Natural Light on Karen Hartman
SUSTAINABLE ENTREPRENEUR: KAREN HARTMAN
READING TIME: 3.5 MIN
I was so happy to see Karen Hartman’s submission come through. I had never heard of her brand before and enjoyed getting to know someone’s journey via her own written words for the first time. I also learned a few things about her industry. She is the Co-founder of Astor + Orion, a sustainable jewelry brand based out of Seattle. I loved learning about her diverse background (she’s a true multi-skilled woman), and how her journey across the world helped her conceive a brand to align with her values and creative spark.
Who are you? How did you get to where you are today?
First and foremost I’m a passionate about creating beautiful objects. I have had many jobs from software development project manager to costume designer in Hollywood. Each of these positions taught me invaluable lessons. Most recently, I spent a decade in Asia working as a manufacturing agent. Through this work I spent a lot of time in factories talking with workers and getting a first hand understanding of the real challenges involved with producing products that are good for the people and the planet. After learning the ins and outs of what it takes to produce quality products, I decided that I wanted to go back to running a creative business that reflected my values. When I discovered my partner Tomas Wittelsbach’s work using ZBrush to sculpt jewelry in 3D, I knew I had found the missing piece that would allow the artist’s touch to be brought back to the manufacturing process.
Tell us MORE about your brand/business.
We have a sustainable jewelry brand, Astor + Orion. Because we design our jewelry in 3D, we are able to give our manufacturing partner a complete design that doesn’t rely on their ability to translate a sketch into a product. This cuts down on waste and frustration, allowing the factory to focus on casting and finishing our designs.
What values are important to you and your business?
We believe a thing of true beauty cannot be made at the expense of the people or the planet. We are doing our part to support a circular economy where waste and pollution is designed out of the system and use materials that can be recaptured instead of being sent to the landfill. Our earrings are made with 70% recycled stainless and this year we are going to start a take back program where our customers can send us jewelry that has reached the end of its lifecycle for recycling. In addition we support the arts by donating a percentage of our sales to CalArts Community Arts Program.
When and how did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I entered the working world during the dot com boom days. I kept getting hired by companies and then a year later they were going out of business. The job market was so unstable that I felt like just working for myself would be less risky.
Are you a full-time or part-time entrepreneur? For how long?
Full time, 20 years.
What’s the thing you dislike most about being an entrepreneur?
It’s always a challenge to make sure you are getting paid enough for the time you put into something.
What’s your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
Having the freedom to pursue my dreams
We believe a thing of true beauty cannot be made at the expense of the people or the planet.
What has been your most challenging moment in business?
Launching Astor + Orion because this was a self funded business. I needed to do a lot with very little money.
What has been your most rewarding moment in business?
Getting reorders from our customers.
Favorite Business Tools
We run our e-commerce site with Shopify. I absolutely love the hands on support they have given us.
Favorite Creative Tools
ZBrush. This is the 3D sculpting software we use to design our jewelry. It’s an amazing tool because it allows us to capture our hand sculpting in a format that seamlessly integrates with the manufacturing process.
Where do you normally seek inspiration?
I go for hike, the natural world is my ultimate inspiration.
Is there a person, book, movie, album, or art piece that has influenced your life and work significantly? Who, what, and how?
All of Lalique’s jewelry is a massive source of inspiration. I love how he sold his jewelry based on good design rather than relying on the preciousness of the materials.
What are your thoughts about the current social media landscape in relation to small businesses?
I think social media is a huge help for small businesses. I love how it puts me in direct contact with our customers.
Who is another conscious entrepreneur we should know about?
Lauren Engelke, sustainable stylist. She’s such an interesting person.