biz ladiesLife & Business

Life & Business Profile: Karie Reinertson of Shelter

by Sabrina Smelko


Karie Reinertson is one badass lady. She has worked for environmental nonprofit groups, was an intern and chef for a school in Vermont, and has traveled across the globe as a volunteer for environmental education centers. Today you can find Karie in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC with her husband and business partner, Rob, where they run SHELTER COLLECTIVE, which offers product design, event curation, and experimental and experiential projects. On top of this, Karie heads up SHELTER, a stream of SHELTER COLLECTIVE, where she designs and makes handbags from high-quality sustainable materials. As busy as Karie may be, she graciously took the time to chat with us about being multidisciplinary, patience, going with the flow and what to consider before starting your own business. –Sabrina

Portrait photo by Tim Robison, product photos by Karie Reinertson.

Read the full post after the jump!

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I had always wanted to start my own business, but have so many interests spanning design, craft, nature, and architecture that I always felt torn about how to focus those energies into a business. I’ve historically been better with having more autonomy and ownership in my work, so starting my own business just made sense. In 2010 I declined an acceptance to graduate school because something just didn’t feel right about it. From there I decided it was finally time to start a business that was a better fit.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

When I lived in Vermont and met my husband Rob five years ago, we both were in a place of transition and had too many interests to list between the two of us. He trained as an architect and my background is in fine art and environmental design nonprofit work. Instead of committing to one product, service, or skill, we decided to start a multidisciplinary design studio that encouraged our generalist tendencies. Once we moved to Asheville, I started designing handbags and sewing more, and that morphed into SHELTER handbags. The bags quickly caught on, and I’ve focused more and more on that aspect of the business. Right now it is my full-time job, though Rob and I still work collaboratively on product design, event curation, and experimental and experiential projects. We hope to take on more projects that challenge and excite us.

Biz Ladies: Karie Reinertson

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Be patient. I heard that so much at the beginning and at the time it was so incredibly frustrating! What I learned from this advice is that while it is important to have specific larger goals, you have to be sure that how you’re spending your day-to-day is gratifying as well — a nod at the idea of enjoying the journey, not just the destination.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Going with the flow. I had particular ideas of how I wanted the business to look, but when new opportunities arose that didn’t fit that vision, I had to change course when it seemed right. I liken it to planning a backpacking trip abroad: You lay out your itinerary, you plan each day, and when you meet someone who wants to go scuba diving in the Thai islands (for example), you make the executive decision to ditch all those other plans for new, uncharted ones. Besides, anything related to visiting a Thai island is likely the right choice.

Biz Ladies: Karie Reinertson

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Learn how to embrace uncertainty and allow yourself to thrive in it. Some of the scariest moments of my life were when I was in transition and unsure of what would come next. Those moments are now some of my most treasured — I forced myself to reevaluate what I wanted and how to spend my time and with whom. Owning your own business is riddled with uncertainty — some months are good, some are bad. Trust that it will all work out as long as you stay focused and invested in your work.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

There have been quite a few, but those experiences offered me lessons that I value greatly now. One of my biggest failures was not realizing that SHELTER has a life of its own, outside of my personal life. When big events happened such as illness, a death in the family, and so on, I faltered and wasn’t sure how to keep the business going smoothly while my personal life was requiring all of my energy. It’s important to have a back-up plan and a community on your side that can help when you’re going through the big stuff.

Biz Ladies: Karie Reinertson
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Truly RELAXING (like lying on a blanket, watching the clouds go by with not one thing in my brain) can be incredibly challenging. It’s hard to not let the to-do list pile up and obsess over everything that I could, should, and want to do. Meditation, brisk walks no matter the weather, being with good friends, and getting enough sleep are KEY. I’m giving you this advice as much as I’m giving it to myself!

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

My ideas about what success is are constantly changing, so it’s hard to name one. I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that have pushed my business forward. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with designers, curators, institutions, and companies that I deeply respect, as well as having SHELTER handbags featured in multiple magazines and blogs that I admire. At the end of the day, though, it’s really all about how I feel about how I am running the business and the level of presence, professionalism, and commitment I bring to my work and designs. It’s tricky to measure.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

I obsessively listen to “After the Jump” on Heritage Radio, hosted by Design*Sponge’s own Grace Bonney. I’ve also read a few books by 99U, mainly about creating routine and making ideas happen. I detest routine but understand the necessity in it. I also really recommend starting a monthly group with friends and peers in your community who own businesses and whose value systems related to work match your own. Even if it’s coffee with a friend once a month — anything! It’s so helpful to talk through what you’re experiencing and know that others that might seem like they have it all figured out are just as unsure as you are.

