get the newsletter

shine along

October 8, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Kristen Dorsey

Kate Hart
If you've ever browsed Beyond Buckskin, the store owned by previous profiled Badass Jessica Metcalfe, you've probably noticed that some artists really stand out -- and that one of them is Chickasaw silversmith Kristen Dorsey. Kristen has created her own successful business, Kristen Dorsey Designs LLC, where she uses Southeastern Native jewelry traditions to create modern pieces with a connection to history. Her work is beautiful and unique, and her vision and drive are indisputably badass.

Be sure to enter her necklace giveaway at the bottom of this post, and vote for her (as well as Jessica) in the Martha Stewart's American Made competition!


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Kristen: I am the owner/CEO/Designer of Kristen Dorsey Designs LLC. We create and sell handcrafted contemporary fine jewelry. My jewelry pieces are infused with layers of meaning. I am passionate about the preservation and revitalization of Chickasaw history and culture, and I believe that jewelry is the perfect tool to teach the world about our thriving tribal community. Each piece that I design and create is infused with imagery based on the adornment and metalwork of our Chickasaw ancestors. My studio is located in the fashion district in Downtown Los Angeles and we sell our pieces at fine art galleries and high-end boutiques around the country as well as through our website.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Kristen: My biggest challenge continues to be launching and growing my company. The competition is high in the world of jewelry and luxury goods, however I know that I bring a unique perspective to the market. My ongoing challenge with building my company has been educating the fashion and jewelry industry about Native America and to clearly communicate the cultural context of my jewelry and brand. There are many stereotypes about what Native American Jewelry ought to be, and those stereotypes stem from the history of how Native Art was first marketed to the non-native population of this country. The history of the Native American Art market is rooted in the southwest, thus the majority of the clientele thinks that Native jewelry is all turquoise and silver. People often see my work and want to label it 'modern.' Everyone loves labels yet I defy them. Culture is not static, it is constantly transforming and adapting. My work is rooted in ancient copper working sculptural techniques used by Chickasaw ancestors in the southeast and incorporates the latest trends in fine jewelry. I have also developed my own unique design aesthetic, and tend to gravitate towards specific color palates and gemstones. My ultimate goal is to share our culture through my pieces, and in doing so, pave the way for future Chickasaw jewelers.

 Collection description:
"Chickasaw women are guardians of our families, communities, and culture. The Panther Woman collection celebrates the contributions made by our female leaders throughout the centuries and is named after a historic female battle strategist from the 1800s. Each piece draws upon imagery from ancient adornment, and adorns the wearer like bejeweled armor and weaponry fit for today's female warriors. Never conquered, always fearless."

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Kristen: When you launch a business you must get used to failing over and over again. This was and still is the hardest lesson for me to learn. I am someone who tries to go into everything with a solid plan and lots of research, however I am constantly thrown curveballs, almost on a daily basis. The key is to learn from your mistakes and to try not to repeat them. I think that some of the most difficult failures I have had were being rejected by buyers. The world of retail is quite cut throat, and the most prestigious boutiques receive hundreds of emails from hopeful designers daily. An industry insider once told me that if you send your sales pitch to 50 buyers, you will be lucky if you hear back from one of them, even if it is a 'no thank you.' This is why every time my work gets picked up by one of these prestigious boutiques I celebrate. I am learning to deal with this constant rejection, however it is difficult when you are an artist and the product you are selling is like a piece of your heart and soul. I have learned that in order to succeed I must put myself out there because failure is only 100% if I don't try.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Kristen: I have been fortunate to have had a few great compliments recently. One was from a customer who told me that she was wearing pieces from my new 'Panther Woman' collection and one of her co-workers asked her if that piece was a new Kristen Dorsey. She told me that my work is more known than I realize. After 3.5 years of constant hard work on my company, it was really exciting to hear that. The other compliment I received was from one of my new team members who said that she was excited to be working for an empowered woman. In high school I dreamed of owning and growing a fashion business and I visualized myself as a girl boss, and now I am!


Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Kristen: I think that throughout my life I have always understood the power and importance of women, and the necessity for their equality. My parents raised me to believe that through hard work and commitment I can achieve anything. They never told me I was limited because of my gender. I have always been inspired by strong women. I think I dressed up as Wonder Woman twice for Halloween as a small child. I often chose to play sports with the boys and I earned a black belt in Tang So Do when I was a pre-teen. Today my extracurricular activity is surfing, which is still very male dominated unfortunately. I am fiercely competitive by nature and participating in these male dominated activities makes me extra driven to excel and show all of the guys that girls can be tough and athletic as well. This motivation carries through to my career as a small business owner. I have come across many older men in my field who can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that I am female, a metal smith, and I own my own company with a staff. This sexism just fuels my drive and makes me tougher. As a business owner I strive to strike a balance between ambitious, tough and astute, yet polite, gracious, and classy.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Kristen: In an industry as competitive as mine, it can be difficult to get your brand noticed by retailers, press, and potential new clients. It is so helpful to build a network of fellow small business owners who understand the challenges you face daily. Building a network allows you to share your valuable contacts with others. When I connect with a great new store, press outlet, or successful show, I try to share it with the female designers who I think would be a great fit. I also sing the praises of others whose work I admire whenever I have an opportunity.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Kristen: Never give up and set attainable daily goals. Every day I ask myself what tasks can I complete today towards my business goals. This way my big goals feel within reach, it just takes many baby steps.



From Kristen:
"This powerful, yet delicate pendant is designed to wear alone, or may be layered with other pieces. The shield symbol, a design theme throughout the Panther Woman collection, symbolizes the strength and courage of our Chickasaw women throughout history. The shield represents how our women are defenders of their families, communities, and culture. Panther Woman, the namesake of the collection, is a historical heroine from Chickasaw oral tradition. It is molded and cast from an original piece hand sculpted by Kristen Dorsey in a traditional relief sculpture technique. The design represents a sun disk pattern commonly found on ancient southeastern shell carvings from the Chickasaw homelands. It is cast in sterling silver and hangs on an adjustable chain measuring 16" - 19."

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw Nation) is a jewelry artist who has won numerous awards at the South Eastern Art Show and Market, the Cherokee Art Market, and has participated in juried art shows and markets at institutions around the country including the Gene Autry, the South Western Association for the Arts in Santa Fe, The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, and the Heard Museum. Two of her pieces will be exhibited in the upcoming exhibit "Native Fashion Now" to begin at the Peabody Essex Museum in the fall of 2015. She also sits on an artist advisory board for an upcoming showcase of Chickasaw art in partnership with the American Indian Cultural Center of Oklahoma. Her work has been featured in numerous press outlets such as Native Peoples Magazine, British Vogue,, Seven Tribes Magazine,, and the Los Angeles Times style section.

Using jewelry/metalwork as her chosen medium, Dorsey seeks to bring awareness of Southeastern jewelry traditions to the contemporary jewelry world. Dorsey earned her Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Tufts University and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Throughout her studies she focused on her tribal history, and the adornment materials/techniques of Chickasaw ancestors. As a result, her jewelry pieces communicate a unique historical and cultural perspective. Using Mississippian period imagery from shell and copper artifacts as inspiration, Dorsey creates jewelry utilizing traditional southeastern materials. She is most noted for her work in the Native southeastern technique of creating relief work from flat sheet metal, commonly known as chasing and repoussé. According to Dorsey, "working with these processes, materials, and imagery connects me to my ancestors. I firmly believe that culture is never lost, but rather forgotten, and creating art is a way to remember. I strive to create timeless jewelry rooted within tradition while remaining relevant to contemporary fashion." Dorsey's work is often described as wearable sculpture with many layers of symbolism. Her pieces are at home in both the fashion runway, a well as in gallery spaces.

Learn more about Kristen:
 website  //  facebook  //  instagram  //  twitter  //  Chickasaw TV  //  youtube

Kristen Dorsey Designs was also named a style finalist in Martha Stewart's American Made competition! The winner will receive $10,000 for their business, a trip to NYC, and will be promoted in Martha's magazine and website. You can vote 6 times per day, every day, after a simple signup. Winners are announced October 23rd. Vote for Kristen here (and for previous badass Jessica Metcalfe here)!

Want more Badass Ladies? Follow on Twitter or Tumblr!


  1. I am inspired by all the women profiled. Creation is a female force that grabs our souls and attention with feelings of power and peace. Thank you.


All content copyright Kate Hart 2016

Template copyright @ 2016, Blogger Templates Designed By Templateism | Distributed By Blogger Templates20