Made in New England Series: Kathryn Yee from The Everyday Co.
[photo credit: Lara Woolfson]
Back in 2014, local design guru Kathryn Yee was working private events, where she’d style in-home events for clients. It pained her to see all the paper products being used, so that’s when she went to her mom with the idea to make everyday napkins to replace the traditional paper napkin. During the first year of business, her mother Betty would sit at her kitchen table sewing away, cutting fabrics at different sizes and trying out various stitching techniques. That little kitchen table is where many of their first prototypes were born! Now, The Everyday Co. has grown into a beaming business, featuring handmade environmentally conscious products from napkins and handtowels to handkerchiefs and coasters. We met up with their founder Kathryn to chat about upcycling materials, her love for the West Coast wellness scene, and why creating memories around the dinner table still plays a key role in the company vision.
R.K: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
K.Y: In 2014, I was doing private events, styling a lot of in-home events for clients and I was making cloth napkins instead of using paper. I said to my mom, “What if we made napkins that replaced paper napkins?” My mom and I started playing around with different sizes, and looking at the paper napkin. For me, it seemed like a no-brainer, the whole thought process of less is more.
When we launched it under my event company, it started picking up and we were quickly getting wholesale orders, so I decided to take it on full time. My mom sewed for us for the first year! My grandmother was actually a lead a seamstress at the factory she works at, so it’s kind of like a nod to her and I often think of her!
It’s also modern and relevant for today, as people are much more conscious about what they’re bringing into their home – how to take care of yourself and your home on an everyday basis.
R.K: Is that why it’s called The Everyday Co.?
Yes, that’s where the name of the company came from! We want people, especially our generation, to use cloth. There is no space for larger napkins, especially when you live in the city, so it’s this idea of stacking small napkins instead of paper. They can be small and not take up a lot of space. It’s about using them every day. The product was called the Every Day Napkin at first, and now we branched out into other products!
R.K: Where did your passion for hand-crafting & design come from?
K.Y: I’ve always been into art and design for as long as I can remember. I went to Syracuse for design and knew that was the path I wanted to go in high school. I went to an art school and my trade is in Graphic Design, so I’ve always been into it!
RK: How did it all begin? What was the first thing you did when starting off?
K.Y: I knew I had to take it to the next level when we were getting wholesale orders and people were buying it on our website. I knew I needed to start thinking about it more seriously, and we’ve since reshaped the business model a little bit, and have grown to more products for the home.
I had already left my 9-to-5 a few years before that and was fully into my events business, and then I took it out on its own. I knew I always wanted to own my own business; the events business was a service business, but I wanted to take a stab at a product business. I look to other brands as mentors and look up to other home brands that I love – having them in the forefront. I aspire to be like them, and having a product was my chance to grow the brand into something more!
R.K: I love your tagline “Inspired by Simple Living, Designed for a Better Environment.” Can you speak to that?
K.Y: It’s the idea of living more simply, especially right now with everything going on in the world. It ties in really well with the mission of The W.E.L.L. Summit – living more simply whatever that means to you, cutting back and using less. We promote using less paper and being aware of your paper consumption. I think a lot of people if not using paper products are using paper towels, and our product is really great about replacing both of those items, especially during meal-time. When you’re celebrating moments with your family, we want our product to be there during those moments so you feel like you’re making a difference too. You don’t need as much as you think! Our napkin is meant to be very casual, for every day.
R.K: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any specific roadblocks or challenges you’ve faced?
K.Y: It’s important to have a voice. There are a lot of big brands out there, so as a small business know you’re doing something good and producing something of high-quality that’s handmade. Being a small voice in a bigger market is challenging, but being able to tell our story, be authentic, and make a quality product hopefully comes through.
R.K: How do you source your materials?
K.Y: I love to touch fabrics and play with fabrics and colors! We use that unfinished raw edge which is very unique, and we also take a lot of custom orders. Instead of the stitching being functional, the stitching is actually a design element.
Our fabrics are mostly 100% linen and I go out and find large amounts of fabric myself in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. We pre-wash everything and the fabrics are neutral enough so it can fit into your lifestyle. Instead of us printing our own fabric, I’m set on using fabric that already exists so it might be remnant from the apparel industry, for example, and it’d normally just sit in a warehouse. I go out, touch it, find it and make sure it’s the right weight and feel. There’s a lot of fabric out there but it’s hard to find the really good ones. I buy as much as I can and once that style is out, that’s it. So our products are small-batch and short run. The upcycling allows our customers to feel like when they buy our product they’re a part of that whole experience!
R.K: What’s your personal favorite product or one you think everyone should have in their home?
K.Y: I love our hand-towels! They are designed with a hook, which becomes an accent to the piece. You can hang these towels in your bathroom, your kitchen, or your studio. They’re very lightweight, absorbent and beautiful. There’s something about the design that people really love! Plus, the hook is made from 100% cotton from Italy.
R.K: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
K.Y: Yes, I think there’s this heritage of making things with your hands. New England itself has so much history, especially in Massachusetts there’s a big manufacturing industry. I think that New England lends itself to makers, and the maker movement across the U.S.A is growing which is awesome! Making things with your hands and being tactile; people appreciate that. There’s this juxtaposition of the history of woven goods and textiles in Massachusetts, and today you think of it as being this tech bubble of startups. I think for a successful small business, you need both. You need it to be crafted really well but you also need to think of the business side.
R.K: What would you love to see in the New England wellness scene that you don’t now?
K.Y: In terms of wellness and lifestyle, I’m so inspired by the West Coast. I have a lot of family in California, and we really eat up the lifestyle of being outdoors, farmers markets, and fresh produce. We‘re definitely seeing more of that here which is awesome, and things like The W.E.L.L. Summit are great but I’d love to see more of it. My husband and I are really into cold press juice so more of that would be great! Hopefully businesses take note that wellness is not just a trend, but something people are adopting. Existing establishments can also take note and infuse it into what they’re doing – cleaner eating and different recipes.
R.K: What other local wellness brands are you a fan of?
K.Y: I love Studio Carta. A dear friend and colleague, Angela Liguori, brings back beautiful cotton ribbon and fine stationery goods from Italy where she is from. We use her ribbon in our products and packaging! Melissa Moses from Salt Cellar Shop, located on the Cape, makes all of her handmade botanical salves and balms from flowers and herbs grown in a half acre garden. And with two locations in Boston, Cate Brinch from Recycle Studio has created a friendly and approachable cycling studio with an inspirational vibe and an awesome team of instructors!
R.K: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
K.Y: My greatest influence right now is my husband, Jake. Not only is he supportive and inspiring, but Jake also has the ability to think creatively around potential growth opportunities. He constantly reminds me that starting a company is not easy (never mind doing it with a newborn!) and that you have to give opportunities a real chance. Taking risks is part of that. He keeps tough days in perspective and reminds me that small wins add up to big victories.
R.K: What’s your favorite quote or mantra to live by?
K.Y: I believe in sharing knowledge and experiences. It helps move innovation and your industry forward. We have to be in this together. Being protective over what you know stifles growth and deters people from working collaboratively. Everyone gains when we work together!
R.K: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
K.Y: It’s constantly evolving! I want to create a brand people think of when they’re creating a safe and healthy home for their family. I want to stay relevant and staying top of mind. When people in our generation are starting a home, I want to be a brand they think about.
We’re starting to dive into home products like pillows! We’re taking on the idea of re-purposing and upcycling fabric, creating products that are simple and functional to help you build a safe and healthy home – things that bring comfort and joy and also help you feel good because you’re doing something good.
R.K: How do you maintain a work life balance?
K.Y: I’m going to use a line I heard once on a panel. I don’t think anyone has figured out the work life balance thing and I think that’s OK. I think we should be OK with having work life balance off, because we do the best we can in areas that make us happy! If it’s wellness and it’s something you want to focus on in your life, then that’s great. I don’t really feel like anyone has perfected it! I just had a baby nine weeks ago, Nikko, and he has definitely forced my husband and I to take a moment and appreciate what we have. There’s no greater time than spending it with people you love! I think that ties into our brand, all about coming together at the dinner table and enjoying those moments.
R.K: Here at The W.E.L.L. Summit we like to say “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
K.Y: A lot of people say I’m very chill. I’m very organized. I can pull things together on a whim. I have a get-it-done attitude!
R.K: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own local brand in New England?
K.Y: Make sure whatever you’re creating is genuine and authentic, and that there’s purpose and meaning behind it. I think people want to be a part of something they can relate to. Have some meaning and purpose!