I'm so excited to be sharing Kat Harris with you today! She is the co-founder of the online magazine The Refined Woman and the host of The Refined Collective podcast. She is a Brooklyn based photographer, content creator and advocate for women whether it’s taking pictures, speaking on a panel or meeting a stranger on the street. Her vision remains the same, to empower women to embrace their beauty, identity and value through storytelling. That is why she was just on my podcast and why I’m sharing this blog with you!
“What I love about being in our world is everyone wears different hats and we all have different things that we're doing.”
Kat has been in the photography business for almost a decade but is also part of other pursuits. That is the life of an entrepreneur, right?! We all have a dream if not more than one and we are always chasing them. Get ready for some Q and A with Kat!
How did you get involved in photography and where did that journey take you?
Kat: So photography started for me post college. I was an athlete in college and I did not think I had a creative bone in my body. But photography always spoke to me, it was always something that kind of made my heart flutter and I thought well if I wasn't an athlete, then I would I would look into this. My dad was a photographer and a really important influential mentor in my life as a photographer. I allowed myself to be stuck in this box of athletes and then post college I worked toward it.
I was a tennis player, played in college and coached for years. So that was my world and that is who I was for a really long time. Post college I got a job at a media based nonprofit and so I went from being in this athletic world to living in an intern house with 50 other people and our company raised awareness about a war in Northern Uganda and almost everyone I lived with everyone on staff was either a filmmaker, photographer, graphic designer and I didn't think I fit into that world.
One day my boss at the time, his name is Jason Russell, he's still such a influential person in my life, was speaking to all of us and he said, “we are all creative beings because God created people, so if God created us then we have creativity pulsing through our veins. It's just tapping into that, seeing that light, stop cultivating it with excellence and using it for good.” So that really changed things for me I thought, alright maybe I can explore this.
I was at another nonprofit where I was struggling financially, taking odd jobs and somehow worked for this wedding planner at this multimillion dollar wedding, crossed paths with the photographer who is a very successful, celebrity high-end photographer. Then a couple months later when I was miserable in my job I said you know what…I'm young, I'm single, I'm never gonna know if I'm good at photography if I don't give it a shot. Why don't I go all in? So I reached out to this guy. I had zero experience didn't even know how to turn on a camera and somehow he hired me full time to be his associate and executive assistant.
I thought you know the only way I'm going to know is if I go all in and one of the best ways to figure out what you do or do not want to do is to give it a shot. So I worked for him for 3 ½ years, had never touched a camera before working for him.
What does that mindset look like when you go into work with this amazing guy and you have zero experience. Was there struggles there?
Kat: Absolutely, there were struggles but I think my ignorance was sort of bliss because as an employee he could sort of mold me into everything he wanted and needed me to be. I was a clean slate. I had no prior experience, no prior knowledge. I honestly didn't even know who the heck he was and after I got the job I would be getting dozens of emails every day from people, like could I just work for you for free. Like please let me just shadow you at a photoshoot!
Here I was some 23 year old that was like I'm not going to work for free I need to pay my bills. So I think he was kind of impressed that I didn't know who he was. But I think whether regardless if I had experience or not I think going into a new situation with humility, with a posture of curiosity and I'm here to learn. I don't have to be the expert, I don't have to be right, but what can I learn from you? I am where I am today because almost 10 years ago an established person, he saw something in me whether that was just the curiosity or the hunger and invest it into my life as a creative and as a professional.
I would beg and beg and beg, let me go, let me go…so finally he started letting me go to Fashion Week with him. I remember that first time he was like you know, you can go but you gotta figure it out on your own. I'm googling the night before, how do you shoot runway photography?! That's just kind of been my story, like all right jump now, fear later. Let’s go for it.
The fact that Kat just said she googled how to shoot runway photos the night before a shoot, like you guys…we have these incredible resources out there called YouTube and Google and the amount of free content that people are giving out on podcast and just all over the place. There is no excuse to not figure out anything!
Kat: I think with that in order to make that step of, yeah let me google that, first of all I have to let go the fear of failure, or the fear of rejection or even the fear of someone else finding me out that I don't know how to do this. I think we think that we have to have these like superwoman and Superman capes of I'm perfect, I know everything, I have it all together. I don't have it all together. My first step of growth is by acknowledging that and asking someone else to support me like hey, I would love to learn from you and there's so much free content out there and there's so many tools at our fingertips.
How many years do you feel it took you and what does that journey look like?
Kat: I mean there's absolutely always room for growth until our last breath, but I'm going to butcher this right now but the whole 10,000 hour thing to hone in the craft, I mean I just went all in. I was working full time for this guy, 40 hours a week and then shooting with him on the weekends and then any other chance I could assist other photographers.
I don't think now looking back it was the healthiest way to live because I did not have any balance. But I was shooting 6 days a week and studying every night, it was almost like I was in college.
