What started as a childhood hobby for Kate Morris has blossomed into a thriving custom jewelry business, Kate Morris Jewelry. When she is not researching stones and jewels, selling her pieces at Pepper Place Farmers Market or teaching classes at Pure Barre in Homewood, Kate can be found putting her “borderline Good Ole Boy” husband to work, helping her string beads for her rapidly growing business.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Birmingham?
I’m from Homewood. I’ve been here my whole life. I spent six or seven summers in Central and South America for education and missionary work, though, so I’ve definitely gotten out.
How did you get started in jewelry design?
Well, I always say I was 13, but then my mom gets on to me, because when I was 6 or 7, I made little flower bracelets and American flag pins. And at my brother’s baseball games, I walked around and sold them for a dollar. So I always kind of dabbled in it. When I was 13, there were these earrings that I wanted for homecoming, but they were like $70, and as a 13-year-old, I couldn’t afford to buy them, so I ended up making something similar. That’s when I really started making jewelry for myself and friends, and my skills started getting better.
I started selling jewelry when I was 17, because I wanted to go to Bolivia for a mission trip. And my parents didn’t want me to go because I was 17, so they told me I could go if I could pay for it, thinking I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. So I started selling jewelry, and then that turned into different craft fairs. Then in college, I got really involved in Etsy, and that’s what I was doing after college until I started thinking about rebranding and having my own website. So I took a hiatus, got married and rebranded with my new name.
How would you describe the style of Kate Morris Jewelry?
I like to think of it as an elegant bohemian style. You could wear most of my pieces to a formal event, or you could wear them with a T-shirt. So they are pretty versatile. And I love using natural materials, so it definitely has that natural look. None of my pieces are plastic. It’s all either semiprecious stones or real metals. For the style, I love things that are gold-edged, which is in right now, but I think the gold or silver edge gives it a little bit of a nicer flair.
What inspires you as an artist?
The best way I get inspired is by just looking at the materials. But when I’m planning my collections, I look through fashion magazines, try to find new materials and new stones, and talk to my stone cutters about how they can cut them differently. I go with what’s in style, but then I also go with what I want to be in style. So I definitely get inspiration from the fashion world, but mostly from the materials.
Where do you get the stones, and how do you shape them into jewelry?
I get the stones from all over the place. I have a stone cutter in Arizona who will cut them how I want them. He’s a sweet old man. I found him by googling “stone cutters” on the Internet. He only had a phone number, no website, which is great! As far as the stones and my metals, those are usually custom-cut and custom-ordered.
Do you have a mentor in jewelry design?
I don’t really, because I’ve been teaching myself since I was a girl. When people ask me how I learned to make jewelry, I say, “I don’t know!” (She laughs.) I feel like every year, I learn new things. Right now, I’ve designed a bunch of custom pieces with diamonds and 24K gold that will be 3D-printed, which blows my mind. There’s a program that I use called AutoCAD, which I learned while in college for Interior Architecture at Samford. And with that, I will design something on the computer and send it off to a company and they will print it. In the past, I’ve had to carve out the mold and pour the metals, and I love doing that and will probably continue to do that. But with Kate Morris Jewelry, I want to be able to have a lot of those diamond-and-gold earrings quickly. So that’s why I am moving into 3D printing. I got my first trial piece back recently. They were perfect. I showed them to everyone! It blows my mind.
So who made your wedding ring?
Well, my husband got it made for me, but I did have a lot to do with the design. (She laughs.) People sometimes ask me, “Did he pick it out himself?” And I’m like, “Not at all.” I’ve always been really particular about jewelry, obviously, so he was like, “Do you have something in mind that you want?” and I was like, “Here is a picture that I’ve drawn on AutoCAD.” He would have done a good job if I’d let him loose. But ya know, if you design cars, you’re going to be really particular about what your car looks like!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
This advice was not given to me directly, but Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I love that quote because it is so true. With Kate Morris Jewelry, I fight to stay focused on my brand and my customer. In any situation, comparing yourself to someone else strips away your uniqueness.
What’s your favorite thing about Birmingham?
I love the sense of community in Birmingham. I feel like everyone that I’ve met in the fashion world and in the art world is so nice and helpful. They want to know how they can help you connect with somebody else. And I feel like that sense of community exists across the board in Birmingham, not just with the fashion and art side of things.
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
This is kind of nerdy. I am kind of a homebody. My husband and I just love to cook and grill, and sit and talk and eat outside somewhere. And we love all of our neighbors, and so we’ll float from house to house. I basically just love to sit and chill and be with friends.
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
Personality quirks? If you ask my husband that, he will say I dance all of the time, which is true. I just break out into dance at home. It is pretty weird. Even if there is not music, I just dance. Irrational fears? I’m really scared of sharks. Like I start feeling fear if I think about them, even just sitting here at a cafe. So that’s pretty irrational, because they are not going to get me here. Dancing is probably my main quirky thing. I’m just really goofy. I try to keep it under wraps.
Name three frivolous or lighthearted things you can’t live without.
Pure Barre, my skinny jeans and coffee
View Kate’s gorgeous jewelry at the Kate Morris Jewelry website.
Thank you to Meg McKinney Photos for the lovely images of Kate in her studio.