (L) and Chris Hutcheson
Describe your brand/business:
Dear Keaton is an online boutique promoting resort living everyday. We have curated a unique mix of globally sourced products ranging from resort wear, home furnishings, decor, lighting, rugs and jewelry – all channeling a vibe of far off get-aways. Dear Keaton is a place for those who have traveling spirits or simply dream of wondrous destinations.
Such a unique name – what’s the story behind that?
The Dear Keaton name is reminiscent of the time honored practice of penning postcards to loved ones while traveling. A nostalgic nod to the past, when travelers shared the sights, sounds and senses of distant locales with those back home with a quick handwritten note. A simple “wish you were here” that would momentarily transport the recipient to another place. Dear Keaton is our personal postcard to our customers, sharing the latest trends in global home decor and resort wear.
What did you want to be when you grew up and how has your background influenced your work?
Chris: Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was an entrepreneur from a very young age. I was always creating some type of business and each taught me a valuable lesson. I must have driven my family crazy with all my “big“ ideas. I made Barbie clothes from my mom’s quilting scraps and sold them to neighborhood kids as “one-of-a-kind designs” and I like to believe this was my first introduction to product design and marketing.
Another successful venture took place one fall when I loaded our wagon with straw, added cardboard cutouts in the shape of horses and sold “hay rides”. The rides basically consisted of me pulling kids around the neighborhood while we sang songs. To further the hayride experience each rider was given a complimentary bandana. It proved to be a lesson in the customers perceived value.
By the age of 11, I began to realize distribution combined with supply and demand were the keys to success. My favorite venture was compiling candy orders from neighborhood kids, then proceeding to the store via my bike only to return with their candy requests for a small “distribution fee”. Needless to say, I experienced quite early a love of product design, marketing and business development. To this day those things still excite me!
Christie: I wanted to be a fashion designer as a child. My parents gave me a Singer sewing machine for my 10th birthday which I still have and use! I earned a textile degree in undergrad and went on to work in the NYC fashion industry.
I quickly learned the fast paced NY lifestyle was not for me, so I moved back South and over the years, I became more passionate about home furnishings and interiors. I later earned an MBA in Marketing and switched gears in my career. Now with Dear Keaton, I am surrounded by the best of both worlds, curating a beautiful collection of products for the home as well as resort wear and acccessories. I always knew I wanted to work for myself, surrounded by pretty things!
Tips for a successful partnership?
Chris: I think Christie and I were lucky to have had previously worked together. It allowed us to experience each other’s drive, work ethic and conflict resolution skills first hand.
Developing clearly defined goals for both the business and ourselves personally has been key. as well as being on the same page about the Dear Keaton brand. It has allowed us to stay focused when making business decisions.
Also, and very importantly, we have learned the power of laughter. As entrepreneurs, laughter will sustain you through all the long hours and fears while keeping you from taking yourself too seriously.
Christie: Chris and I make great partners because we have the same strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirits (we have both owned other businesses in the past) and we possess complimentary skill sets.
Chris has strong financial and operations skills (as well as a great eye for design!) while marketing and the tech side of things are more in my wheelhouse. We also have a very similar design aesthetic. When we go to market, 9 times out of 10 we gravitate toward the same products. Above all else, we like and respect each other.
Favorite business tool?
Chris: With the creation of Dear Keaton, I am being introduced to so many new tools. Business technology today is incredible but none are as impressive to me as social media, especially Instagram. It brings the world to you by creating incredible connections. The power of social media never ceases to amaze me. The immediate feedback through analytics is an incredible tool. I must admit to a slight addiction to analytics.
Christie: There are so many amazing new tools for startups these days – from Evernote, Google Drive, SumoMe, MailChimp, Google Analytics, Xero, etc. Pinterest was invaluable during the ideation phase of developing the Dear Keaton brand. We used secret boards to cull imagery for the overall brand aesthetic, select brands and products we wanted to sell, as well as collaborate with our graphic designer to create the Dear Keaton logo, mark and color palette.
Where do you find inspiration?
Chris: I am a self-professed collector of experiences. I love to learn new things and have found some of my best inspirations have originated while I am in classes or workshops. Cooking, weaving, pottery and even business classes transport me out of my comfort zone. My senses are immediately open to new colors, textures, smells and thoughts. I am currently anxiously awaiting a glass blowing class next month.
Christie: Inspiration is everywhere! I find inspiration in nature, travel, shelter magazines, blogs, Pinterest and quite often everyday life.
The rare day off – what do you do to unwind?
Chris: For me, there is nothing more relaxing than indulging in a facial or spa day. There is something so rejuvenating about peace and quiet.
Christie: I’m not much of a “relaxer” unless I am on vacation. I love to work in the yard, sew something, or do a home project on my day off. As lame as it sounds, ticking things off my to-do list gives me joy. I’m not a napper, and I rarely sit down when I am at home which drives my boyfriend crazy.
Best business advice?
Chris: A former boss told me “you become an average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, choose wisely.” It is very true. It is one of the many reasons why I love the Southern C. Being surrounded by inspirational, dream building entrepreneurs every day keeps me driven, creative and always learning.
Christie: I worked for NY swimwear designer Malia Mills right out of college (UGA). Malia taught me the importance of building your brand story and reinforcing it through all customer touchpoints – in everything from hangtags and marketing materials to your emails and phone voice. Perception is everything when building a small brand!
Book – I am a bit of geek who doesn’t sleep much so there is always a book on my nightstand, in my bag or being played in my car. My current favorite is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi though I always find myself re-reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I love the message of learning from your path when following your dreams.
Movie – Casablanca. There is nothing better than Bogart!
Song – I am not known for my excellent taste in music. It tends to be something my friends laugh about. I’m a child of the 80’s so those songs tend to be on top of my list: U2- Beautiful Day, Guns N’ Roses- Sweet Child O’ Mine and White Snake- Here I Go Again.
Drink – I am loving vodka cucumber gimlets served with a sprig of basil right now although a crisp Pinot Grigio is my go-to choice.
Indulgence – Cake… though that probably isn’t what you meant by that question, haha! Weekend get-aways because it’s so important to recharge your soul. A few days of travel is just enough of a break without feeling disconnected for too long. Putting my feet in the sand or gazing at the mountains always seems to put everything in perspective for me.
Book – Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist – a beautiful collection of inspiring short stories. I don’t often read fiction, but I am looking forward to reading The Light Between Oceans at the beach 4th of July week.
Movie – Legends of the Fall (I’m a sucker for a beautiful, tragic love story and young Brad Pitt!)
Song – New Year’s Day by U2
Drink – a perfectly y chilled Rose
Indulgence – An afternoon at the Mandarin Oriental spa in Atlanta. A massage and a few relaxing hours disconnected from the world can fix just about anything!
Whitney Wise Long, co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit, loves to connect with Southern entrepreneurs and learn more about their creative endeavors.
This Q&A series offers her the perfect opportunity to do so!
For more of Whitney’s Southern Creatives Q&A’s click the names below: