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The Enduring Bonds of Katie Caplener’s VADA

Time & Space

The Enduring Bonds of Katie Caplener’s VADA

Posted on 12/18/23

In an intimate reflection on the journey of VADA Jewelry, founder and creative director Katie Caplener, also known as @katievada, shares the essence of her brand, which is deeply rooted in a blend of personal history, artisanal craftsmanship, and a steadfast commitment to sustainability and ethical practices.

Katie Caplener's journey shapes the core pillars of VADA, intertwining the influences of her given family and the cherished bonds of her found family, weaving a tapestry of creativity, community, and enduring values.

Katie didn't initially plan to start VADA in 2013; it was a venture that "really evolved by chance." Her personal style, adorned with vintage and antique jewelry, caught the attention of clients at her previous full-time job, leading her to sell pieces from her own collection. This endeavor blossomed into a desire to make her own designs. Thus, VADA started with "five custom designs handmade in Austin by a local jeweler who is now my in-house studio director, ten years later!"

In her creations, Katie marries tradition with modernity. She's stringent about the materials, stating, "We use solid gold, never plated, and natural diamonds, never ever lab-grown." This approach not only ensures quality but also respects the age-old techniques of jewelry making. Sustainability is a cornerstone of VADA’s ethos. Katie believes in the power of local craftsmanship and sustainable sourcing. "I believe that employing local craftsmen (two females) to produce our jewelry is hugely sustainable," she says, highlighting her efforts to minimize the carbon footprint and utilize recycled materials. The inspiration for Katie's designs comes from a deep well of references. "I am an obsessor, so whatever is currently on my mind will undoubtedly be integrated into the current collection," Katie reveals. This includes influences from ancient art to the modern occult, with each collection telling a unique story.

The name "VADA" itself is a heartfelt tribute to her late grandmother, a "hard-working graceful woman." This personal connection underscores the brand's deeper narrative and relationship with family. “My family is the most important part of my life. I am constantly planning trips to spend quality time with them.” Caplener continues, “My late grandmother, Vada, had many friends and not a single known enemy and was a devoted wife and mother.” Katie’s late paternal grandmother, Dot, whose initials grace an anklet of Katie’s, was “the true jewelry fanatic of my family. She would collect scrap gold and create custom pieces for herself and her sisters. The anklet was given to me at one of their funerals years ago, and I have never taken it off.”

Storytelling is intrinsic to VADA's brand narrative, stemming from lived experiences and personal tales. Katie ensures that each collection has a natural and unforced narrative, making each piece more than just an accessory. “The stories come naturally; I never force any kind of narrative. A lot of the stories come from lived experience, even if it is exaggerated in design. I want to make sure the brand is not able to be replicated; it's a bigger picture and a feeling.” For example, VADA’s recent collaboration with artist Leon Bridges reflects a shared aesthetic and personal bond. "The collaboration with my friend, Leon Bridges, came very organically as we have been friends for many years," she notes. This partnership has been a creative journey, culminating in unique eyewear designs. “Developing any new frame style takes a minimum of two years from start to production delivery. Leon and I started by going through my extensive collection of archival frames to discuss what shapes excited both of us. We landed on a handful of ideas and connected with my design team to create completely unique frame shapes. We set out to make one single namesake frame, but after reviewing the multiple options, we decided we had to create EARTHA and LEON.” EARTHA also has a grandmother connection, named for Bridges’ grandmother, and was “inspired by Eartha's personal style. The paisley print engraved in each custom wire core is inspired by a scarf she wore.” Katie remarks.

In navigating the intricate process of developing new products, particularly when product development timelines span years, VADA finds itself juxtaposed against the pervasive fast fashion market. In this landscape, where the lifespan of trends is fleeting, Katie firmly champions the ethos of lasting quality. She asserts, “Fast fashion dies as quickly as it is delivered to your doorstep. I want to make products passed down through the years and cherished for generations to come.” This commitment to longevity and heirloom-worthy craftsmanship distinctly positions VADA as a beacon of enduring value in an industry frequently mired in the ephemeral and the transient.

Empowerment and representation are at the core of VADA's identity, particularly in its all-female production team. Katie's vision for a “strong work family run by females” is a testament to her commitment to female empowerment within the industry. This ethos of family extends beyond just her team to the broader concept of 'found family,' a theme Katie, as an only child, deeply cherishes. She emphasizes the significance of these bonds, stating, “My found family is just as important as my blood relatives.” Their unwavering support has been instrumental to VADA's success, as they not only show up at every event but also live out the brand’s ethos in their everyday style. Acknowledging their vital role, Katie expresses heartfelt gratitude: “They are the only reason VADA is still alive and well. I talk to them every day, but a huge thank you and I owe you my life!” In this way, Katie weaves together the threads of female leadership and communal support, illustrating how VADA’s strength lies in its products or philosophy and in the community that nurtures and sustains it.

Looking to the future, Katie is determined to uphold the brand's ethical practices. "I only know that we will stay true to our ethical practices and continue to produce thoughtfully with precious stones and metals," she promises.

Images by Cydney Cosette