MEET: The Lesser Bear
One of the best things about the event planning industry is the amazing vendors we get to work with! These people are some of the most creative and kind people you will meet. Each month in our Meet Series we introduce you to some of these creative entrepreneurs. In this series, we will get to know a little about the businesses these entrepreneurs have created and what drives them to be successful.
I first met Kate of The Lesser Bear about a year and half ago when we was gracious enough to sponsor a workshop that I was designing for. When her pieces got arrived I was delighting the the quality of them. Each piece careful packaged with care. The colors were so rich and unique that I was drawn to her work. I want you to meet Kate of The Lesser Bear, a natural fabric dying company that uses botanicals to create unique colors. Her story might surprise you but I love her journey and she is such a sweet person!
Kate, how did you get started?
I have a degree in Jewelry Making and was working for Sotheby at their London auction house. A few years into it I decided to move back to the US and had a baby. Once I gave birth I didn’t want to be around the chemicals related to jewelry making. So I started quilting. I got frustrated with the fabrics available near me and so I decided I would make my own. Somewhere around 2014, someone reached out to work on a collaboration and at the time I didn’t know what that meant. She asked what else I could do and I said ribbons and table linens. I still quilt but the ribbon business started taking off.
Where did the name Lesser Bear come from?
It is actually a nickname. It’s actually kind of embarrassing, my sister has always called my father (her step-father) Bear. When I was born, she said that I was baby bear. The name Ursula comes from the Little Dipper, Ursa Minor - meaning, Smaller or Lesser Bear.
How neat! Can you tell me a little about how the process works to create The Lesser Bear ribbon?
Of course! I’m all self-taught and the natural dyeing process is a lot of trial and error. There is a lot of science behind it when you are testing the colors, where the materials are from, or where the vegetables I use to dye with are sourced or grown from. In the beginning, I just had to experiment and once I understood how things affect the turn out I honed in on each of the colors and overall process.
What kinds of materials do you enjoy dyeing with?
I use a lot of velvet, silk, cotton. There are 3 different silks that I use from crepe de chine, silk gauze, habotai that has a little shine. All together I have over 40 colors available.
What do you use to get your natural dye colors?
The way I get colors surprises most clients. For example, the pit and skin of avocado makes a pink. It is based on the pH level, additives, and how natural chemicals react to each other. Hibiscus flower, rose petals, acorns can range from pink to a black. Red cabbage can make purple to blue shades depending on the pH. I log all of my color recipes and experiment from time to time to see what else I can create.
How often does The Lesser Bear color collection change or grow?
I do have a core group of colors but also have colors seasonally available due to the source product I use to dye it or available by the material. When I’m working with a new color I bounce them off a good friend of mine to see how she reacts to them.
You do more than just ribbons, right?
Yes, I create small velvet bags and pouches, table lines, and just launched bow ties and ties, pocket squares.
Have you been surprised at all by the way people have used your materials?
There have been some great seating charts that have been pretty amazing. Auburn and Ivory once painted the end of the runner for the table numbers and then a menu. I got to make a cravat, for a shoot, which was really exciting. I really enjoy the challenge to make something for people.
Sounds like you have had a fun journey, is there a professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I finally have a studio! Over the last few years, I have been working towards having my own space and I am finally out of my kitchen.
I still teach jewelry making to high schoolers at a local school in Franklinton, Ohio. I enjoy the challenge it gives me in teaching and in recycling my materials. The students are incredibly creative and it is great to give back to the community.
Personally, I’m very proud I have have been able to build a business with a giving component. I was working at Sotheby in jewelry working with big gems and large pieces and something always felt a bit wrong. The Lesser Bear is still a bit of luxury but more in the industry for the celebration and being about the celebrations. Creating and doing some good!
Speaking of giving back you have brought some of that into Lesser Bear business model?
Yes, I have. My parents are great and have always been very involved. My mom was a Red Cross disaster relief worker and it is part of my nature to give back. My friend went to a refugee camp in Greece and while sharing her experience there I knew I could help by making quilts. They have a mother/baby tent and I sent quilts for the intent they would be used for the babies. However, they were redirected to a home where unaccompanied minors would be living.
It felt natural to be doing something for other people and not thinking about making money. I have also donated quilts to several fundraiser auctions. I aim to donate about 5% of sales each year. I was able to donate ombre fabrics one year for a ceiling installation for a fundraiser for art therapy in the children's hospital.
I usually decide on supporting whatever is happening in the world like the Syrian refugees, the wildfires instead of picking one foundation. It feels right with my business that I can give back. I’m taking from the environment to create my colors so to give back and do something for other people feels really good. I am blessed to be able to create as an artist.
That's’ incredible. It really brings it full circle. Looking forward, where would you like to see The Lesser Bear go over the next few years?
That’s a good question. I would like to make a nice living. I’d like to outsource some of the support work.
Also, widen my product offering, to really reach more people. I feel so blessed to be part of a wedding day and celebrate love, but I want to be with people beyond that day. I’d also like to create some educational resources for other natural dyers.
What do you do when you are not dyeing fabrics?
We like to travel. My husband is from Ireland and we go back every summer. I grew up in Vermont so we get there a bunch. Not being from Ohio we love to just drive around and experience and learn about the region.
Lesser Bear is a social conscious natural dyer specializing in velvet, silk ribbons, linens and quilting with products available to ship nationally.. You can find out more at https://www.thelesserbear.com/. You can find Kate on Instagram @thelesserbear All images provided by Starling Studios