Red Giraffe Designs' Kate Stevens approaches her second COVID-19 holiday season fearlessly
Red Giraffe Designs founder Kate Stevens has a special memory of her first holiday season in her Short North storefront.
Stevens is used to hard work and during that 2015 winter, she designed so many pieces of jewelry that by the end of it, her hands were stained black from painting the engravings on her custom stamped bracelets, and her face was sore from smiling.
Holidays at the jewelry store have been chaotic every year since, and despite approaching her second holiday season since COVID-19, Stevens is confident that the Columbus community will continue to search for something as beautiful as the person they’re gifting for.
Red Giraffe Designs specializes in custom, small-batch jewelry made from a variety of metals—some pieces hand-hammered, others delicately wrapped with wire and many matched with beads across a chain. The boutique was founded by Stevens in 2009 out of her parents’ basement with the help of Google and her father’s toolbox, but she admits she didn’t identify her passion quickly.
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Instead, Stevens was a 2008 graduate from Ohio University with a major in retail merchandising and a minor in business but when she graduated, she wasn’t sure what she would do, and with the recession, nobody was hiring. She tried T-shirt design and even creating home decor, but knew it wasn’t her niche.
But as she was watching some design videos on YouTube, a how-to on earring making started playing and it struck her interest. Her next move was to the hardware store for some aluminum wire, then back to her house to find old beads and some pliers—the rest is history.
“It was very much a hobby...I had no idea what I was doing, or ever thought that I would make it into a long-term business,” Stevens says. Soon, she was selling at over 25 craft shows each year and couldn’t keep up with her online orders. In 2015, she opened her Short North boutique.
“Fearless is definitely the word that I would use to describe me at that time,” Stevens says. “I just never thought of failing, it never even crossed my mind.” And the name came just as organically as her business idea—she loves giraffes and the color red.
Today, she has two other locations in addition to her first: Grandview, opened in 2017, and Easton Town Center, opened in 2018. She also has a design studio in the Short North. This year, the boutique was voted first place in the jewelry boutique category for Best of Columbus Weddings.
But business hasn’t been smooth sailing, she says. Over her years of owning the boutique, COVID-19 has ushered in the most difficult year and a half of entrepreneurship.
Stevens’ team went from 16 to four employees, and her designers created make-shift studios from their homes. In December 2020, she decided to close her former German Village location to redirect her focus to her other locations and rewrite her plans.
“If I’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that I want to have goals, of course, but I also need to focus on the day to day,” Stevens says.
One of those short-term goals was to launch an all-new website in April where she implemented a local pickup option and offers free shipping on $20 online orders. As state guidelines have fluctuated, her online business is a major driver, she says.
And across her three stores, she’s continued to thrive again. In October she reached 13 employees, many of them rehired. For Meghan McCloskey, who has been at the boutique for two years, returning was easy with a boss like Stevens.
“Kate is very approachable,” McCloskey says. “She encourages us to try new things, share inspiration and collaborate with each other...It’s like a little community of creating.”
With the holidays rapidly approaching, Stevens plans to bring in seasonal staff to manage the influx, namely at her Easton location, which she projects to be the busiest. And as she tackles the holidays, she’s extra thankful for what got her here.
“Looking back, I’m really glad that no one wanted to hire me,” she says, “or I wouldn’t have discovered that I like to make jewelry.”
Jess Deyo is associate editor.
Red Giraffe Designs
Locations: Easton Town Center, Short North/North High Street, Grandview Avenue
Business: Handmade, small-batch jewelry boutique and other curated accessories and goods
Founder: Kate Stevens
2020 revenue: Would not disclose.