December / Kara
Name: Kara Traub
Lives in: Lexington, KY
Alma mater: Asbury University
Studied: Elementary Education & Spanish
Takes her coffee: Black, cold brew
Last book read: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Works at: Harrison Elementary School as a 5th Grade Teacher, Button Rings & Things as CEO/Jeweler
Responsible for: Lesson planning, grading, teaching, and encouraging a virtual class of 5th graders; creating, photographing, promoting, and shipping small batch jewelry for Button
She Is Balanced: Speaking of balance, you rock two jobs! How does each one serve you?
Kara Traub: For me, teaching takes one kind of energy, while jewelry making takes another. I am able to use my humor, my knowledge, my joyfulness, and my empathy while interacting with my students and colleagues at school. This exercises the side of my brain that needs to belong and contribute. I am able to take action against inequity and inform the next generation in my teaching. Teaching gives me purpose.
But in jewelry-making, I can reflect. I can breathe. I make jewelry to unplug, unwind, and decompress. Sometimes I sit cross-legged on the floor and watch Living Single reruns for two or three hours just re-organizing the beads by color (it is as satisfying as sounds.) It takes a completely different kind of energy to create. And as other creatives know, that energy can give you energy. But creativity can be finite, and when making earrings begins to feel like work, I close down the shop for a weekend, or even a month or two. (I don’t have any employees unless you count my two cats.)
I am often getting suggestions about how to grow my business. However, Button has reached a solid following of happy repeat customers, many of whom I can even call friends now. Friendships I didn’t have before the pandemic forced me online. I am more interested in making a better, longer-lasting, higher-quality artisanal piece of jewelry for my online community. So for 2021, my goal, instead of expanding my business outward by having “more," is to deepen what I already have. I want to learn new and better ways to do what I do and collaborate with other, like-minded creators. I have reached out to my friends at other small businesses online and in Lexington about future collaborations I am really excited about!
SIB: Tell me how your boutique jewelry business, Button Rings & Things, came about!
KT: I picked out the name in college, when I would literally only sell button rings and a few other knick knacks at small craft fairs, my mom’s gift/antique shop, or occasionally at work to my friends. Once I even had an Avon-style party; I think like four people came! But over time my interest in running a small business grew, and so did my desire to create. So in early 2020, I finally made an Instagram page.
Button grew exponentially over 2020. When I launched on Etsy in March 2020, I had 317 page visits. By the end of the year I had 11.1k, averaging about 2,000 each month. In November 2020, I was prompted to put in my Small Business Tax Code due to a high number of sales. I am so flattered and grateful that people find joy in the little things as much as I do.
SIB: What's the life cycle of a pair of earrings?
KT: I work most evenings and weekends on Button. I spend a lot of time looking through old books and magazines, getting color and design ideas. I also like to walk around the local shops here to get inspiration. I always feel inspired after leaving the shop Scout. After I get a few ideas, I decide when to release the earrings after they are made. That gives me a time frame of how to work on them. For example, I have some really cute fruit and flower earrings that I'm working on right now. However, I don't plan on releasing those until probably April.
While I'm working out scheduling and timeline, I also try to be very transparent on Instagram. I let my followers know exactly what I'm doing. They pretty much always know when I'm working on something new, or when an order is about to go out. I always give them a heads up about coupons and sales as well as new releases. Believe it or not, maintaining an Instagram takes a lot of time. So while I'm doing that, I will get to work on the actual earrings. That usually involves ordering a few pieces, meticulously looking through the pieces that I have, and rearranging them on the desk until I get a silhouette that I like. Then I actually physically make the earrings.
I'll usually remake them once or twice just to make sure that I can reproduce the design if I want to. If I can't, I may just sell that item as a one-of-a-kind piece, keep them for my personal collection, or dismantle it and reuse the pieces. After the earring is made and remade, I wear them for a little while. Just to make sure they hold up and they're not too heavy. After that, it's time to photograph them, list them, sell them on Etsy, and ship all of the orders. I ship everything USPS. The people at the Post Office on E. High Street are the best. (They know me there, tell them the girl with the big earrings who can’t figure out how to ship something to Australia about 3x a month sent you.)
SIB: How did you feel after you got your first paying customer?
KT: I honestly can’t remember. But I remember the first time I did a larger craft fair. A couple of years ago I set up in the area across the street from the Woodland Art Fair. I had so many customers! So many people were interested in looking through my booth. It was nerve-wracking, humbling, and so motivating.
SIB: What advice would you give to young women who are looking to start a business?
KT: Take it slow. It can be tempting to go big right away. But you will see longevity in your business if you focus on every step of the process being the best it could be. Another piece of advice is to be as ethical as possible in your business practices. Do your research about the supplier you are buying from. This next piece of advice is H A R D, but every small business owner will tell you this - charge your friends and family. And charge them full price when you can. I know it sounds hard to do, and it is, but it shows you are serious about the success of your thing. And last but not least, don’t be afraid to reach out to other people farther along in their business journey. The maker community on instagram is so wholesome. Reach out.
