A DESIGNER CREATES JEWELRY FROM STAINED GLASS PELLETS AND RECYCLED BOTTLES.
Byline: Tami M. Hardeman
ATLANTA — Like a lot of small businesses, Smart Glass began at a kitchen table.
Kathleen Plate’s glass jewelry business grew from the colorful creations she made as gifts for friends while pursuing an undergraduate degree in English.
Smart Glass began when Plate took pieces to local stores. They sold. The response was convincing enough for Plate to leave school and dive headfirst into the jewelry business.
Having no formal training in jewelry making, Plate developed her own method of making her designs.
“My mom was one of those Seventies mothers who was really into arts and crafts,” she said. “Stained glass was just one of the things she was into. I just watched her a lot. I’ve never had to take an art course. I just watched my mom and adapted her stained glass method to make jewelry.”
The glass stones used in Plate’s designs are the same used in stained glass. Rather than melting them down, as is done in stained glass, the stones are set in hand-soldered sterling silver.
Plate is a firm believer in “less is more.” Her line consists of a dozen styles that can be made in 12 colors. Pale colors sell well for spring, jewel tones for fall. Wholesale prices for necklaces start at $6 and earrings at $9.
Collections aren’t designed on a seasonal basis. Instead, Plate adds new styles to the line when inspiration strikes. Her minimalist view also extends to how her designs are made. Plate insists that each piece be created by hand. Despite having three part-time assistants, she still enjoys doing most of the work on each piece.
The newest addition to the Smart Glass line is a variety of pieces made from recycled glass bottles. Plate hand-cuts the colored bottles, anything from Perrier to Aveda hair care bottles, to include the printed writing.
Then, the glass fragments are soldered in sterling silver, just as her stained glass pieces. These newest additions have been popular, especially among beauty salons and eco-conscious boutiques.
“What’s great about these pieces is that each one is so unique,” Plate said. “The combination of words is a surprise every time, not to mention that it keeps the bottles from just being thrown away.
“My customer is into fashion and aware of trends, but isn’t frou-frou,” she added. “She appreciates wearable, versatile pieces. I think it all looks great with simple styles and natural fibers. However, I’ve seen the same necklace worn with shorts and with prom dresses.”
Demand for her versatile designs is heating up; in the past year, she added 100 stores to her client base, bringing the number of stores carrying her jewelry to 250. Most are smaller boutiques, like Common Pond here, Moxie in Columbia, S.C., and Natural Body stores throughout the Southeast.
Smart Glass has sales representatives in Boston and Chicago. Plate does not currently have a rep in Atlanta, and sells through her studio at 244 Connecticut Avenue, here.
“I’m happy I’ve been able to keep the business small enough to have a hand in everything,” she said. “I really enjoy the relationships that I’ve developed with stores carrying my line.”