A contestant on season one of Lifetime’s reality show competition, “Project Accessory”, this week’s “Working Girl” Kelly Horton shares her journey to establishing her own brand – Madison Kelly NYC – a line of handmade handbags and accessories. Kelly also discusses the newest venture she co-founded, Estate78 – an eCommerce site of unique pieces, from both established and emerging designers and artist.
Name: Kelly Horton
Age: Forever 25 (wink)
Location: New York, NY
Profession: Handbag & Accessories Designer
How did you get started?
Since I was a child I’ve always been a creative. I’ve always been drawn to the opulence of great design and craftsmanship, whether it be industrial design or fashion. It’s just something I was aware of early on.
I started out in the fashion world as a support assistant for Fashion guru Jeffrey Kalinsky who at the times was Director of Designer Merchandising at Nordstrom and owner of the popular Jeffrey’s boutiques in New York and Atlanta. I worked closely with Mr. Kalinsky’s buyers Jim Whitlow and Don Purcell and learn a lot. Eventually, I moved on to pursue a career as a celebrity makeup artist and my passion for fashion and love of the arts inspired me to take a chance and relocate to New York to seek artist representation. Remarkably, I was picked up within about six months of relocation by fashion editor and owner of Style Mafia Global Group, Lee Randolph. While with the agency, I had the unique opportunity of working alongside some of some of the most respected artists, celebrities and stylists in the business.
This was when I began conceptualizing and designing original pieces, first making jewelry for myself and friends, which then evolved into making handbags and belts. Stylists in my network started to take notice and began requesting my original designs to use in photo shoots. I was just having fun in the beginning…I just really liked to see the expressions on my friends’ faces! Then suddenly everybody was calling for a certain belt or bag, or wanted me to make a new piece for an upcoming shoot!”
In 2006, I launched Madison Kelly NYC (MKNYC) because I felt there was a void, a certain disconnect with women and their handbags. I saw girls wearing two and three thousand dollar bags, but yet couldn’t pay their rent, so creating a brand women could feel validated with, was important. I wanted a woman carrying a MKNYC bag to feel just as confident sitting next to a woman carrying a Gucci bag. That was the motivation behind launching my own line. Creating a luxury brand that was affordable.
Getting started was the easy part. You just go! It’s taking the ideas, editing and making money that’s the hard part. In the beginning, I had no one to give me a business model or blueprint. I was running off pure adrenaline, a mix of passion, talent, hope and prayers. I got as many of my bags and accessories as I could to as many people that would take it. Over time, that started to build momentum and that old saying “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” proved to be true. That; and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. It had all to come together harmoniously. Getting the right people interested in who I am, was a starting point for me, once they were interested in me I was able to sell my brand. Estate78 is a fairly new venture that started as a bet, between myself and my business partner, needless to say we haven’t looked back.
What’s an average day like?
Besides stopping into a Starbucks? Well, to create, one must be inspired. For MKNYC, I do a lot of research daily, revisit past collections, from myself and others. On any given day, I’m either designing at home or in the showroom; it just depends on the scale of the project and who or what clients I’m consulting with at the time. I send out emails, run errands around the city sourcing, prepping samples, making edits, and prepping for weekly photo shoots. There’s never a dull moment. As co-founder of Estate78, my main responsibility is buying merchandise – searching for new cool products on the market. My partner and I have a small team of interns, so they take care of the day to day tasks including invoicing, inventory shipping and receiving. I run a tight ship, so we are all always on the same page and have the same vision. I can be completely obsessed with how things get done and I stand by the motto “If you want it done right, do it yourself”. Needless, to say I hardly sleep, but the results are worth it!
Why do you do it? I’d be utterly miserable if I was not creating, whether it may be bags, jewelry etc. I thoroughly love what I do!
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
The biggest obstacle for me is trying to find inspiration when there is none. Think of it as a type of writer’s block. Then there are those moments of exhaustion. Doing too much, forcing an idea, ‘the budget isn’t big enough,’ blah, blah! Or something as simple as your boyfriend isn’t being such a gentlemen that day. It’s hard to focus in those moments and as artists we tend to over think. Sometimes I need to take a step back, call my mentor or just start over! Achieving greatness is possible, but it’s hard and anything easy will not be great! The ups and downs are inevitable, so one must live and breathe for whatever it is they are passionate about. The bigger picture is what keeps you going.
Your greatest achievement so far?
My greatest achievement is staying true to my design philosophy and remaining in love with what I do! Remaining excited and passionate about great craftsmanship and design has also been important. We live in a society that is consumed with products. Everywhere you turn…product, product, product! We’ve lost a certain flair for the traditional sense of luxury since brands started to go global. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s what comes with it, that’s a problem. You tend to lose a bit of character in the brand, or more specifically the tone and allure it once had. For me, I still believe in a well-designed product. I believe in good business whether it be global or niche. Just make it good. Launching MKNYC is definitely an achievement but it’s also just the beginning. There are so many projects I’m working on and I have faith in every single one. After appearing on Project Accessory, I felt like it was a waste of time; however it turned out that it was the best thing to happen to me, because I have been blessed with the opportunity of designing for some of the most iconic American brands to date.
What might be next for you?
I feel that in due time, everything will fall into place. I’ve become more realistic and have realized that without huge capital behind your brand, you need validation from industry professionals. They have to know you, be familiar with your product, so they will co-sign you when you launch or re- launch. It’s a vital part of being successful and it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why I’ve been consulting for the past year or so. Working alongside the best and taking it all in. Aside from that, in a perfect world and a couple million dollars to invest, I would open a restaurant. You never know!
What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?
I wear my hair short so for me, it’s either curly (natural), pixied or a sleek wet snatch back; however I do have a few favorite styles that are currently trending:
- Curly big hair
- High-top bun
- The classic sharp bob
- Classic straight duby
- I live for a tousled but chic bed head look
Fun Fact: Kelly loves to throw parties and entertain at home with family and friends. Being surrounded by loved ones, keeps her grounded and focused. She’s also passionate about cooking and nothing makes her happier than seeing people enjoy a good meal, great wine! Kelly is also currently learning French!