Meet the Maker: Kristyn Pankiw Helm of Laite Atelier

Last year I discovered the beautiful jewelry of Laite Atelier and fell in love with Kristyn's minimal yet impactful designs. I fell even more in love when I found out that she hand makes every piece of her jewelry, advocating slow fashion and ethical practices in production. She also has a journal (blog) where she shares her lifestyle of simple, holistic, and intentional living.... plus some amazing, AMAZING recipes! This gal is so authentic and it definitely manifests through her creations in the most simple, delicate, and beautiful way. 


Photo of Kristyn Helm by Joshua Weaver, courtesy of Laite

Hi Kristyn! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand, Laite.
Laite is the creative embodiment of my desire for mindful living. I've always been interested in creative endeavors, whether it be writing, photography or fiber arts. Metal-smithing is my most recent undertaking. Everything produced for Laite is curated with simplicity and quality in mind. I love bringing to life the sentiment of rustic authenticity, and I hope my brand conveys this. 
Let's clarify for everyone; how do you pronounce Laite? What does it mean?
I pronounce it "lah-tee" but "late" works as well! Laite comes from the French word, lait, which means milk (I added the 'e' to make it more my own). As a wordsmith, I've always been fond of the word milk and the meaning behind it--the idea of nourishment, something of substance that brings about growth and goodness. Milk is sustaining, comforting and wholesome. I decided to name my shop after this French word because I want my brand to signify the same principals. Atelier ("ah-till-ee-yeh") is also French, meaning artist's studio or workshop.
When and how did you get started with jewelry making?
In the summer of 2013, I started making jewelry on a whim; I'd only found part-time work for the summer and wanted something else to keep me busy. Things just kind of took off from there! I started off selling on Etsy, mostly charm and glass bead necklaces, but after learning how to work with metal--using a torch, drill, files and such--I decided to go in that direction. I just fell in love with the process, being able to turn a piece of wire or sheet metal into something useful and beautiful. 
What is your creative process like? And where do you draw your inspiration from?
I'm so bad at answering this question because it's so hard to pinpoint! I draw inspiration randomly, whether it be a styled image I find online, or just playing around with leftover scraps in my downtime. My first collection was about creating the perfect basics. My second collection was mostly inspired by the landscapes of my personal history. I'm working on a third (mini) collection right now that feels really feminine and petite, perhaps inspired by spring.
Do you do this full-time? If so, what were you doing before and what inspired the transition to becoming a full-time creative?
I do! I switched to full-time in January. I have kind of a strange work history....I graduated college early in December 2013, moved to Tampa and couldn't find a job in my field to save my life (I have a BA in English). So I worked as a bridal consultant for almost a year, then a preschool teacher for a few months, before calling it quits and diving into my small business full-time. I didn't want to keep churning my wheels in jobs that didn't satisfy me or relate to my passion for writing. Going full-time was a hard decision, and while I love it, it's definitely been tough; the past few months have been really slow for online shops (the holidays are over and won't come again soon), but it's given me time to reevaluate where I want to take my shop next and what I truly want to be doing.
What does your typical daily work routine look like?
You should know that I am probably the slowest moving human haha! I don't procrastinate, but I just take quite a long time to do anything. I don't like to rush, so running my own shop is really ideal because I get to set my own pace. I wake up at 6am every morning and take my time waking up; I'll usually grab some fruit, turn on music and sit down to read a book. A little before 8am, I get ready for the day and start checking emails. By 9, I'm eating breakfast and recipe searching for dinner. I'll sit down at my workbench by 10 and work until about 5, when I'll step away to prep dinner. After dinner, I'll pack up any finished orders for the day if I have time. I used to work 9am-9pm but realized a few months ago I just couldn't keep going at that pace, so I'm happy to be finding a better balance between life and work.
    
