Kate Cheng: Dog Collar Designer, Gem Stone Craftsmith

Spotted in: Sunset, SF

Occupation: Dog Collar Designer, Gem Stone Craftsmith

What are you up to today?

I just walked down the street to check out some music—my neighbors were playing earlier. They were doing some jazzy holiday music. Once in a while they'll throw a street party like this. Earlier I was with my dog and I saw this so I came back to check out their music.

What is your occupation?

I'm a designer.

What types of things do you design?

I design dog collars.

Is that your business?

No, I work for a company.

How did you get started making dog collars?

Through a classmate from school. We met in school and she was about to start a business. She wanted to make a product for her pet and it just so happened that she has connections back home who make fashion jewelry. So that's how we started. She came to me and asked if I'd be interested in helping out and designing some stuff so I said yeah! So then I helped with the design, logo, brochure, and products. We started going to trade shows and selling dog collars.

What kind of collars do you make?

We make leather collars with semi-precious gemstones. Like amethyst, onyx, turquoise, and Swarovski crystals. We try to go for colorful and happy collars.

Have you always done design? What other projects have you worked on?

I used to make sculptures. I fabricate mainly silver, gold, and when I was in art school I did some bronze casting. I made some abstract women sculptures, along with some jewelry. Now I'm getting back to making jewelry again. I just bought some stones. I'm learning how to cut cabochons, so I bought some to work with.

Wow what are these greenish blue stones?

It's called labradorite. And the yellowish ones are amber. And the smaller ones are green garnet. I just bought these from those merchants there, they're from Tibet. I'm a member of the San Francisco Mineral and Gem Society down in Ocean Beach, and the members there are teaching me how to cut those stones. They have all sorts of machines down there—a cutter, a polisher, facilities where you can solder, do casting. And I know how to make jewelry so I can make one-of-a-kind items.

Is the place open to the public or is there some kind of membership?

Yeah, it's membership-based and most of the members have been there for 40-50 years! I'm super excited—I literally just started with the club. It's a lot of people who are really into rocks and minerals. We're also going to have some field trips. This coming year we're going to hunt different types of minerals all over the United States. Some of people have little vans that they'll drive down to the areas and camp down there for a couple of days. Some people fly to Utah or Arizona.

Sounds like a fun adventure!

I know—and the group of people there have been doing it for years! They've all been friends for a long time. As a young member, I'm still trying to get into the loop! But everyone is really sweet. I'm impressed with how the club is so organized. They're such a friendly inviting group of people. There aren't any classes—basically you just go there and meet people and if someone knows how to do something they'll show it to you. So if you just keep going there and meeting people you'll know who to ask.

I also wanted to ask you about what you're wearing today because I just thought it was fun and colorful!

It's actually kind of random! It was a one-minute decision. My friend told me they were playing at 2:20, I was eating my lunch at 2 o'clock, and I live seven blocks down there.

This green coat is from Boden—it's a British company. They make great jackets, so I own several jackets from them.

Where did the sweater come from?

This sweater is actually, [laughs] embarrassing! I cannot show it to you. This is the ugliest sweater I've ever owned in my life, just so you know. I bought this when I was backpacking in Italy years ago—back in 2005. I didn't bring enough clothes of course. I was like, Italy's going to be like San Francisco in the winter. But it's cold! So I bought this in one of the shops in Milan and back then I didn't have any style I was like "whatever, looks good" . . . but it was ugly on me, the cut didn't look great. That said, it's so comfortable!

Do you just layer it under a bunch of stuff?

No, not even that! I only wear it under a jacket or with my pajamas. When my friend's brother passed away, she just kept raving about how beautiful this sweater was. I wore it once in a while back then because I didn't know what looked good and what didn't. She kept saying, it looks so awesome on you! So when her brother passed away I gave her this ugly sweater. And I told her every time I wear this sweater I always remember all the beautiful memories in Milan and that whenever I'm upset, I put on this sweater and I instantly feel better again. So then I gave it to her and she said, no no no, it's not going to look good on me! [laughs] So it came back!

Oh and these pants are just H&M, and these boots I bought at the store in SOMA called Jeremy's—do you know it?

The Jeremy's in South Park?

Yeah, there's a lot of second-hand things there? These just happened to be brand new boots when I bought them, and I bought them eight years ago! I bought them for I think $80, but they were probably $500 boots.

Wow, they've lasted a good while!

Yeah but when I walk I wear down the heel so there's a shop just two blocks down that repairs heels. Last year I got them re-heeled for $50. They even repainted the edge and they're my favorite cowboy boots!

And your hat—where did it come from?

I used to dog-sit for this couple when they went back to Hong Kong for holiday, and the husband bought this as a thank you gift.

And it matches the boots and the sweater! And your brown bag.

Actually there's a good story with the brown bag. I went back home last month and I was on the airplane and I used to have a similar brown bag that I always pack. Someone opened my suitcase and stole it. So this is a replacement. But I always have the same brown bag, just a different kind. My strategy is, each year, I buy maybe five cardigans, two pairs of boots, lots of underwear, lots of socks and then I replace everything.

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