#49 Katherine Parr: Designer & Founder of K.P. Jewelry & Parré Chocolat

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Katherine is an American artist, designer, and social entrepreneur based in New York City. She began her career as a fashion model, discovered by photographer Patrick Demarchelier after earning her degree from Villanova University's School of Business. She had previously turned down modeling opportunities to attend college. She has been featured in a variety of modeling jobs in domestic and international fashion markets, between television, magazines, and runway shows, for clients including Diane Von Furstenberg and Vespa.

Katherine left the fashion world twelve years ago, in a move which was featured on CNN World News. She left her private sector career to pursue her U.S. government teaching certification simultaneously with work as a schoolteacher of immigrant children in an inner city for over five years.

An artist since childhood, she developed a series of decorative arts and jewelry during this time which was featured in a show at an art gallery in Europe and has been shown in a variety of locations and worn by public figures. She continues her jewelry and art designs which express her interest in global culture and philanthropy, having worked with global artisans including those in Kabul, Afghanistan; Cape Town, South Africa. and New York City. Design partnerships have benefited UNICEF, the Edeyo Foundation, and Turquoise Mountain, NGO.

Katherine has recently co-founded and launched Parré Chocolat, an ethical luxury brand, and works directly with farmers in Latin America to generate economic and community empowerment.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My top three core values are: Style, Substance, and Sustainability:

Style is paramount to my designs, both in the elegant visual aesthetic my creations as a designer as well as what the customer desires to make herself or himself look and sound more stylish and interesting. From the business perspective, is how the brand is represented from design to marketing, and beyond, all the way to the customer and how she is perceived wearing the jewelry.

Substance is critical to the journey and story of each piece. I don't just design products, I create visual representations of unique and interesting stories, with obvious and underlying layers of symbolism. The complexity of substance is rooted at the depth of each design, as well as the history and inspiration I use with a fluid theme of cultural motifs. We partner with non profits, such as Turquoise Mountain, to maximize impact through charitable donations to the communities where the artisans live, with a focus on education for children and artisans alike.

Sustainability: We focus on the people, from the artisans we work with in places from Afghanistan, South Africa, to New York, to the team members of the company in order to create an inclusive, supportive, and educational environment for all. I pay a premium to the artisans for their work, rather than working with factories that mass manufacture designs under often unethical business practices. Environmentally, we choose local materials from the regions where the artisans work as much as possible. In my Freedom Collection, I have sourced and upcycled a rare historical artifact from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Robben Island Prison in South Africa, that I electroplated in gold for a fine jewelry capsule collection of one-of-a-kind pieces with a jaw-dropping story I'm grateful approached me.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

The main lessons I have gathered on this, Cher sums up in one of history's better quotes: “Women have to harness their power—its absolutely true. It’s just learning not to take the first no. And if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner.”

Following a fascinating fashion career, I spent 5.5 years in New Jersey as an inner city schoolteacher and social entrepreneur in order to make a difference. Halfway through this chapter, I realized I was best suited to city life where I could have greater social impact, and unsuccessfully attempted to return and get re-situated. I applied to dozens of organizations over two years, including non profits, and nobody would hire me with my untraditional background as a fashion model and schoolteacher. I felt a great deal of defeat during this time. A mentor who has been extremely helpful to me, Peter Kellner, made calls on my behalf, including to the World Economic Forum that values private and public sector experience. In the end it was through the circle of friends and a man named Jeff Katz that I was able to secure a non-teaching job and return to the city where I now live and work. In Cher's words, it took dozens of "no's" and turning quite a few corners to get where I am today. I apply this to every challenge I face and hope other women might be inspired by this example.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

I'm proud to have just completed a TEDx Talk on Conscious Consumerism for Economic Empowerment which was one of the best invitations I've had recently. Since education has always been important to me, I decided to empower myself through education to take classes in Computer Aided Design to take more control of the entire product development process from my initial inspiration and sketches to final product. Rhino will also make it easier to close the loop in Circular Design, and design more collections more frequently, therefore providing more empowerment to the artisans and more interesting and meaningful jewelry to the world. I am happy to have begun a series of projects with Custom Collaborative, a Harlem-based non profit that helps low income and immigrant women gather skills for employment in the fashion and accessories sector, with a focus on education and marketing. Lastly, I'm traveling again to Guatemala in September to visit the farmer communities where my husband and I have donated to associations where we source our cacao beans for the chocolate business.