We started the Becoming interview series after reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming in our book club a few years ago. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, mothering, career goals, and more. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look at so many inspirational women!
Today’s interviewee is Katie Kortman, whose colorful, bold paintings and fashion design are truly swoon-worthy. Katie will be appearing on season 19 of Project Runway, which will air soon! Look at her work on her website and on Instagram @KatieKortmanArt and @KatieKortmanClothing. We’re so excited to share this conversation with you!
-a bit longer intro
Meet Katie Kortman
Katie Kortman is a fashion designer, fabric designer, painter, teacher and dancing queen. She creates abstract paintings which she turns into fabric, sews into fabulous clothes, and then dances in them around her living room (and now sells them!). She is originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, but currently resides with her husband and 4 children in Japan. Katie is one of 16 designers competing on Season 19 of Project Runway.
What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?
I consider myself an artist who loved fashion so much that she became a Fashion ARTIST! I guess at this point I’m a designer. My careers and creative avenues have changed and morphed over the years from Fine Artist to teacher, but I guess now I’m a designer!
Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?
I grew up in South Florida and attended a school for the arts from 7th to 12th grade. I got to be immersed in that creative environment during my formative years and it showed me that I am most happy when I am creating. I couldn’t have pursued any other path than a creative one. My mom always told me I could do “anything I put my mind to” and I think that has been in my subconscious all these years. I truly believe I can do anything if I work hard enough!
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?
I dreamt of being a fashion designer, product designer, or graphic designer. When I got to college though…. I studied PAINTING!
Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?
I think the fact that my husband is in the Navy and we move every 1-3 years has caused me to constantly change what I do. If we’d lived a normal live-in-one-place life, I would probably still be a high school art teacher, because I really loved that! I like that living all over the world has caused me to try different things out and evolve so much.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
I subscribed to every teen fashion magazine in high school and ripped out ads for all my favorite colorful playful ads to inspire me. Over the years I found that the stores didn’t have quite what I wanted…Not enough color, not enough fun! So… I started sewing my own clothes.
What are three words to describe your style?
Bright, Bold, Playful.
What is your educational background and how has it shaped or changed your current career?
I have a BFA degree in Drawing in Painting and a Master of Arts in teaching. I spent years studying color, and all the elements and principles of design. All of my art studying and training definitely influenced my entire career path!
Have you ever made a big career switch? If so, what prompted that? Are there aspects of a prior career that you incorporate into what you do now?
My main job has been my kids since I had my first 12 years ago, and I’ve had a bunch of different jobs while doing that! I was a display artist for Anthropologie straight out of my undergrad, sold paintings in art galleries, got a masters and taught high school art, owned my own hair accessories business, taught paint and sip classes out of my home while living in Bahrain, taught high school art again, became a fabric designer, and recently became a fashion designer! It’s been an evolution for sure.
What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
After years of sewing, and 3 years of exclusively sewing my own clothes, I went on Project Runway. In my youth I’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, but I hadn’t spoken that dream out loud in a very long time because I never thought It could happen without a fashion degree. After filming the show this summer, I was completely driven to pursue fashion, not just for myself. I came home and immediately began working to get a line ready to launch in the fall!
What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?
Just going on Project Runway. It was a DREAM come true!!!!
Where do you find inspiration for new creations?
They come as I work. I pull out fabrics and play with them as I sew, seeing what they want to become.
How do you make social connections in the creative realm?
I joined Instagram purely to connect to other creatives and to have conversations about the things I was making. I appreciate having that platform for this reason!
How has social media influenced your work?
If it weren’t for social media, I wouldn’t have ever been “discovered,” and therefore been compelled to learn fabric design, and the casting people for PR wouldn’t have reached out to me to try out for the show! I owe so much to social media!
What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?
What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?
Project Runway season 19 of course!!!!!!!! And I am part of a book club so we read all different things which I love. I would stick to similar types of books if it weren’t for book clubs that pushed me to read something else! And I love hip-hop music the very most, but when I need to get pumped up I often put on Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, or the Beatles (music my dad raised me on!).
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?
My mom told me “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And I have carried that with me my whole life. It is so ingrained in my mind, that I have never even questioned that advice! There have been a few things in my life that I couldn’t MAKE happen just because I tried hard though, and that was very frustrating! Haha.
What is your workspace like? Has it changed at all since the beginning of the pandemic last year?
I have a nice open studio space in my home, right off the living room and kitchen. I like to be able to work while also spending time with my family, so I always keep my space in a central locale. My creative space changes every time I move, and during the pandemic I moved a crossed the world to Japan. In my current space I have these pretty Shoji doors that let in translucent light, and I love them! I love my room to be neat and tidy, but when I’m knee-deep in projects it’s rarely that way!
How do your surroundings influence your work?
My surroundings influence me only in how inspired I feel to create. Most of my inspiration comes from within, so I can be creative anywhere. But having a lot of natural light and space is really important for me to feel energized to create!
Describe some habits that keep you motivated and productive. How do you climb out of a creative slump?
I love routines and I hate wasting time. I always have projects out and ready to be worked on, so that if a moment presents itself I can work on something. I usually have “to-go” projects ready, sewing projects, and phone projects. So you might catch me at a girl’s night sewing on buttons, at swim practice cutting out patterns, or at a kid’s doctor’s appointment editing photos on my phone. No time is wasted if I can help it! I also make sure I workout every morning. I work really hard for about an hour or so, and that really does provide the energy and fuel to get me through the day!
What is a typical day like for you?
I am up at 6 to get my kids to school, then I workout for 60-75 minutes, shower, get dressed and get my youngest to Yochien. Then I work until I have to pick up the youngest from school , and I get about 30 more minutes to work before the rest come home. After that, I do bits and pieces of work in between homework and dinner time! I often work after they go to bed as well. I try to be in my bed by 10:30!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?
The internet is your best friend right now! In-person classes are the best, but if that’s not an option, there are so many places to learn. I am self-taught at sewing, fashion design, and fabric design and some of those things I learned from internet classes!
Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?
I just did a sprint triathlon on a whim last weekend (we signed up less than a week before and didn’t have time to train for it), and I loved it SO MUCH that now I’m working to actually train for one! I am looking to get a road bike, which is NOT as easy as the Townie bike I rode for the triathlon! Haha. SO that will be a skill I’m working on! I also learned to knit during the pandemic and I’m continuing to work on that skill!
Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?
I saved up money from all the blogging, IG “Influencer” gigs, and Fabric Designing and didn’t spend anything because I wanted to save it for something in the future. I wasn’t sure what it would be for, as I was saving it, but I knew I’d want to launch something in the future (I’d been saving for about 2 years). I used this money, plus some money from our family account, to fund my Fall 2021 Collection!
Is there anything more you would like to “become?”
I feel like I’m just now becoming a Fashion Designer, and never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever happen. I have so much to learn and so I would still like to work on becoming a legit Fashion Designer!!!
What is your long-term goal?
I have no idea. Umm….. I’d like to do a runway show at NYFW??? I’d like to expand my business to greater levels, and have it sold in Brick and Mortar stores… maybe even Anthropologie?
Make sure you follow Katie Kortman on Instagram @KatieKortmanArt and @KatieKortmanClothing so you can keep up with her exciting work. You can also sign up for her newsletter here to be among the first to see her new clothing line coming out this fall!