Profiles in Art: Katherine Parr

Katherine Parr has worked as a model, a teacher and a social entrepreneur. She now is the Owner and Creative Director of her NYC-based eponymous jewelry line and designs for artisans in Kabul, Afghanistan to created hand-crafted, sustainable pieces. See more of her work here and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Interview conducted by Tiffany Chan
Edited by Kathryn Griffith, Morgan Moore and Catherine Harlow
Cover image provided by the Artist

Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with your current field of work/study?

Raised in a family of creative educators, I fell in love with the arts as a child. I was lucky to be discovered as a model as a teenager and launched into exciting and exclusive creative arenas where I built a career of which many young girls dream. Following completion of my university studies,  I was lucky to follow my own  dreams and was hired as a model for a designer advertising campaign  to launch this chapter of a successful fashion career.

Later, frustrated with the superficiality of the fashion industry and eager to make a difference, I accepted an offer working as an inner city schoolteacher where I spent five and a half years working as teacher and social entrepreneur. After I concluded my teaching, I launched the company I now own and operate, reigniting my social network, in addition to expanding the social mission of my small business

So in all, it was a combination of passion and experience that has enabled me to be where I am at this moment, a journey of impactful chapters which I am quite grateful to combine in my small business.

Jewelry Artist Shot copy

Q: What inspires you? What motivates you?

I am inspired and motivated by my passion for culture, art, and community. Raised in a lovely yet homogenous small town outside NYC, I have always been drawn to friends from backgrounds different from my own. As a model, I worked in a variety of fashion markets and learned about life in foreign places by working alongside a plethora of international clients and peers. As a teacher, I taught multicultural immigrant children and learned from their own cultures through direct social work with families of migrant workers with fascinating stories. My upcoming jewelry collection is focused on the diversity, tolerance, and unity of the Persian Empire,  and embodies the beautiful culture of a region currently devastated by war, along the way empowering the artisans who aim to maintain their own heritage and culture to share with the world.


Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?

At the moment, I combine my lifelong creative passions and the tactical skills and wisdom I’ve learned to mobilize my experiences. My early experience in the luxury goods industry enabled me to transition from visual artist to luxury designer, however in my case neither role could have existed without the other.  I aim to cast positive light on culture and the arts through jewelry design. I started to make jewelry as a hobby in the basement, after long days of working as a teacher. Once I realized I could mobilize my background and capabilities to reach a larger audience and make more of an impact with my vision, by drawing on inspirational design motifs and historical symbolism of various countries as well as empowering local artisans with the opportunity of employment to create my designs, I returned to New York City and began to chart a new course.


Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?

By nature, starting a small business is a challenge, so I suppose I face the same challenges that every explorer faces when charting a new path.


Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?

My jewelry designs and artwork are meant to intrigue, inspire, and educate; all three are incredibly rewarding elements for me as an artist. Every occasion I wear my designs results in fascinating conversations surrounding my inspiration.

Each piece of my jewelry comes with a card explaining the cultural significance of each piece, so whether or not the gift recipient has had my broad life exposure, she or he can learn something and be inspired by the deeper meaning. Aside from just a material gift, this makes each item  a fabulous conversation piece to share with others.

Katherine Parr (nee Gibbs) at Gallery Red in BCN

Q: What was it like starting your own business? What were some unexpected challenges/blessings?

It is both a challenge and a blessing to be an entrepreneur in the luxury goods industry. It is known to be one of the most competitive industries in the world, however it is rewarding to touch lives throughout every level of a thoughtful supply chain. It was a blessing when I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that further supported that my ethical instincts as I saw the weight leaders were giving toward similar initiatives across a range of industries. I am grateful, yet not surprised, that both stores and customers are beginning to think more deeply about the origin of goods purchased.


Q:  Were there ever any moments in your career where you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those situations resolve?

I am sure most people realize that to work as a fashion model is one of the most competitive and fascinating opportunities a person can have. The fashion modeling industry is extremely cutthroat and inevitably forces doubt on a person. That being said, the challenges we face in life help us grow stronger, and without them, we do not develop into more capable beings. Without grinning and bearing the challenges of the fashion industry or inner city public education, I would not be as strong as I am today, or as prepared for what the inevitably uncertain future will bring.


Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?

I am lucky to have very supportive yet practical parents. Both parents are educators, who by nature and intensive schooling nurture children to learn and grow  toward their strengths, with creativity and within a strong, strategic education system.

The pragmatic nature of most parents, which I undoubtedly support, is to push their children into a practical, realistic “shoot for the moon,” by following their dreams. I am lucky my strict parents insisted I turn down exciting modeling contracts to attend and finish college straight through. I am grateful I have this realistic view on the world, also a strong education and family support, in which I can apply my creativity and pragmatism to present and future chapters in the journey of my life.

Artisans in Kabul, Afghanistan hand polishing stones for Katherine Parr designs

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self or someone just starting in the field?

I believe strongly in the value of self-education: the more we can learn about our industry and field, as well as the world around us, the more prepared we are to tackle any forthcoming challenges we might face. No matter our individual origin, it is imperative we constantly read, listen, and learn as eternally humble students of life.


Q: What is one contentious issue in the art world that you are very passionate about?

I believe that the availability of opportunity for all is a critical element in enabling the most important expression of art to gain visibility and public access. As born creators, artists have innovative expressions of values to share with the world, and society at large has an innate need to learn and grow from exposure to such messages. The more opportunities we can create for those making a difference through creative expression, the better our society can grow toward a peaceful evolution.


Q: What is one (or two) things you would like the general public to know about your field of or art in general?

In general, artists and designers have open minds and warm hearts. It is worthwhile for everyone to expose ourselves, to emerging talent, because that is the wave of the future.


Q: What are your favorite methods of self-care?

Adequate sleep and wonderful relationship with family and friends are critical to me.


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