SIB: Speaking of reaching out, what have you learned from your mom's business (The Paisley Peacock in Lebanon, KY)?
KT: The main thing would be the importance of going online. [My mom] has so many beautiful unique pieces, just tucked away. They're hidden from the world. I know that if she dragged a few pieces out and [uploaded] a few good quality photos, some treasure hunters would really enjoy SO MANY of the things that she has. So I've learned the importance of really showcasing your work. Another thing I learned from my mom is my sense of style. She has great taste, I get that from her.
SIB: How would you describe your style?
KT: Equal parts “Still Brooding From My Angsty Teenage Years Because There Are So Many New Reasons to Be Mad” and “If Every Single Thing I Own Is Not Mid Century Modern or From the ‘90s, Literally Throw it Away.” That usually presents itself as somewhat eclectic, somewhat edgy, somewhat classic. I dream of one day shopping at every Goodwill and yard sale down Route 66. I also dream of owning a ‘60s style, museum-quality sitting room...while also (somehow) remaining something of a minimalist.
SIB: How does your jewelry reflect your style?
KT: When people receive a handmade piece of jewelry, they are not only getting an individual item, but also my years of refined design choices. That rough but refined design quality - both skulls and spikes, but also glass and pressed wildflowers. (I’m a Gemini, obviously.) My style lives in that contrast. The juxtaposition of antique and modern, textured black and rose water pink, geometric gold brass that remains minimal. No one piece is just one thing, which is so alluring to me. That, combined with the fact that each earring is made in a small batch. I want the earrings and things that I make to leave you with that feeling of knowing no one else has what you have.
Kara and her husband Trevor <3
SIB: How do you and Trevor make at home dates fun during COVID?
KT: A dream home date for me would include take-out Pad Thai from Jasmine Rice, a beer recommended to me by The Brewer’s Daughter, and several hours of old Simpsons reruns. Of course Mario Cart, Super Smash Bros., and Luigi’s Haunted Mansion breaks will be thrown in there as well. For me it’s all about designating time away from phones to just talk and break bread together intentionally.
To be honest we are pretty lucky. I have my designated work space and he has his. Occasionally we will wander into each other’s office to share a meme, or steal a kiss. But for the most part we have been pretty distant from each other. My schedule is so busy with teaching and Button. And he is transitioning roles at work, so he will often work a ten hour day. Because of our schedules and everything else going on with the pandemic, date night is even more important.
SIB: Let's talk Christmas! What traditions have you and Trevor created for your home?
KT: This is our second Christmas as a married couple. This year ended up being kind of sad, because we weren't able to spend the day with our family. However, it was kind of special just to have the two of us together. One of our big traditions is an advent calendar throughout the month of December. He fills mine with a different tea for each day, and then makes it for me that evening. It’s such a simple act of devotion, a cup of tea. It takes tending to. So that makes the whole Christmas season special. Then, of course, there's always some left over for the new year!
SIB: Wintertime can be hard! How do you chase away the winter blues?
KT: I’m still learning and growing in this area. But I can say plants, art, a little sunshine, and a shower every day helps me feel human.
SIB: What are your favorite ways to care for your mind and body?
KT: I like to do pilates and yoga stretches, even more so now working from a chair. And I do struggle with body image like everyone else. But my fitness journey right now is more focused on my overall mental health.
This year (so far anyway) I have been so intentional about journaling, making time to be outside, and connecting with other people. It might sound kind of trivial, but I think it’s important to identify what you need to be okay and to be healthy. I found journaling as a really useful outlet for me, as someone who does keep up with current events. If I start to feel myself falling into a pit, I will sit down at my computer and type for about fifteen minutes. Then I reassess, check back in with myself, and see how I am doing.
SIB: How has COVID affected your self-care?
KT: Living through a global crisis day after day takes a toll on anyone. I make my mental health and well-being a priority because I have a responsibility to my students (the best Zoom class ever). I have a responsibility to greet them with a warm face that is happy to see them, excited to talk to them. Children deserve a teacher who is passionate about teaching and making sure that they are learning, even through the screen. The Zoom fatigue is real. The kids feel it, and I feel it too. But it's still my responsibility to make sure that these kids have healthy interactions that help them grow as people.
Being in nature and talking to people who don’t live in my house is a highly recommended wellness practice in this new disconnected world. I am lucky to live in a very green city. And my friends have been so creative about connecting safely online. Between Jackbox Games and online bartending classes, we are so lucky to have ways to still connect with people from afar.
SIB: What hobbies make you happy?
