Kelsey Weeks is a wunderkind. At 25, the furniture designer and photographer is accomplished, focused, and wise beyond her years. The former executive director of Luyando, a nonprofit that supports sustainability, job creation, and women’s rights in Zambia, Kelsey has set her sights on a venture that marries her creative passions with purpose – a space where minorities can showcase their designs in an industry where they are underrepresented. She talked with us this week about how CO.STARTERS is changing the game for entrepreneurs, overcoming a fear of failure to make a leap of faith in herself, and breaking stereotypes in a niche market.
Kelsey, you are in the current cohort of CO.STARTERS. What made you decide to join this program, and what have you found helpful thus far?
I came from the world of nonprofits and had experience building projects from nothing, but when it came to commercial work, I realized that I had no knowledge of how to run a business. I knew that I wanted to pursue and capitalize on my creative talent, and I wanted a concrete program where I could gain the tangible skills to follow through on my ideas without having to invest in a traditional academic curriculum.
CO.STARTERS provides the tools for creative problem solving and the network of other entrepreneurs who are on the same page. I feel supported by the mentors and peers who are a part of this process with me.
What made you decide to make the transition from nonprofit work to creative industry?
Both of my grandfathers were woodworkers, and I grew up watching and admiring them. When I bought my house, I was frustrated by the cost of the furniture I liked. I love beautiful design that is functional, high quality, and affordable. I began to experiment with designing and building items for myself and slowly gained the confidence that I was creating furniture that was marketable. I definitely struggled with a fear of failure, and so I deliberated about making a change.
At that time, I was running a nonprofit that was closely tied to my religious upbringing. When I came out, I felt pressured to step away from that position because I sensed that my personal life could be perceived as a conflict with the ideologies of some of our donors. The faith that guides me includes faith in myself, and I knew that it was time to pursue something more personal.
Your work is so elegant. In a field that tends to be dominated by men, what do you hope to bring to the table?
I’m inspired by Ray Kaiser Eames, the wife of Charles Eames, who was an incredible furniture designer, artist, and creative mind at a time when that wasn’t common for women. She designed some of the most famous examples of mid-century furniture in the world. I know I’m not the only woman working in an industry that is typically commanded by men, but I am the face of woodworking as much as anyone else.
I love taking clients in to view individual pieces of wood before we begin a project. Building a relationship and collaborating is my individual objective, but I hope to accomplish something bigger than that. I plan to create a space where I can spotlight and create opportunities for women, people of color, and other makers who are extraordinarily talented yet underrepresented in the design field.
For more information on CO.STARTERS, click here.
Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Weeks