Here at The Everygirl, we are firm believers in tackling ambitious career goals because big risks often lead to success. No one is better proof of that than designer Khristian A. Howell. After five years of working as an in-house colorist and textile designer for Nordstrom, Khristian took a well-researched risk and founded her own design company—Khristian A. Howell Color + Pattern. Since doing so, Khristian’s designs have been featured on products seen everyday—wallpapers, rugs, fabrics, and stationery goods. Her distinct style is all about color, pattern, and vibrancy, which has caught the eye of established designers and publications like Eddie Bauer, Better Homes and Gardens, HGTV.com, and Real Simple. Khristian’s skillset doesn’t end with just designing. She also licenses her original designs and artwork, offers branding advice for small companies, and pens guidebooks for fellow artists, so they too can make a name for themselves in the art world. On top of filling all these different creative roles, she also runs the blog Saturate.
While it’s obvious that Khristian is an innovative textile designer and colorist, it’s her charming personality and humble attitude that really draw people in. “Honestly, every time I open a new package of samples it is like the first time I ever saw my work on product. The feeling never gets old. Then I am so thankful that this is all real,” Khristian says of her career highlights. That excitement over every product she creates is exactly why Khristian has become a successful artist and businesswoman. We are thrilled to feature Khristian on The Everygirl today, so read on to meet this creative powerhouse and learn how she leads such a colorful life.
Name: Khristian A. Howell
Current Position: Color and Pattern Expert at Khristian A. Howell Color + Pattern
You studied Advertising and French at the University of Georgia. After you graduated college, was your initial plan to go into one of those fields or had you already developed your passion for art, color, and textiles and wanted to pursue that? Have your degrees helped you in your journey to becoming a surface pattern and textile designer? If so, how?
Yes! I did plan on going into advertising! I wanted to work on creative goods. The catch was I really only interested in fashion ads. How naive of me was that?! I had no idea this world of textile design and pattern design even existed. If I had, I would have found a way to study that in school. I really only pursued advertising because I thought graphic design was my thing. At the time, the only way I could get some graphic design classes was to go into advertising. I knew I was not a fine artists per se, but I wanted to design.
Of course everything happens for a reason. Having an advertising degree under my belt has help me immensely with the business side of things. I believe I have an edge over other artists trying to make a living at their craft because I understand how to market and present my business to the world. To this day I still have a romantic idea of what it would have been like to go to NYU and study art. However, I got just what I needed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
You were a colorist and textile designer for Nordstrom for five years. What prompted you to branch out and start your own business and online shop? What steps did you to take to ready yourself for this venture (financially, mentally, professionally, etc.)?
Working in product development at Nordstrom is such an important part of my story. I worked hard and I mean hard. I stayed late (sometimes until 11pm), came in on weekends, worked from home, all so I could squeeze every bit of knowledge I could from the privilege of working for such a successful entity. From day one I decided that this was going to be my master’s degree program. I asked a million questions, observed everyone’s role in getting a sketch to the retail floor. I was fascinated by not only the creation of the designs, but also the how.
I began seeing little girls skipping down the street wearing something I worked on! Then on a visit to DC I spotted my work in one of the Nordstrom stores. That was a real ah-ha moment for me. I’m creating work that is good enough to be in Nordstrom stores around the country—maybe I can do this for myself!
For the next six months I did loads of research on what it even meant to be an independent textile designer. Then I began burning the candle at both ends. I would work all day and create my own designs until 4 or 5 AM. Before I left this stable job (in 2008 mind you) I had to prove to myself that I could create work that would sell. It started selling. One day my AMAZING rock of a husband said to me it’s time to jump. The next morning I turned in my two weeks notice.
For those who aren’t too familiar with color/textile/surface pattern design-what exactly does your job entail and what does it require of you on a day-to-day basis?
The bread and butter of my business is licensing my work to companies to place on their products. For example I work with fabric companies, tech accessory companies, stationery companies, etc who all print my artwork on their products in order to make them more appealing to consumers.
