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Driven to Make a Difference

Hey! Welcome to Kate by Rolfes Custom Design. I'm Kate, the owner of this sustainable small business and I'm excited to share my story with you.

You see, it all started in Kindergarten with the Reading Rainbow Book Contest. My teacher encouraged me to enter, so, my Mom and I spent the next several weeks practicing drawing the characters and writing the story. In the end, my book, "Kitty and Tim," won and was featured at the end of an episode! Ever since that moment, I have been obsessed with art.

Fast forward a few years, and I ended up at Bucknell University, majoring in Markets, Innovation, and Design, with a concentration in Studio Art. It allowed me to follow my passion while also giving me an excellent background in business.

Post-college, I interned at L.L.Bean. I was wildly excited but once I showed up, I was not a huge fan of the job. I talked to my manager at the end of the summer, and he mentioned his wife had opened a “Paint and Drink” studio in Portland. After patiently answering my barrage of questions, Corey said, “You know, you need to do something like this. Your eyes light up when you talk about it.” I knew he was right but I was 21 with mountains of student loans so did I listen? No.

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Thus I went to work in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at a web design and internet marketing firm. I learned to code, used my degree, received a promotion, did the additional learning...all the checkmarks of a good employee. I also noted things to change if I was running the company, and learned how a company started with positive values could grow and help economically stimulate the surrounding area through partnerships.

After 2 years, I felt I was outgrowing my position. I talked to my brother, Mark; he said it was great news because his wife had told him if he was going to take over the garage with his new woodworking crap, there had better be an income from it. He knew how to start a company but needed help with marketing it and running the Etsy store. I was all in.

Over the next month, I moved home to Cincinnati, and my brother and I started Rolfes Custom Design. It was 24/7 not because anyone said I should but because I was obsessed. I loved learning new things and having the freedom to make choices. October 20, 2017, we launched our Etsy store and I went to Boston for the Head of the Charles, a rowing race that I compete in. While I was there, my friends asked what I had been up to and, with little kid levels of excitement, I got to respond: “I started my own business with my brother, it's awesome!” Within 2 weeks we had our first order, then another and another one. By the end of the Christmas season, I was friends with the guy at the FedEx store, and we had broken even on our investment.

2 months into 2018, my boyfriend (now husband), Joey, said there was an opening on his team as a technology consultant. RCD had hit a slow period and the job offered the opportunity to save money for our wedding and pay off student loans. 10 days later I started traveling to Hartford, Connecticut. After a month on the job I knew that, while I could succeed in this position, I hated every part of it. It wasn’t creative, I was managed by someone else, and the hours were insane, not because I enjoyed the work but because it was the office culture. At the end of the project, I loved that I had been able to travel, live in Connecticut, and run Rolfes Custom Design on the side. Would I continue my career in consulting? Not so much.

Post getting married, Joey and I packed our bags for 5 months of living in Italy, a lifelong dream of mine. With the goals of expanding our knowledge of the language, learning how to cook and make wine, and taking time to paint, we stayed with 3 different families. I was able to relax and really invest in my art again, which lead me here, to Kate by Rolfes Custom Design.

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