A Greater Good: Katie Sheehan’s U-Turn

by Elysian Magazine

I was on the frontline of fashion.

I sat at negotiating tables all over the world, leveraging the cheapest, fastest, biggest retail volumes I could. It was the career I thought I wanted.
And then I gave it all up. No backup plan. No other job lined up. I walked out and into a vast world that had more to offer me than I ever realized.
Leaving had everything to do with the future I saw for myself. I saw myself being a mom, and the high pressure, long hours, and frequent international travel would have given me virtually no time to raise a child.

More than that, I envisioned myself doing something better, something ethical, something sustainable. I had been selling high volume products, made at such a low cost, that their origins and means of production were largely unknown and unquestioned. I knew that my work was having a negative impact somewhere along the line because, at the end of the day, I was supporting an industry that valued profit over people and the planet. It was time for a change.

I had just gotten engaged. Lovestruck and free, my fiancé and I set off on a backpacking journey. I had traveled throughout my 20’s, frequenting India and Southeast Asia. This time around, as we traversed India and parts of South America, I was overwhelmed with the desire to do something worthwhile. I wanted to use my skills in a way that would benefit others.
India was like another home to me. It was exhilarating, tangible, colorful. I had a connection with the country, and I adored its handicrafts. I had no doubt that India would be the place where my next chapter would start.

When my travels ended, I returned home for a month, but I couldn’t stay. The need to return to India was so strong that in 2017, back to India I went. When I arrived, I began my search, scouring the land for creators and cooperatives, makers and manufacturers. If I was going to start something, I needed partners.

Out of 30 initial meetings, I came away with three or four people I really saw myself working with—three or four more people than I had before, and they were all I needed to get my vision off the ground. I’d spent my whole working life in a big industry. Now, I relished the task of proving that small could be successful.

At first, I was attached to the idea of a clothing brand. That changed when the most inspiring makers I met specialized in jewelry and homewares, a sure sign that would point me toward the rest of my life.

The name for this new venture came from one of my fondest childhood memories. My mother—a boho, hippy, wild child—kept an embroidered yoke gypsy dress and a pair of navy blue clogs in her room from her college days. She met my father in that dress. I played dress-up in those clogs. They were the antithesis of fast fashion. They protested throw-away culture. They were more valuable to me than the most expensive brand names.

They were also the inspiration for the name Loft and Daughter. I wanted my products to tell stories. I wanted them to be passed down for generations. I wanted them to feel at home.
Now, I have five key suppliers. I know each one of them personally. One is Fair Trade Certified, while those without certifications follow strict fair trade practices. One women’s cooperative pays above the national wage, gives out pension schemes, educates their employees’ children, and runs fully on solar energy.

My suppliers work with me to make jewelry and homewares that mean something. Each piece tells a story. My next collection will focus on protective and empowering elements. They draw from divine femininity, from goddesses, from the moon and stars.

My favorite piece is the Freedom T-Bar Chain. Each link of the chain is hand-hammered. It’s designed to be worn in multiple ways. Just like you have the freedom to choose how you wear it, you have the freedom to choose how you live. Freedom can be found in the smallest things.

From Mexico, through Central and South America, to India and Sri Lanka, Katie Sheehan uprooted her entire life to embark on a nomadic adventure that would lead her to establish that roots of her business in India. She and her husband had been dating for a few years, and he, too, was eager to travel. Sheehan had been taking trips like this one since her early 20’s, so she was undaunted by the conditions she encountered in rural villages. “: I was well aware that you see things which are difficult, and you’re in situations where you’re exposed to a lot of heartache and hardship.” Fueled by the experiences of her travels and her previous career, Sheehan was determined to find work that did more for the world.

As a business owner, it feels amazing to know that my work is good for the world, but I have to remember that I’ve only just begun. There is always room to be more ethical, more sustainable, more purposeful. My goals for 2021 are to offset my carbon, reduce the amount of plastic used when importing products from manufacturers, locate lab-grown gemstones, and do more to give back to women’s charities.

As much room as there is for improvement, though, it can’t be perfect. As a businesswoman and a mother, I remind myself to strive for improvement, but not be dejected when I fall short of perfection. This planet only asks us for our best, and that is all we can give.

I think my son, Raffie, will be part of a generation that will be more eco-conscious and more socially aware than ever. I’ve started those conversations with him now so that he can carry them into adulthood with the realization that every one of his decisions has an impact on the world, either to its betterment or its detriment. I am confident he will make the right ones.

Editor’s note: Katie Sheehan is the founder of Loft & Daughter, a jewelry and housewares brand that is based in England, and sources its products from Fair Trade artisan communities in India. For more information, visit loftanddaughter.com.

What happens when you are going confidently in the direction of your dreams and then everything changes? Yep, you make a u-turn. To share the story of a u-turn in your life with Elysian readers, please message the editors at info@readelysian.com.

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