KT: I’m one of the lucky ones who was able to monetize my hobby without burning out (yet). But when I do find time to cut-up, I like to play Super Smash Brothers or Super Mario 8 with my husband, Trevor. Our cats do this cute thing where they each pick one of us to bother or lay by the whole time, which adds a fun element of danger. Trevor and I both like cooking, baking and making each other laugh. We take walks around our growing Castlewood neighborhood. We pretend to like craft beer in front of our friends, and haunt local spots like Arcadium and Broomwagon. I recently started a TikTok to post some satisfying time lapse videos. However I am 28, which is 108 in TikTok years, so it takes me about an hour to post (not make, post) a 15-second clip.
SIB: You said you love informing the next generation. In your opinion, what does the next generation most need to know/learn about?
KT: The advice I would give to the younger generation is not to listen to anyone my age or older if they try to tell you how to be. We messed up. The generation before us messed up worse, and so on. Just about everything is broken. And I am really sorry about that. Sorry we left you with, *gestures broadly* all this.
But you all are doing a really good job holding the generations above you accountable, and are serious about changing the status quo. And that gives me hope. I see these Gen Z kids with confidence and aspirations and knowledge I never had. I am finally hopeful about the future, and hope they take the time to give ME advice. The upcoming generation has absolutely catapulted through any glass ceiling. I find their wacky resilience inspiring. So again, my advice is do your thing. Especially while you’re young. And if you start to feel overwhelmed, your Millennial cousins are Kris-Jenner-with-a video-camera cheering for you. You really are doing amazing, sweetie.
SIB: As a multi racial woman, how do you celebrate and connect with both sides of your ethnic heritage?
KT: Connecting with my heritage has been such a complicated journey for me. As you stated in your question, I am a mixed-race woman. I am Black American, and White Hispanic. I wasn't raised to celebrate, or even talk about it. So I've mostly been going about that journey alone. No one else in my family is Black, or identifies as Hispanic. Meaning I didn’t grow up in that environment. However, within the past several years I’ve had to learn to really explore, and learn to love that part of myself. Because, truthfully, it can be very isolating to be non-white in Central Kentucky.
While I was able to explore the White Hispanic part of my heritage in my teens, by spending time abroad, studying Spanish in Spain, visiting family in Colombia, and speaking openly with my grandmother about her childhood in Uruguay-- it is just now in my twenties that I finally am exploring what it means, for me personally, to be Black. I am consuming Black Art/Music/TV/Books like it’s my job right now. It is such an easy and uplifting way to celebrate my heritage. I missed out on being Black in the 90s, so now I get the fun of discovering R&B, for example, in my 20s. I'm learning about so many good 90s shows on Netflix that I just feel completely robbed of. I see myself in Moesha and her friends, and I am so glad to have that now. It sounds so trivial, but it’s a way I can feel connected in quarantine.
I take being part of this strong, creative, resilient lineage very seriously, both as a teacher and as an artist. The best way I know how to celebrate my heritage is by honoring the struggle of those who paved the way for me by making my success my priority. All the while, educating myself, and using whatever platform and resources I can to lift up, and advocate for my community.
SIB: It's been a rough year politically. How do you maintain strong relationships with people who disagree with you in that area?
KT: For me it’s not politics, it’s my life. And it’s my students' lives. Everyone deserves human rights, and human dignity. I have a difficult time finding common ground with those who disagree. In this time of social media, the oppressed in this country have somewhat of a voice. The revolution is literally being televised, and has been for years. And so if someone is just not listening, what could I possibly have to say to them?
SIB: Who inspires you?
KT: Literally every Black woman. Consistently, Black women show up, they get it done, and they make it happen for everybody else. Black women have championed the #MeToo, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s march, AND Black Lives Matter movements. Black women organize everyone, regardless of racial identity. Rihanna said “tell your friends to pull up” and we all did.
"How many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions? Well then, they want to break bread with you, right? They like you? Well then, this is their problem too. So when we're marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Jr.s and the Atatiana Jeffersons of the world, tell your friends to pull up."
- Rihanna 2020 NAACP Image Awards
Consistently Black women are on the cutting edge of fashion, art, design and music (and being called less-than for it) only to then have their designs taken, repackaged, rebranded, and resold. As Millennials, we see it in the arts and fashion world. Gen Z sees it in online content creation. And yet we rise, you know what I mean? I am simply so inspired by the joy, the resilience, and work ethic of Black women.
SIB: What does balance mean to you?
KT: Right now the best way that I can find balance is by muting my Instagram and not bringing my work out of my workspace. With both of my careers right now, there's really no way to clock out. There's always more you can do and more you can prepare. There's always a way to make it better. So letting myself know that right now is relaxation time. Or right now is family time. And not bringing a bunch of papers to grade or earring cards to hole punch. That is the best way I can find balance right now.
follow kara's business!! @buttonringsandthings