You would think I spend most of my day creating this fun artwork, right? Actually most of my days are filled with reviewing contracts, managing current licensing relationships, developing new licensing relationships, and researching (trends, what’s in the market, etc.) Everyday is different, which I love.
What is the process for creating and licensing your original products? How long does it typically take to conceive an idea and create mockups and eventually see it come to life?
Artwork licensing is not for the impatient. I’ve just signed a new agreement with a partner that I have been chatting with for four years! Luckily for me I a pretty super speedy at creating new artwork collections. This was something that was mandatory in the Nordstrom environment, and it has become an asset in the licensing world today.
When a company licenses a piece of artwork or a collection it can take anywhere from six months to 18 months to see it in stores. This all depends on the production cycles of the different categories. Some products like paper products have a shorter production lead time. Other categories like fabric or bedding can take up to 18 months.
Your work has been featured in popular publications like Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens, and you have an impressive client list that includes Anthology Fabrics, Uncommon, and Eddie Bauer. How did you create such an impressive client roster? What did you do to gain exposure?
Like many industries trade shows are an amazing marketing tool. For the past four years I have exhibited at SURTEX in NYC, and I have just recently added the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. These shows give designers the opportunity to show their work directly to key decision makers and to foster relationships.
Other than shows, it has been important for me to have a great site, and have a presence in the social media world. It is important to put yourself out there. If you have a great product or point of view and no one ever sees it there is a problem. I love going to design conferences when I can. You just never know who you will meet.
Tell us about your design aesthetic/vision? Has your work always been delightfully vibrant or has it evolved over time? What inspires your designs?
My work has definitely developed more depth over time, but color has always been the thing that drives my style. I am highly inspired by what is happening in fashion, but I find my deepest inspiration in travel and discovering new sights, tastes and cultures.
Have there been any “aha!” moments or moments you’ve suddenly been inspired that really stick out in your head?
Yes! Actually on my most recent trip to Paris. I had a moment while in a beautiful show room at a trade show. Of course I can’t reveal all the secrets just yet!
On top of the pattern design, textile design, and color styling services you offer, you also provide graphic design, art direction, and interior design services. It’s also worth mentioning that you run the blog Saturate, create guidebooks and resources for fellow artists, and frequent trade shows. It seems like you’re quite the busy gal! How do you find time for yourself?
I am busy, but I’m a Virgo and I work best when I have a thousand things to organize! Ha!
Luckily, I am actually very good at unplugging. I have no problem heading to the beach and putting my out of office on. It is a necessity for me to get away in order to stay creative. The good ideas always come in the silence. Plus my husband’s job is very demanding, so when we have time to spend together it is like the whole world disappears.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career so far? How were you able to overcome them?
My biggest challenges have actually come this year. Last year was a banner year for me—exceeding many of the goals I set for myself. I wasn’t completely ready to get there so fast, so I had a jarring what’s next moment. The best remedy for me is always the beach or Paris. I chose Paris and now I am back on track. Being everything in a business is challenging, so these moments are normal and keep things moving forward.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Honestly, every time I open a new package of samples it is like the first time I ever saw my work on product. The feeling never gets old. Then I am so thankful that this is all real! I remember a short time ago always thinking gosh I wish I could get my work on X product. It really is so cool!
Then there’s that time BHG did a two page spread on me—full photo shoot in NYC and everything! Florence of Florence and the Machine was in the studio shooting next to me! That was like wow—I’m so amazed and grateful!
Where do you hope your design business will be in five years?
I’m plotting some big things for sure, but I really just take it day by day. The surprises along the way have been bigger and better than I was able to dream up, so I am letting the universe continue to do its thing.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and who you would you bring with you?
Machu Picchu with my hubby.
Item you can’t leave home without.
Phone, notebook, and a good pen.
What upcoming textile or color trend are you most excited for?
Seafoam will be coming in strong for spring and I love it! Plus more black and white!
If you could meet any woman for lunch, who would it be and what would you order?
Tricia Guild. Probably just tea because I would be hanging on her every word!
Aidan or Big?
Sex In The City wasn’t ever my thing. Gasp! Sacrilege, I know!
What advice would you give to your 23-year old self?
It really is going to be ok.