Photos via @laiteatelier Instagram
Where are you based? How does your environment and surroundings affect your creative process?
As of April, I am based out of Charles Town, West Virginia. My fiance and I moved here from Tampa, and being here is just about the most amazing thing. The slower paced, small town life suits me well and is helping me develop a healthier lifestyle and more productive creative process. We live in an old 1940's cape cod with a huge flower garden in our backyard--both of these settings inspire me because they bring such happiness and positivity to my life. I think your environment definitely impacts your creativity. I mean, when you're picking your own tulips and daffodils every day, you can't help but smile and feel at peace! 
Any favorite spots in your city?
Being a recent transplant, I'm still learning my way around the area. My home is my favorite spot so far (I'm a huge homebody). There's a great restaurant called Domestic that I love--amazing Bloody Mary's!--and we're only minutes from Harper's Ferry, which is just a beautiful place; tons of hiking, old town charm, and breathtaking views. 
    
Photos via @laiteatelier Instagram
I see that Laite just turned 1 recently! Congrats! What have you learned in this first year of being in business? Was it what you expected?
Thank you! It's not what I expected at all, but it's a good thing. When you start a business, I think you have to decide what kind of business you want to be: do you want to expand or stay small? At first, I thought I wanted the former, but as the year went on, I learned it just wasn't right for me. I like being a one-woman shop, and while I love collaborating with other designers and makers, I don't want to grow so much or so quickly that I don't have enough hands and need to hire employees. The whole point of my shop--its mission and its creation in general--is to practice mindful living, and I want to stay true to that by cultivating slow fashion and simple home goods. I learned that success has no one definition: success means different things to different people, and ultimately, you have to do what's best for you (and not compare yourself to other small businesses).
What advice would you give to other aspiring independent business owners or creatives wanting to take their work to a more professional level?
The most important thing is to force yourself to make the first step. We can all sit and plan out the perfect small business, but life happens, and things do and will go wrong--don't let that fear stop you from chasing a dream. The only way to see your shop come to fruition is to take action; you will certainly make mistakes and learn valuable lessons, but that's part of the process. You can't prepare for it. You just have to put yourself out there and do it. 
Your pieces seems to all carry a delicacy and simplistic beauty to them. What is it about simplicity that draws you in?
Thank you! To me, simplicity is contentment. It's about finding the joy in the little things and cherishing the finer details of life around you. In such a fast paced, fast-fashion consumer world, it's rewarding to take a step back and appreciate the beauty in the ordinary. I think that's what simplicity is about. It makes us more mindful, more aware. 
    
Photo 1 + 3 via @laiteatelier Instagram / Photo 2 via @shopkaleidos Instagram
What was your favorite part about collaborating with Kaleidos? 
I loved the chance to work with silver! It was such a treat. I also loved being able to tie our design into the landscape of the Kaleidos shop by embodying its physical location and makeup. Collaboration is such fun!
Sweet Virginia ring, a Laite x Kaleidos exclusive collaboration
What is your vision or hopes for the future of Laite?
Sometime this summer, I'm planning to release the third mini jewelry collection, and later this year, I'll be adding more permanent home goods to my shop. I'm hoping to tie my English degree into my shop in some way, so we'll see how it goes! I definitely want Laite to stay small but busy; I love the pace of my work and the connections I make through it, and my vision is to continue this close authenticity and further develop the ideal of the Laite brand. 
What is currently rotating on your playlist?
I've been listening to a ton of instrumental music lately--particularly an album I found on Spotify while I was searching for my favorite song, Reverie by Debussy. The album is called Relaxing Moods for a Lonely Piano, Vol. 2 - Provence, and I've had it on repeat all day long today, actually!
Lastly... when you look through a kaleidoscope, what beauty do you see? What beauty does it make you feel?
When I was younger, my father worked in an office that had a brass kaleidoscope on display near the front desk. As a child, I would sit in the big leather studded chair in the foyer and play with the kaleidoscope, marveling at the intricate shapes it created before my eyes every time I turned it. I think that's the beauty of the kaleidoscope--it's every changing, and no two patterns or images are the same when you look through it. Everyone sees something different, unique in it. A kaleidoscope allows you the freedom to see your own version of beauty in whatever is created.
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Thanks for doing this interview with us, Kristyn! Check out our collaboration ring, Sweet Virginia. Inspired by home & love, it is shaped like the state of Virginia, where Kaleidos calls home. Shop it HERE!

Sweet Virginia rings // VA is for lovers <3