Karyn Taylor Okelo grew up in Oakland, California graduating from Cal State University Hayward with a Baccalaureate of Science degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She worked in commercial risk management in the biotech industry, then decided to change careers and pursue her dreams of becoming a footwear designer.  She attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, then studied footwear design, technology and manufacturing at the Leicester International College of Footwear Design in England. She now lives and works in Baltimore Maryland, where she also completed her MBA at the University of Baltimore. We interviewed Karyn for this edition of women entrepreneurs and here are her responses on life and her business, Sovereignty KO Collections, LLC.

Please list a quote or motto you live by and state why.

My own personal motto that undyingly moves me even at this very moment is “Live your life deliberately.” As I travel through this journey, I’ve begun to realize how directed your actions must be about the life you want to lead, the goals and dreams you want to bring to fruition in order for it all to actually play out before your eyes. You must be focused, you must be determined, and most importantly, you must have perseverance, because there are obstacles along the way. If you are not deliberate, you can easily see your dreams dematerialize.

Describe your business. List location, phone number, website.

Located near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland Sovereignty KO Collections, LLC  a.k.a. www.skocollections.com is an online fashion footwear company offering classic, fashionable and elegant footwear for women wearing sizes 9-13.  We cater to the professional diva looking for a little edge which easily transition from day to evening. We are primarily online, but will take appointments for local customers. For those looking for one of a kind shoes, custom services will be offered in 2011, as the company ramps up to produce its private label.  

What motivated you to open your own business?

I had always had a fashion sense, was very creative, artistic with a penchant for design, drawing and sewing. I started my business because I wanted to live my dream, not dream it. In 2007, still having a creative “itch” and wearing size 12 shoes, I had grown tired of hearing, “No miss we don’t carry that size” and decided to do something about it. After doing some research, I recognized there was a major void in the designer market for stylish and comfortable footwear for women with larger feet. The decision then became easy.  Thankfully, my previous career prepared me for the endurance, confidence and acumen to take the leap. So I did.

Did you have any initial fears or concerns that you had to overcome when opening your business?

The courage to fail. In a lot of ways it’s still ongoing, which is why your actions must be “deliberate” and you have focus, faith and perseverance. Most people fear failure and it keeps them from taking any chances. In some ways you have to be a risk taker or know someone with a whole lot of money.

How did you develop your concept?

The concept is simple: the line will offer the current trends in larger sizes. What fashionable styles a woman wears in size 6, 7 and 8 will be made available to the fashion savvy women with a more generous foot size.

How much capital did you need to get started? Did you use any creative funding sources?

I did. I secured a business line of credit to help manage revolving expenses, such as inventory and labor. You will need good credit to open doors and opportunities.  I think you can never have enough capital. You just make what you have work.  My rule of thumb is to project what you need and times that by three. Unless you have a rich uncle, the best way to financially prepare for your dreams is to get your financial affairs in order, if they already aren’t, and network, network, network.

How do you market your business? Do you use any creative marketing strategies?

Word of mouth is one of the strongest ways to market your business. Who you tell, yes, the mythical “grapevine” can bring a lot of sales. Social networks, such as Facebook, Yahoo, Youtube and Twitter will become your best friend. Your network of friends and associates, in particular, can be your strongest ally in marketing.

Are you or your business on Facebook? Twitter? Linked In? Please list.

Facebook, Linked In and Twitter.

How do you manage employees if any?

As a startup, I hire employees on a contract basis. Often times, if given the right directions and tools for reference when they have questions, I found very useful in keeping the business going when I am unable to be around.

What are some of your day to day struggles as a business owner?

It’s probably the mistakes we all make turning our life’s passion into an opportunity: learning how to too much time with others who don’t understand your journey or can’t offer any support: emotional, intellectual or physical. It’s a drain on the emotional resources you need to weather the storm typical to entrepreneurship. You need all that energy to spring into action. Another is developing that instinct on when to hire and when to fire. Intuitively, as a start up with limited resources you tend to know early on what yours or others limitations are. In a start-up, waiting too long for someone to perform or to outsource a task could make or break a critical deadline, and thus the bottom line.

What brings you the most joy from your work?

There is no greater joy than seeing the designs that come from within, the ability to imagine something beautiful and rendering it to life. Seeing my creations on others has to be the most ethereal feeling ever.

How do you balance work life and family? Do your work demands affect your relationships?

I set aside time with my husband and new daughter. Admittedly my husband and I are both workaholics so it is easy to get caught up with the momentum of your professional demands. But since we had the baby, life has a way of forcing you to prioritize, so we don’t miss out on her developmental milestones as well as nourishing our relationship.

Any advice you’d like to offer to anyone interested in your line of work?

The key to every business model is planning, marketing and networking. marketing and sales. It is important to have a plan then follow it, be flexible because the plan will change, but you must prepare, analyze and restructure the plan when necessary.  Also, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is. If you don’t market it, no one knows about it.  Conversely, even with a mediocre product, with excellent marketing the customers will buy. Finally, networking. After preparation meets opportunity, success is what happens when you connect with the right people.

Would you like to offer a promotion to the readers? If so, please list.

Sure, please have readers enter SKO15SHE910 to receive 15% Off.

© 2014, Shalena D.I.V.A. – Personal Branding| Content Marketing| Product Creation. All rights reserved.

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