This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting here on the blog entitled: Behind the Maker! Each month I’ll be featuring a shop owner who not only creates beautiful things and runs their own business, but is also a chronic illness warrior.
Today I’m beyond excited to introduce to you Kacie Fleming, the maker and owner behind not just one, but TWO highly creative shops: Katya Valera Jewelry and Streetlights at Midnight. I met her on Instagram this year where we began connecting through our healing journeys. She is a sweet soul, full of light and authenticity and I just can’t wait to share her story and creations with you all!
In addition to hearing about her life as a business owner and chronic illness warrior, she has something special to offer you lovely readers! So be sure to take advantage of that at the bottom of this post! (Or share this post to give a “hint, hint” to someone in your life…I won’t judge. ;-))
Meet Kacie Fleming
Connect with Kacie on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Favorite Quote: “He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” [ Psalm 107:14-16 ]
Favorite Food: Plantain fries. Odd I know, but seriously just sliced up and fried in olive oil and pink salt. They are amazing. (Dip them in guacamole! 🙂 )
Favorite TV Show: My favorite TV show is definitely Friends. As with most shows it seems, it has its issues, but it is great for a much-needed laugh and perfect for background noise while I’m working on my shops.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family?
I grew up in West Virginia on a gorgeous cattle farm (cows mooing and the sound of a Ford truck will always make me happy…) with my parents and older sister. Both of us are grown up and married now, and I have the most adorable niece and brand new nephew. I’m very close with my family, and my mom is a huge supporter on my journey to healing, as we are both on the same journey.
I live with my husband of four years in North Carolina, and he is the most patient, long suffering, hardworking man I (and probably most people, honestly) have ever met. He lives this crazy ride of chronic illness along with me, and I know I could not have gotten through these years without him. We met at college my senior year, and though I graduated with my B.A. in Creative Writing, the infinitely more valuable result of that education was finding him!
When were you first diagnosed with your chronic illness?
I was originally labeled with Fibromyalgia in January 2011. I had just graduated college the summer before and had become mysteriously sick, seemingly out of the blue, soon after that. Fast forward three years and lots of prescriptions later, the whole time assuming that I had no choice but to stay this sick, and I discovered the world of holistic medicine and eventually my true issues.
I finally learned in the summer of 2015 that I actually have Babesia (a Lyme co-infection), Celiac Disease, the MTHFR gene mutation, Leaky Gut, mercury poisoning, autoimmune issues, hormone and liver issues, and other various issues all teaming up to make it no wonder I was so sick—and a wonder I’d been functioning as much as I had.
What effects has illness had on your life?
Illness has absolutely, completely changed my life. It’s inevitable with chronic illness that every decision you make comes to revolve around your health and, in my case, the quest for healing. I’m unable to go out and get a job, getting to go to church is a rare occurrence, and accomplishing things like laundry and dishes is a big deal.
My dreams have been indefinitely put on hold, and my college degree has been collecting dust. But I’ve finally found real hope for healing, which I can’t believe I never knew existed, in holistic, homeopathic treatments. We are witnessing the healing slowly but surely, so I am trying to not let those dreams slip totally out of reach. And I’m finally using my degree a bit in my card and print shop.
Can you tell the readers how you landed on the names of your two shops?
Katya Valera (pronounced KAH-tyuh Vuh-LAIR- uh), my handmade jewelry business, definitely has a unique story. I love Russian and took it for two years in college, during which time “Katya” was my nickname. “Valera,” means “healthy”. So the two together essentially mean “Healthy Kacie,” which I am not, so this shop is my defiant act of creativity and productivity while being too sick to go out and get a “real” job.
Streetlights at Midnight, my original card and print business, was inspired by my long-time love of the light-shadows that come from streetlights shining against the wall in soft oranges in the middle of the night. It seemed fitting for a shop that focuses on encouraging gifts for those struggling with chronic illness or any other kind of trial.
When did you first open each of them? What inspired you to open?
I first opened Katya Valera in fall 2011 on a complete whim. It wasn’t even called Katya Valera yet. I had been searching online for bridesmaid jewelry for my upcoming wedding and kept seeing all these clay rose pieces that I loved. Several YouTube videos later, I decided I could totally make those myself. Within two weeks I had bought supplies and opened my shop with ten pieces of jewelry.
We’re now coming up on five years of this shop and I’m so glad I just went for it. My jewelry has evolved a great deal over the years, but it’s helped me stay sane during the hardest years of my life. It’s also ended up being my small attempt at fundraising for my medical bills.
Streetlights at Midnight has officially been open for only about a month now. Though, my cards have been part of another shop of mine, which Streetlights at Midnight has now replaced, for about a year.
I got the idea to have a card and print shop last summer, as I’ve submitted to greeting card companies in the past. A couple were accepted but I still had all these cards I’d written and nothing to do with them. So instead of dealing with submissions and rejections it occurred to me to just make and sell them myself.
How do you manage running a shop while fighting illness? Do you have others who help you?
I run both shops entirely on my own, which is honestly how I like it! My husband helps when I need to vent or make big decisions and is also my photographer when I need to model the jewelry myself. Otherwise, it’s all me: planning, designing, writing, photographing, editing, listing, making, and packaging.
It helps that this is a very flexible job, so generally I can organize my work around my body’s needs. At times it does get rather overwhelming, but that is usually self-induced (overachiever perfectionist, anyone?). And I really don’t know what I would do without these shops. They help me feel like I’m accomplishing something while also being fulfilling creatively.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is thinking about opening their first shop?
There are three things that I find most important to consider:
- The cost. Consider how much each piece of whatever it is you’re making will cost you, how much you’ll have to charge for it to make a profit, and if you’ll have the finances to keep it all going.
- Your business name. As I mentioned, my shop began as a whim, so I started with a name that I’d only thought about for a few days. A few months down the road, I realized that it needed to be changed. So I had to go through the trouble of re-branding, redesigning my shop, and getting new business cards, etc. The process was worth it, but it probably could have been avoided.
- The legal side. This type of information oddly seems to be a secret in the world of small business, but it’s important. Find out if your state requires a business license (probably) and if you need to be collecting sales tax and paying that, along with regular income tax (also probably). Your state might have a small business association you can consult.
I wish I had known these three things when I was planning to open my first shop. Though in retrospect, they may have deterred me from jumping in. So in a way I’m glad I didn’t. But life would have been a whole lot easier in the long run if I had. 😉
Anything else you want to add or share about you or your shop(s)?
This year at Katya Valera I started releasing seasonal collections, along with a seasonal box, KV Wishbox, that precedes each collection. It lets you browse and pick from the selection at a huge discount before it’s officially released. I’m so excited about the new Summer Collection that released in June, “Drops of Summertime,” which was inspired by the quintessential moments of summer days and nights. We’re talking watermelon, starlight, honey, sea breezes and more—it was a lot of fun to plan!
The Fall/Winter Collection is now in the works and will hit the shelves in October, with the Fall/Winter KV Wishbox releasing in September. I highly recommend checking it out on its website and taking advantage of it when the time comes!
Meanwhile at Streetlights at Midnight, prints are coming soon. All original quotes currently available as printables will also be available in tangible form, which I’m very excited about and eager to launch as soon as I’m able. And special gift sets are coming soon too—more ways to encourage those you care about!
A special offer for Living Grace readers:
Kacie is offering a limited-time discount to all you readers for both of her shops!
Katya Valera: Use code LIVINGGRACE for 10% off through August 13th
Streetlights at Midnight: Buy two printed or digital cards, get one FREE through August 13th. (Just purchase two cards, then let Kacie know in the note at checkout which card you would like to add.)