I would say it took, it honestly took about 3 years of being fully immersed in to feel really confident but I still doubted myself. It really wasn't until my boss got offered an editorial campaign in New York for a brand and they couldn't afford him. So they were like What can we hire you and I was like you want to hire me?! WHY? I still just viewed myself as the underdog and so I was shocked that I got this opportunity, my boss was like go for it. I think I made $500 on this shoot like nothing, right? I'm flying out to New York City by myself, shooting editorial campaign. I didn't even know how to use the lighting equipment that I had a rented for the shoot. So I'm like Dear God please just don't let me burn down the studio!
It was first time I was head shooter, I hired my own team my own hair and makeup and assistants and I went through the shoot. It went really well and ended up being picked up for two national campaigns and cover of a wedding magazine. I was like wait…I can take pictures and people want to look at them??
It was honestly from that experience where the birthing and rumblings of The Refined Woman, my online magazine, really began because as I was leaving that shoot the model came up to me and she's this beautiful gorgeous woman by all accounts should be like super confident and quietly comes up to me at the end of the day and gives me a hug and says thank you for asking for my name. No other photographer has asked me my name before. I'm like holding back tears like oh, you're welcome, bye!
That was a pillar moment for me in my career and in my life that I want to be a person that holds space for women to know that they are worthy and valuable and enough. For now photography's that vehicle. Because I have this craft, I’m allowed into spaces and around people that I normally wouldn't be let around and I can bring a light, positivity, a hope and a different dialogue in an industry that says you matter because of what you look like your status your power, etc.
You guys…is that not an amazing story?! I love how it just keeps leading and evolving Kat into something that is just even more than what she probably has ever envisioned. I love that she’s not saying, ‘well I was so amazing so I did this and I feel like, well I wasn't really sure my pictures were good enough but I didn't want to miss the opportunity so I jumped in.”
I think so many of us are waiting for the time that we're perfect. We feel like good enough to put ourselves out there and Kat is saying no. You do that, you get good enough by putting yourself out there and taking those opportunities.
Kat: The times I grew the most was when I was the worst person on the court. I don't grow when I am the best. I grow when other people are better than me or more advanced and I think I agree. We're waiting for this permission or this I need to get to this point. And I also think that is something that women do.
There's the statistics and studies that say a woman will apply for a job unless she's like 150% percent sure that she has everything it takes, every qualification and even then she is doubting herself. But a man has like 60% of the qualifications and he goes for it. I think there's an opportunity for women to give each other permission to not be perfect and to be in process. Done is better than perfect and go for it. Just go for it.
So now that's how The Redefined Woman started that was kind of the evolution of it from there and what does it look like today?
Kat: The Refined Woman is the small multi-facet of online platform. It started actually as a style blog with one of my girlfriends about 5 ½ years ago after leaving one New York Fashion Week, I thought there is nothing here that I can fit in because I'm not a model size and even if I could I can't afford it. I'm a working woman. I'm on my feet 16-18 hours a day. How can I be comfortable, functional and chic all at once?
So it kind of started like that but I'd say I got to a point kind of 6-8 months in again where I kind of paused and asked myself like What is success and what is legacy and what is the legacy I want to leave behind? Do I want to just be telling people buy this cool outfit? An that's not wrong. Some people are super passionate about that and it brings them life. I knew that answer for me was not that that. I wanted to share my story. I wanted to invite women into vulnerability. So slowly over time I started sharing, here's what's going on in my life. I struggled with an eating disorder in college. I am single navigating the dating scene in New York City and it is weird and hard or I struggle with anxiety attacks.
So when that started happening things really started changing and I looked back down like of course, people resonate with authenticity. Not perfection or polished moments which is funny because we’re called The Refined Women and started off as polished, styled, put together and now it means going in the fire, being refined by the process of life and letting people into your journey. You won't go to our website and see here's 10 ways to be the best version of you.
It's like I had a hard day, here's why. Here's what was sucky about it but here's what's true and here's what I hang on to. So from there sharing our stories I realized I know so many incredible women that have powerful stories. How can I give them a space to share their stories? It started off selfishly by thinking how can I get these really cool people to talk with me? Then a natural evolution of that has been the podcast. It's just a continued dialogue to create space for women to share their stories, to develop personally and to learn through a community.
I love hearing how this has evolved for Kat because I want people to know that the first thing you put out there is probably not going to look like that 3 months, 6 months or a year from now. You change and you grow and you figure out what exactly you want to do. I love that you Kat kept the name but the meaning changed. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense at all to keep a name, but sometimes we can just figure out what it really means or what we want to share with that passion.
When did you start the podcast?
Kat: The podcast is super new actually. We launched in April. I know you mentioned briefly how we connected over both being in mastermind's, so I remember I'm thinking about like what's a mastermind? What kind of Kool-Aid are people drinking?! What does that even mean? What it really is, is a business accelerator for entrepreneurs and I started at 2018 thinking I would love to start a podcast. I really feel like that's the direction I want to go in with my business, I have a lot on my plate. I run two businesses with photography and the magazine, let's make that goal today that by 2020 I will have a podcast. Then I go to my first mastermind retreat and 2 months later I launch my own podcast. And I love that you said it's a business accelerator.
It’s a perfect example because you get around these women or men and all of a sudden you think this is possible or you think you're gonna do in a year or two or five from now you're going, why now now?
