Four years ago, Katherine Bignon wrote a letter to herself that she was afraid to open.
She was at a crossroads in her bridal design business and wrote down a list of questions for her future self: “Did you have the courage to pivot? Did you have the courage to walk away from what wasn’t working and start fresh?”
Before this interview, Katherine opened up that letter and was proud to realize her answer was a resounding yes – she did have the courage to let go, and that led her to starting a business that truly lights her up.
As a designer and stylist, Katherine helps small business owners simplify their wardrobe and gain back their confidence.
In this episode, she shares how she designed her career around spending time with family, what it was like building a business with five kids at home, and why she chose to leave behind her lifelong dream to pursue something new.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
“I always knew I wanted to start my own business,” Katherine says. Her father owned a real estate and land development business, which planted the seed early on. “I saw what it looked like to run your own business and also run the life you want and have that freedom.”
At the same time, she knew she wanted to have a family one day and that her business would need to be one she could operate from home. Fashion was a natural fit.
“I grew up sewing, and I come from a long line of women who made their own clothes and weddings dresses.” In high school, she designed prom dresses for herself and her friends.
But even as a teenager, Katherine was always clear on her end vision: “I knew I wanted to go into fashion, but it was never about looking for an industry job.” It was about running her own business and being able to design her days.
After high school, Katherine moved to France for a year, where she met her husband: a Frenchman who worked in Manhatten but who had come home to visit family. After dating long-distance, she decided to move to New York City to further both her relationship and her fashion career.
She was accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and over the next few years, she would go on to get married, start her business, and start a family – all while finishing her degree.
Katherine always knew she wanted to go into bridal design. While she was at FIT, she started offering to make custom gowns for friends who were getting married. “I don’t think I knew I was starting a business. It was one step at a time, one dress at a time.”
She considered the first few gowns to be portfolio pieces and only charged the client what each dress cost to make. From there, she added a small fee for her services.
After graduating in 2015, Katherine spent the summer putting together a collection to be styled and photographed in Paris. The goal was to reduce the amount of custom work and become known for her own signature style.
That same summer, Katherine had her third child and took a maternity leave before starting up again in 2016 with more styled shoots.
But despite building some traction, the business still wasn’t where she wanted it to be. She was working out of a studio in her house, and the price point she wanted to sell her gowns at didn’t meet the budget of the women who came to her home studio.
On top of that, she was giving up time with her kids, since crayon-covered toddlers didn’t mix well with pristine white fabric. Katherine was doing the work she’d always dreamed of, but it hadn’t turned out the way she’d envisioned.
“I was trying to learn how to grow a business while growing babies, and also still growing up myself.”
Katherine discovered The Blueprint Model in 2017 through Ashlyn Carter. At the time, she was struggling with the same problem all my students face: she loved what she was doing, but she needed to make it profitable.
With a growing family at home, Katherine had limited time and designing high-end custom gowns didn’t feel sustainable. She took on other projects on the side, but the bridal part of her business wasn’t profitable and she knew something had to change.
“There was a lot of brainstorming and trying different things.” In the end, it came back to identifying her core motivators. Working through The Blueprint Model helped Katherine identify the two driving forces behind her business: time with her family and impact.
Bridal design was taking time away from her family without delivering on the impact piece. It was time for a change.
Even after this quiet revelation, Katherine was hesitant to let go of bridal. “I sat in fear for so long about making the switch. It felt like a failure.”
Bridal design had always been the end goal, and it was one she’d been working toward for years. All of her friends and social media followers knew her as a bridal designer. “It felt like having to let go of a dream publicly.”
At the same time, friends continued to reach out to Katherine for personal style tips. As their resident fashion expert, they wanted her advice on what to wear – but they felt bad asking because Katherine never charged for her help.
When a close friend hired a different stylist for her headshot photos, that was Katherine’s wakeup call. The next time a friend offered to pay her for styling a brand photoshoot, she said yes – but instead of being paid, she asked her friend (a photographer) to trade services.
Katherine knew she was going to need new brand photos, because she was about to take her business in an entirely different direction.
It was January 2020 when Katherine worked with her first styling client, who was so thrilled with her custom Style Guide that she shared it on Instagram, inspiring more women to reach out. It snowballed from there.
After each photoshoot, Katherine tweaked her packages to offer new options based on what clients were asking for. One client wanted a full wardrobe overhaul, but couldn’t afford to buy a year’s worth of clothes upfront, so she offered a retainer option to build her closet season by season – a package that she’s now become known for.
Not only did Katherine’s new line of work give her more time with her family, but it also created the sense of impact she’d been craving. Many of her clients were women entrepreneurs who struggled with their sense of style after having children.
“To be able to step into their lives and hand them back their confidence, that was really life-giving to me.”
With five kids and a busy styling business, I couldn’t resist asking Katherine about work-life harmony. As any mom entrepreneur knows, it’s not about achieving balance between the different aspects of your life, but in finding a way to bring them all together.
“In music, sometimes the best harmonies come when there’s a dissonant note that’s played and then it’s resolved. It’s not a perfect, beautiful sound all the time – it ebbs and flows.”
Katherine started her business so she could spend more time with family, so she keeps that at the forefront of every decision. She and her husband take care to remind each other to rest and leave white space on their calendar.
One area where Katherine and her husband have been intentional is in removing barriers to family time.
For example, they love playing board games with the kids. But Katherine noticed after moving back to Virginia that their game collection was stuffed away in a basement closet. So she brought it back to the living room, making it easier to just out and play after dinner.
If Katherine could go back in time to give her college-aged self one piece of advice, it would be: “Your business isn’t in competition with anyone else’s. If you’re living out your calling, you’re never in competition. That’s their race to run, so just put your head down and run your own.”
To hear the full story and more about Katherine Bignon, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Katherine Bignon is a designer and stylist specializing in strategy driven styling for small business owners. She claims Frenchness by marriage, and she lives with her husband and 5 almost bilingual littles in Virginia. Her technical background is in fashion design, with a design degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. While at FIT, she began designing custom bridal gowns, which had been a lifelong dream. She pivoted the business at the very beginning of 2020 to launch a styling & design strategy studio, in order to help small business owners strategically curate books for brand shoots and lifestyle needs, and to meet women in the midst of closet overwhelm & anxiety, providing them with simple and lasting solutions designed to hand them back their confidence.
October 12, 2023