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Self-taught Atlanta artist marks 20 years in business

4:41 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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Smart Glass Jewelry (Courtesy of Smart Glass Jewelry online)

ATLANTA -- Since long before it was trendy, Atlanta artist Kathleen Plate has been upcycling, or repurposing old stuff into something new.

For two decades, Kathleen Plate has been creating custom jewelry out of soda, wine, beer and salad dressing bottles in her Atlanta studio. She's entirely self-taught.

"I had to go to a birthday party, I was a grad student and didn't have any money, so why don't I make some earrings for my friend and I just soldered up a pair and that's really how it all started," Plate said.

Never really a starving artist, she transitioned to art festivals and Atlanta's Merchandise Mart. As requests kept coming, Plate took a break from pursuing her PhD in literature at Georgia State University to focus on her company, Smart Glass Jewelry

"My business plan at the time was just say 'yes' to anything that came along," she said. "Sometimes I didn't know what I was saying yes to or how to do it, but I knew I could figure it out."

Along the way, she also figured out custom lighting fixtures and chandeliers, even delicate glass dresses.

Her customers are diverse; both small boutiques and big businesses. Aveda was the first to call after seeing her work with their old product bottles. 

"I honestly thought it was one of my friends prank calling me," she laughed.

Then Coca-Cola Smart Glass Jewelry called in 2006.

"You really can be in your studio, following your bliss and the biggest company in the world can call you," Plate explained.

The beverage giant first wanted jewelry using recycled Coke bottles. Then they placed a bigger order. Her recycled Coke bottle chandelier now hangs at the World of Coke.

Currently Kathleen is working on a few hundred custom light fixtures for Chick-Fil-A restaurants.

"I just feel really fortunate," Plate said, while reflecting on the demands and rewards of working for yourself.

"The good news is that you're responsible for everything and the bad news is that you're responsible for everything. You have to kind of have an optimistic outlook to see opportunities and to see the possibilities." 

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