Kat: I think what I realized is I don't know what I don't know. As an entrepreneur, solo-preneur I have achieved a level of success that I'm proud of, on my own and I've followed my gut instinct and I've googled and YouTube, didn't read the books. But if I was on the corporate route, let's say I was working for Goldman Sachs and have been 12 years into my career, at some point they're paying for me to get my masters.
They're investing in leadership development and certifications and I finally got to a point in my career where I felt like I was hitting a ceiling and I didn't know how to get out of it. And most of my peers were either at my same place or I was a couple steps ahead of them. I realized if I want to break through this I have to shift it out. I need to be around people that are a couple steps ahead of me and it's time to invest into my business because my CEO would be investing in me if I was on a c-suite in the corporate world.
What Kat said is a GREAT way to think of it and I just got back from a Tony Robbins event and he said you're either growing or you're dying, there's no Plateau. So many of us say we’re hitting a plateau right now and to hear him say that doesn't exist, you're either on your way up or you're on your way down. Which one are you? We don't have room to be going down, there's just no time to be going down. I think that's a really great way to go who is in my circle right now and are they stretching me or am I stretching them?
Kat: There's different roles for different areas of your life. There's the quote that says you know you are the five people you spend the most time with and my closest friends, most of them aren't in my industry. So people are always like oh she does that blog thing or she has that podcast or whatever it is. They meet these needs for me and I meet needs for them whether that’s emotionally, spiritually just friend wise. But why would I not put that same intention into my business. It was so easy for me for the last some 6-7 years to just put my head to the ground. I'm in the hustle and I have to do it and like you said if I'm not growing I'm moving backwards. How exhausting is it to be in that journey alone? Like I woke up a couple years ago exhausted with adrenal fatigue, burnt out creatively and wanting to throw in the towel.
I realize I'm in a city in New York of 8 million people. We all have our heads to the ground. What if we looked up long enough to look each other in the eye and say hey what are you up to? I'm struggling today. Oh you're struggling too? How can we support each other? Yeah I can go far on my own and I can create results but I can go further and create a lasting legacy in community.
I think we always think that in mastermind's we're only talking positive, we’re only sharing success and that's just not it. Sometimes we need to know what's normal and maybe you’re struggling or you're secretly struggling you might think about quitting or giving up. If you knew that you’re actually not and you're doing great or you’re thinking it only took me 6 weeks to do this and it took me 6 months and the second you hear that you're going OK…this is supposed to look like this. Sometimes we're doing better than the average of the people in the room, you just don’t know it. It's just as important to share those struggles as it is to share those wins.
Kat: I mean again that's where the growth starts. I'm going to walk in this room, remove my expert hat and come with humility and curiosity and say, I mean I didn't have a list until six months ago!! I was like what's an email list?? That's a thing? In the last six months I've grown my email list from 500 people, I’ve had my business for five years and I had 500 people on my email list because I was like I don't have time to send out an email and now in 6 months, I have grown up to 25,000 and that has been hard but I'm like I don't know what I don't know.
I think of it with my background as an athlete. I think of the varsity athlete who just because they're varsity and have success doesn't mean they still don't need to grow. But often times the biggest spaces of growth are the tiniest tweaks. I don't need to rearrange my whole business but doing this one thing definitely can be a mind blowing breakthrough.
So many times I would go through something and think oh that was good but I was hoping for more and let me think of something brand new to create. Sometimes just going through the same thing a second time, you will make those tweaks because you've learned so much.
Who is The Refined Women magazine for and is the podcast called the same thing?
Kat: So the podcast is The Refined Collective and that's because it's for men and women. But The Refined Women, it's 92 % women. I'm all about men. I'm all about that and I want to create a space in the conversation within a culture right now that is very like that future is female and independent woman. I'm all about that but I think that there is power in giving space and grace to both men and women so that's why I have The Refined Collective because I want to give space for men to enter into this dialogue.
But for The Refined Women where it’s 92% females and aged between 24-40, my girl or my woman is progressive, she cares about what's going on in the world, she is open to spirituality and a little woo-woo. She loves like a good almond milk latte but doesn’t take her life too seriously. She really cares about growth and development, takes herself and her business seriously but also balance in work life and all of that.
What is one thing you would want to go back and tell yourself that you now know?
Kat: I would tell myself that it’s ok to say no and it’s ok to rest. As I know I wouldn't be where I am today without going through that process, I don't have regrets. I also sacrificed my health and a lot of my relationships out of this fear mentality like ah! I got do it now, there's always more to do. Whereas, I really believe that work life balance is possible and even though I'm an entrepreneur I clock in and I clock out now. I work 40 hours a week and I trust the balance of that. I do believe in the possibility that I can be successful, financially, emotionally, spirituality, all the things without selling myself to the hustle. I know there's hustle but its ok to say no and its ok to rest.
Loving this interview? Listen to the podcast with Kat for more! If you want to connect with Kat you can find her on Instagram, @therefinedwomen, on her website therefinedwomen.com and at her podcast, The Refined Collective. As always if you had a big takeaway from this interview with Kat, tag me @stacytuschl and I would love to hear from you!