Summit County locals create original fashion built for the outdoors
Don these pieces of mountain jewelry or swimwear
From handmade jewelry to custom swimsuits, Summit County locals have turned their passion for art and design into viable fashion businesses.
Katie Pickens and Nichole Steuart are among the folks in Summit County who have found themselves channeling inspiration from local views into their art and designs.
Pickens’ experience in Summit County mirrors that of many. She moved to Breckenridge in 2005 with the idea of only staying for the ski season. After living locally for a few months, Pickens realized she wanted to stay long term and got a job as a waitress.
Ten years later in 2015, Pickens found herself looking for something more creative to do. She took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was instantly inspired by Southwestern architecture and design. As soon as she returned to Summit, she signed up for a silver smithing class, and her jewelry business, KP Mountain Metals, was born.
“I went and I bought everything I needed on my credit card,” Pickens said. “I started making little things, and my friends started wanting to buy things and asking me to make them things. I was like, ‘Oh, this could actually be something I could do and make money that I really like.’”
Pickens inspiration of Santa Fe is clear in her jewelry, which includes rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces adorned with natural stones and carefully sculpted silver. The designer wanted to create jewelry that would allow people to express themselves while living a mountain lifestyle.
“I cater to a lot of … the women and the men that live up in the mountains, who are very active and won’t take their jewelry off just because they have to go bartending or on a service shift or go on the mountain or go on a bike ride or a hike,” Pickens said. “I want them to be able to wear it without feeling like it’s so delicate and dainty that they’ll break it.”
Pickens said she’s received pictures from customers out fly-fishing, biking and hiking while wearing rings she’s made.
Because she does all of the work herself, Pickens hasn’t opened a website or physical store for KP Mountain Metals. Most of her pieces are sold at the Breckenridge Sunday Market, which she participates in.
Like Pickens, Steuart found herself wanting to create a fashionable product that would appeal to people living in the mountains. Steuart officially opened her swimwear business, Water and Salt, in 2020, after learning how to create swimsuits from another designer in Colombia.
Water and Salt swimsuits are all designed with traditional shapes in mind. They’re also all reversible so people can get multiple looks out of one swimsuit. Steuart did that intentionally so that the swimsuits could become a staple in a person’s wardrobe rather than something they would get rid of after a year.
“I’d rather it be a very classic shape that you can take from now until five years from now,” Steuart said. “ … If you take care of your clothes, clothing can last.”
Steuart has also been focused on functionality in the design of her swimsuits. She’d like for people to wear them while white water rafting, kayaking or paddleboarding. Some women even wear her one-pieces as bodysuits with their daytime clothes during the winter season.
Aside from being sustainable and functional, Steuart hopes Water and Salt fills the demand for swimwear in Summit County. When she started creating swimsuits, Stueart heard from many of her friends who were tired of shopping online for swimwear.
“I actually get a lot of orders from people who are going on vacation that ordered swimsuits, got them, hated them and are in a bind,” Steuart said.
Steuart currently operates Water and Salt through word of mouth, but she hopes to launch a website to manage orders soon.
Both Steuart and Pickens own one-woman businesses. While they like the idea of having popular e-commerce websites, they also worry about their ability to fill all of the orders on time. For Pickens, the decision to not use a website also helps with her goal of being a novelty.
“It’s not easily accessible, and I feel like that makes it special,” Pickens said. “I’m OK with that.”
You can find KP Mountain Metals by visiting @kpmountainmetals on Instagram. Steuart also accepts orders via the Water and Salt Instagram, @waterandsaltwear.
This story previously published in the summer 2022 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
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