Biz Ladies: Karie Reinertson

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. How do you want to spend your day-to-day? I turned down graduate school in Landscape Architecture because when I thought about how I would actually be spending my time (behind a computer, in an office, and likely working for someone else), rather than my dreamy ideal vision of it, I realized it was completely the wrong fit. Make sure how you’re spending each day is really how you want to spend your life. Those days add up!

2. Is this work that you are willing to spend all of your time thinking about? I love to say “pay attention to what you pay attention to.” If you can’t help but pay attention to whatever it is — textiles, writing, excel spreadsheets (we should talk if you’re super into excel!), social media, so on, then it’s probably the right fit. If it’s a broad skill, think of all the different ways you could use that skill — there are endless options!

3. And on the flip side of that, are you willing to turn this thing that you pay attention to into WORK, knowing that some days you won’t be excited about it? Make sure you are able to see it with business-minded eyes. It’s going to be GREAT, just know that not all days are going to be the smoothest.

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  • Great questions (and answers too of course!). What I love about your biz interviews is that there is “meat” behind the questions. It isn’t just about “what a pretty studio/product/design/artwork” but gets to the heart of running a creative business.

    That transparency about what it takes makes these so worth reading!

  • Good read – Katie’s words are inspiring and dead on. Sometimes were too busy (or we think we are) doing everything for everyone that were to busy to listen to our own wants and needs let alone follow our own advise. Sometimes we just have to jump head first into our fears of unchartered waters. Being busy is one thing but being busy doing what you love is a gift…

  • Wonderful read! Congrats Karie – you are a constant source of inspiration. I love our Asheville community of makers & entrepreneurs! xo Macon

  • Your words are so true about big life events and one’s business having a life of its own….one week ago today…our family lost our matriarch and I have been stopped in my tracks and all things have paused…including my business. A back-up plan and a community would have come in handy….
    Karie, thanks for sharing and peace and blessings.

  • Absolutely beautiful advice all around from Karie, not just for running a business but for leading a life! I love “pay attention to what you are paying attention to” – that’s relationship advice and life advice in one brilliant nugget.This is a terrific interview with one of the most inspirational people that I am fortunate enough to have shared time with on this planet. XO

  • Karie – This was a great article! You and Rob have a purpose and vision that I so admire – keep following your heart <3

  • Karie is an inspiration; combining a dreamer, a strong minded business woman, entrepreneur, creative out of the box thinker, and produces amazingly beautiful bags, made from love, soul and dedication. No day is typical and juggling everyday life is hard, but Karie has found the balance and everyday is a new palette. Congratulations, Karie!

  • Karie your ideas and positive thinking are amazing for a person of your age. Continued happiness and good business.

  • I love Karie’s work! And I love Shelter Collective! I am from Charlottesville but got to visit the studio/shop last time I was in Asheville and fell in love. Also, I love iswas+willbe and it was so great to see all of my favorite bits of Asheville together in one place. I didn’t get to meet Karie while I was there, but Rob was beyond awesome and nice. Keep up the great work you two!

  • What a nice article with insightful ideas that anyone can apply to their life and business. I’ve known Rob since he was young and it’s so nice to read about the woman he married and their lives together. Congratulations on the article and your business! I love the pattern on the clutch!

  • ‘make sure how you’re spending each day is really how you want to spend your life’. such true and insightful words! i wish i could tell this to every graduate and student.

  • Congratulations on your success! Karie designed and made me an “Austin Powers” red velvet suit for me to wear to Homecoming during my senior year of high school…long before Austin Powers even existed. Such creativity and talent!

  • Wondering if you might comment on how you went from design (or prototype) to production. How did you find reliable manufacturers, materials? How did you launch with your first product? Thanks!

  • what a wonderful interview, I enjoyed every sentence of it! thanks for writing such a great article and introducing such great experince.