One Young Woman Turns a Passion for Art Into a Thriving Sticker Business
Growing up on a farm in Aurora, Oregon, Karly Bierma and her two sisters were introduced to art early on by their mom, who is a florist. They’d finger paint, draw with chalk and mold Play-Doh. Little did Karly know back then, as she discovered her passion for painting and drawing nature-inspired landscapes, that it would stick and lead to entrepreneurship.
“I’d create these miniature worlds, which I’d express on paper and then live vicariously through,” Karly remembers.
In high school, Karly began taking classes and painting for hours every day after school. She also started to display her art in local student shows. After one show at a senior center, Karly’s teacher shared that someone wanted to buy her piece.
“I was able to meet with the woman and she was the kindest,” Karly says. “I was so amazed that this person who didn’t even know me, and I didn’t know her, found a connection to my art and wanted it in her home.”
Karly already had an entrepreneurial nature and was thinking about how to mass produce her art. In her junior year of high school, a trend emerged where students were putting stickers on water bottles and a friend suggested Karly turn her art into stickers.
So on a whim, Karly purchased 150 custom stickers featuring her art from a promotional website and began selling them at break, lunch and after school. She sold out in two weeks and tripled the money she put into them.
Still, Karly knew her end goal was bigger. She began approaching grocery stores and coffee shops about carrying her stickers. She recalls her first order of 150 stickers from a coffee shop to which she promised a display if they ordered so many. “I remember taking my picture by that display,” she says. “It was a very exciting time.”
Three months later, Karly’s stickers were in seven retail locations and she had a program in place for automatic reorders. After five months, a sales representative, who had picked up one of her stickers at a coffee shop, reached out to see how she could help.
“I went from me doing everything to having two sales reps representing my product (they won 75 new accounts in just one year),” she shares. “That’s when I knew this was bigger than just me.”
Today, Karly’s company, Kpb Designs (@shopkpbdesigns), is in 165 accounts across the U.S, gross sales have hit six figures and they’re on track to reach the quarter-million mark by year end. She has one team member, a sales rep who also helps with back-end work like fulfillment and inventory. Karly focuses on her artwork, social media and account communication—all while pursuing a double major in fine arts and entrepreneurship as a freshman at the University of Oregon.
Last spring, something else exciting happened. Karly transferred her manufacturing to a Portland-based small business, making her product 100% Oregon made! This also allowed her to lower costs and improve quality—the stickers are waterproof, UV protected and scratch resistant so they can be used on water bottles, cars, laptops, phone cases and more!
“My personal business goals are to jump on other products like apparel, notebooks and other tangible items,” shares Karly, whose products all begin with an 8”x11” watercolor painting—created on paper and then digitalized, shrunk and copyrighted. “We have some samples in progress.”
Meanwhile, Karly is glad she became stuck on entrepreneurship at such a young age because she’s already learned so much. She’s now looking for ways to connect with other college and high school students who need help taking their first steps in getting started.
Meet Karly at This Month’s NAWBO NextGen Virtual Experience!
Karly became a NAWBO NextGen member this past December and says about the experience, “In the short time I’ve been involved, I’ve met so many different people, especially my age, who are dealing with some of the same obstacles.” Meet Karly at the May NAWBO NextGen virtual experience:
Catch Three Rising Stars
May 20 at 2-3:30 p.m. PT/4-5:30 p.m. CT/5-6:30 p.m. ET
Catch three rising stars—and let their success inspire you—with this month’s quarterly NextGen virtual experience hosted by NAWBO for recent college graduates, current students on the entrepreneurial track, current high school students with existing businesses or anyone interested in seeing how NAWBO is supporting the future of our community of women entrepreneurs. The event will feature moderator Margaret Brown of Socialize LA and panelists Karly Bierma of Kpb Designs, Lorena Camargo of PearlTrans Logistics and Shelby Wildgust Brandt of ONEHOPE Wine.
Karly Answers: What Does Leadership Mean to You?
“You have to provide the end goal. I work with a designer, photographer and my employee who’s also my sales rep and they all have amazing talents, but that leading figure brings everyone together and creates the direction. You can rely on other people to assist, help and propel you, but you’re the one creating the end goal for the team.
“I am a huge dreamer; I’d say 50 percent of how I got to my level of success is through dreaming and visualizing what I want the outcome to be, then filling in the steps in between. People my age tend to overanalyze faults and failures that could happen rather than setting the end goal and then taking that leap of faith and believing it will be just the outcome they want.”