Small Business Profile: Katherine Entis, Owner of Soft Century - Portland, OR
Hey Katherine! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on the West Coast. I was born in California and then moved to Vancouver, BC with my family when I was ten. I was kind of a goofy, nerdy kid and I loved to read. It's always been easy for me to get swept up into other worlds. When I started art school on the East Coast, I originally wanted to be an illustrator until I saw a senior textile show. I never thought about textiles in that way before, and it blew me away. I switched my major and have been working in textiles ever since.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I learned most of what I know about textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design where I studied textile design and learned to weave, knit on an industrial machine, and dye my own yarns. Most of my early projects were knit apparel. I liked the fact that with knits, the product is formed in the same process as the textile.
I still love knit apparel for this reason, and I know I will probably come back to it in the future - but for the moment home-goods have captured my attention. I like the simplicity of their construction and how they can be used as a blank canvas for more experimental techniques and designs.
You worked as a color designer at Nike - what did that role look like?
As a color designer, I was primarily concerned with the mood and feeling that the products I worked on would convey. We would start with trend and concept research and then build an overarching color palette for the line.
When did you know it was time to leave your corporate job and start a business of your own?
I always continued to make my own work on the side. This was around the time that I started making knit paintings instead of apparel. They were small and concise, so I was able to sit down and concentrate in short bursts of time after work and on the weekends.
I knew I wanted to share my work, but I wasn't sure where to begin. I came across the West Coast Craft Scholarship Booth program. To my surprise, I was accepted for a scholarship booth. That really lit a fire under me. That first show was the turning point when I realized that maybe I had something which I could turn into a business. I left Nike a few months later to officially start Soft Century.
What does your design process look like?
I'm always looking for inspiration, in part because a lot of the time it's hard to come by! So it's different for every project. More often than not my ideas kick off with something unrelated to textiles--movies, books, food, or a long walk. Then sometimes I'll draw or paint sketches of the idea, but other times I'll just jump right into weaving. After that, I usually make a couple iterations of the design, trying out different colors and patterns until I get something I'm happy with.
Your products and digital presence have a very fun, cohesive look. Do you have any tips on creating a brand identity?
Build slowly. Figure out what you like, and share that with others. Understand that creating a brand doesn't end with creating a beautiful design or product. Be sure to give this part of the puzzle the time it deserves. Most importantly, try to make everything add to the story you are telling with your designs.
City is your new collection of rugs and pillows - how do you evolve and change your business and products over time?
City has been a big step forward for me. It's my first time working with artisans to manufacture my designs at a slightly larger scale, which is quite a bit different from making one-of-a-kind textiles myself. It has allowed me to be more ambitious with the designs I want to include, but has also required me to think about what techniques the people I'm working with are able to produce, what materials are available to them, and other logistics like shipping and scheduling.
What makes you passionate about what you do?
There are probably two main experiences that keep me going: the first is making something that I connect with. No matter how many times I do it, I'm always surprised to see something actually come together, because it feels so perilous as its being made. The second experience, at least as important as the first, is when somebody else connects with my work. Making something personal and then showing it to the public is scary, so when another person embraces it, it's such an exciting feeling!
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face?
The biggest challenge for me has been learning the parts of Soft Century that are not design-focused: marketing, logistics, etc. They represent a completely different set of problems. It is a weird feeling to spend years and years trying to get good at textile design, and then, just as you begin to feel like you might have a handle on it, realize that you need to start from square one with a totally new discipline.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other? How have women supported you?
I think everyone should support women! They're great! There are so many women I'm grateful to for their support. My mom was a painter and taught me to love art and textiles. Whether its the store owners who help me sell my products, other makers who have given me advice, or my customers, women have made Soft Century possible from the start.
What women bring you inspiration?
Sarah K Benning for her incredible business sense. I am so impressed by the way she has built her business around her embroidery while continuing to grow as an artist at the same time. Same with Meg who runs The Granite and Lizzie who runs Primecut - both Portland business owners who have given me a lot of advice over the last year.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
I have always wanted to collaborate with a furniture maker. Not any one person in particular, but I would love to make some chairs! If you make chairs, hit me up.
Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
I really enjoy listening to any podcasts from Lisa Congdon. I find her advice about best working practices really helpful. Design Sponge is another good resource - both "biz ladies" and "After the Jump" give me good ideas about the different business models that are out there, and what makes the most sense for Soft Century.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I have been trying to practice more print design. I've always dabbled in it on the side, and I'd like to dabble slightly more seriously. I've also been taking local Spanish classes for the last year, which has been tons of fun.
What are some of your favorite places in Portland?
There's so many! I love walking around Laurelhurst Park and Mount Tabor. We have some awesome independent movie theaters like the Hollywood Theatre and the Laurelhurst Theater. There's a great maker community: MadeHere, Woonwinkel, Kat and Maouche, and Mantel are all local stores that support craft-based businesses. Reel M Inn has the best fried chicken in the city. Stretch the Noodle, a food cart downtown, is my favorite noodle spot. Everyone should visit.
What's coming up next for you?
I'm pretty busy promoting this new line and trying to share it with people. I'm going to Shoppe Object in New York in February for the first time, so I'm very excited for that. After that, on to the next designs!