There’s so much to love about a creative business like Silk Diaries.
The hand-dyed, ethically-made silks (and the empowering mission behind them) come from founder Kylee Barnard — an artistic entrepreneur with a genuine story and a heartfelt message for women.
During a stressful, anxiety-filled time in her life, Kylee turned to her art background and personal experience with silk to create something that would put her mind at ease. After creating silk scarves for herself, she then realized that she could use this creative passion to empower other women, specifically in the workplace. “There’s something special about wearing a one-of-a-kind, plant-dyed, ethically made silk around your neck, looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing you aren’t alone.”
Learn more about Kylee, her inspirations, and her thoughts on self-expression in our interview below.
What is your background? How did the idea for Silk Diaries come about?
I grew up really involved in the arts, it has always been my way of independent self-expression. My sister and I used to create ‘perfume’ with chlorine water, herbs and spices while we were swimming in the pool, I had a bead making business at the age of 12 (my dad made me business cards and everything) and I would cut down mistletoe and wrap ribbon around them and go door to door selling during Christmas. In high school I was an extremely visual learner, I was involved in AP art classes, photojournalism and was the Editor in Chief of the yearbook. I fell in love with InDesign and creating something with a purpose. I grew up with a big heart, eager to help those around me and make them happy. I went to the University of North Texas for two years after college and tried to pursue their Communication Design program but was rejected twice. It really struck my confidence for awhile, and I took a light load my last semester there. And then one day I got an email saying that Savannah College of Art Design was doing a visit/workshop in Fort Worth and I didn’t even think about it, I just signed up. Throughout my life, there’s a lot of things that really stick out to me, that email was one of them. I applied to the school a day after attending the workshop and was accepted with scholarships. Attending SCAD was a dream, I was so inspired and I got into large-scale abstract painting. Although I found it really hard to sell my work despite the praise I was receiving and the exhibitions I was in. I knew that when I graduated and had some more time on my hands that I wanted to find a way to sell my work at a more approachable price point.
“I want to change the idea that women have to perfect to be lovely because we don’t.”
Fast forward to graduation and adult life and I was feeling major imposter syndrome in the workplace. My anxiety was at an all-time high and I could hardly go through a day without feeling stressed. I started to reflect on what had helped me in the past and stumbled upon a memory of my childhood baby blanket with a silk trim. I used to rub the trim on my face to help me fall asleep, so much so that there is a giant hole in the corner of it now. I went to a few stores to try and find a silk scarf or shirt to start wearing to work, but everything I came across was a silk blend and felt dramatically different. So I ordered a few silk blanks on Amazon as well as dye and made my own scarves to empower myself.
Unfortunately, women can often experience more trouble in the workplace than men. So when people at work began complimenting my silks, I went out on a whim and soft-launched the business through Etsy. This made me realize that I wasn’t dyeing silk for myself, as much as I was doing it to connect with other intelligent women in a versatile way. I saw a decent amount of orders in the first month and decided I was going to go for it, so I opened a real store with the mission to empower women in the workplace by wearing something intentional, ethical and sustainable. There’s something special about wearing a one-of-a-kind, plant-dyed, ethically made silk around your neck, looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing you aren’t alone.
Is Silk Diaries your full-time gig or a side hustle? If it’s your side hustle, is it something you’d want to pursue full-time in the future?
Silk Diaries is my side hustle. I work at IBM as a Visual Designer for Cognitive Systems designing software. Although I really enjoy my full-time job, I will say it’d be pretty rad to do Silk Diaries full time sometime in the future.
What has been the most unexpected part of running your own business?
The personal growth, business growth and interest in my story. I’ve learned so much about who I am, what I want and where I want to be. I’ve been able to push my boundaries and challenge myself beyond comprehension to become the woman I’ve always wanted to be–strong, courageous, determined, and confident. I never really expected Silk Diaries to grow this quickly, but the best part of it all is the genuine curiosity behind my story and the love for the work I make. Women feel empowered by something that I created with my own two hands and heart and they want to follow along with my story, which I find truly special.
As a designer and artist, where do you go for inspiration? What fuels your creativity?
It’s safe to say that emotion and nature are my biggest inspiration. Each piece is a reflection of me; something I felt, experienced, saw, internalized–a conversation, a place, a time etc. It is self-expression, and I find it very powerful to create something personally meaningful and then let go of it so others can find their own interpretation and meaning.
What are your thoughts on the creative community here in Austin? How has being in Austin affected your business?
I think there’s a great maker community in Austin but at first, it was really intimidating. I personally felt like I wouldn’t be able to find a place for myself because everything had already been done–but looking back, that’s just silly. It’s a matter of staying true to you and your values and expressing yourself honestly and openly so you can create a sincere connection with people. Once you’ve established that connection, everything else follows. The majority of the community wants to lift you up and empower you; it’s been so fun to connect with women that love photography and fashion styling. I get to help lift them up by empowering them to do what they love, and they help lift me up by creating awesome content for my brand.
Favorite way to unwind after a long week?
I know this is going to sound like a lame answer, but dyeing silk is actually the way I unwind. I mean, I like to do other things too, but when I dye, I’m able to let go of all processes and structure in my day to day life and just play with color. I couldn’t think of a better way to express myself or let go of stress. No one is dictating that work and it’s really hard to look at it and be like ‘nope that’s wrong’. It’s mine, and I love that. I have three awesome dogs (2 German Shepard’s and a Husky) so I enjoy spending time with them outside, having bonfires and dinners with good company. I also really enjoy traveling so I can hear and see other people’s story. And of course, I love spending time with my man. He owns a furniture business and we love to craft ideas on how we can work together.
What advice do you have for others who want to pursue their creative passions?
Tell your story. Be honest with others and yourself. Authenticity is what will set your business apart from the others. If you’re struggling with negative self-talk like I was, my best advice is to start somewhere. I’ve re-done my packaging a few times, added products, taken products away, re-centered my business ethics, changed my color palette and more. I didn’t wait until I had something perfect because I wanted Silk Diaries to reflect my mission, to empower women to love themselves, and that process is never linear. I want to change the idea that women have to perfect to be lovely because we don’t. In fact, it makes the world really, really awesome when people are truly themselves. Who wants everything to be the same anyways?
Images by Anna Criswell.