An interview with Wit & Delight creator Kate Arends Peters about her recent collaboration with Target and embracing authenticity in an arena that celebrates staged curation.
by Kaylen Ralph
It’s been a busy fall for Kate (Arends) Peters. At the beginning of September, the designer, art director and lifestyle blogger launched Wit & Delight for Target, a collection centered on the idea of making it easier to throw “just because” parties. The collection is her first for a major retailer, and like much of her work lately, it’s an experiment in effectively positioning Wit & Delight as a lifestyle blog and brand while ensuring the authenticity of Arends Peter’s mission as a designer. Earlier this year, she fractured the “perfect” lens through which Instagram audiences and bloggers appear to view the world by coming forth with a short but effective blog post disclosing her struggle with mental health issues, specifically depression and anxiety.
Arends Peters and I discussed her decision to disclose this information via her blog, especially as she was going through the process of consciously separating the world of Wit & Delight from the reality of the house and life she shares with her husband and new puppy, Winnie Bear Peters. But as she anticipated the release of her collection at Target, a mass market retailer which would undoubtedly result in a new crop of Wit & Delight readers, she felt compelled to pull back the curtain that social media offers and smudge the filters that Instagram promotes. Aesthetically, the Wit & Delight account is pristine, but my conversation with Arends Peters compelled me to view the brand’s account, as well as any curated lifestyle brand, as if through a kaleidoscope, not a window. Yesterday was her first day back on social media after a weeklong hiatus, a break that resulted in the essay she alludes to toward the end our conversation below.
Wit & Delight for Target went on clearance this week as the chain’s yearlong blogger/Pinterest project wraps up, but Arends Peters is already wrapping up her latest project, a lookbook for Minneapolis-based men’s boutique Askov Finlayson. Arends Peters is based in Minneapolis, where she has recently bought her first house, and where she works in The COMN, a collaborative creative space with other Minneapolis visionaries, including Rita Mehta of The American Edit and Lisa Hackwith of Hackwith Design House. Also in the works for the Wit & Delight creator is a series of lifestyle books (lifestyle defined as loosely as her Instagram suggests) and future product collaborations.
Kaylen Ralph: How much longer will the Wit & Delight collection be in Target?
Kate Arends Peters: It’s done in a week. It goes on clearance in a week.
KR: Do you have any big plans for collaborations with them or retailers in the future?
KAP: I’ve got a couple things in the works, not so much with Target, but yeah I’ve got a piece of jewelry coming out; I’ve been designing product for a long time under other labels, so we’ll see. We’ll see. It was an interesting experience. It was mostly good. It’s just a good time to kind of step back and say, ‘Ok, now what do you want to do?’
KR: Did it get you more excited about collaborations like that or was it kind of like, ‘Okay, this is something I tried and…’
KAP: Definitely. I mean it’s really fun to create product. It was always something that I dreamt about doing. I have a design background. I came from an education where it wasn’t just one medium, it was the idea that design was a process and way of thinking and it could be applied to a lot of things. So the idea of doing rooms and doing products and doing things beyond graphic executions on a screen always really excited me. So I think I’ll continue to pursue that passion. When you go from designing things on your computer all the way to a mass retailer, there are a lot of things you learn along the way. A lot of realities of being in distribution that big; a lot of production realities when you hit a certain price point, so more than anything you just sort of learn a lot and it’s really, really valuable.
(photo of Wit & Delight for Target courtesy of Kate Arends Peters)
KR: I’m sure, and it’s a wonderful collection. I was reading some stuff on the Internet (laughs)
KAP: Yes (laughs)
KR: And there’s a rumor floating around that you might be working on a book proposal.
KR: What would that entail?
KAP: So there’s two book proposals in the future. It’s really exciting. The first one is kind of a general lifestyle book, and right now the proposal is focused on – lifestyle is a pretty broad category – but the whole anchor point of Wit & Delight is really in the Wit, and the fact that you need to be smart about figuring out who you are and how you want show up in the world and then build everything else on top of that, so if the foundation of your house isn’t good, you’re not really going to be able to enjoy lifestyle, and what’s the point if you’re not really able to enjoy it? So it’s letting getting to know yourself drive all of the decisions that you make after that point. And that’s something that I think I learned backwards, I learned that through trial and error, and I think projecting all of these ideas of who I thought I was in my early twenties and then kind of, things happen to you that are not great, and you sort of realize, ‘Oh, I’ve been…maybe I’ve been doing this the wrong way.’ So the book will start with a little bit of…what has happened to me in that way, and my perspective on that, and then it will go into chapters that traditional lifestyle books go into. So there’s House and Home, there’ll be Décor, there’ll be Spiritual and Personal Development, there’ll be Business Development and Career Development, and then there’ll be a little bit of the aspirational stuff, like how do you keep yourself open to all things but not let too many things come in. So, it’s lifestyle and a little bit of a self-help twist to it…
KR: Kind of like #GIRLBOSS meets Not That Kind of Girl meets Wit & Delight?
KR: I love that.
KAP: So there’s a lot of that happening, and if that aspect wasn’t here, I don’t think I’d be doing this right now at all. It…keeps it fresh; it’s the thing that keeps it…real. It’s the thing that…makes it my own and not just about…beautiful things. And it took a really long time for me to get there, so the book is really… a manifestation of all of those things, where I could really take some time to think about it and put that out there. That will probably be a year or so away, but the second book will probably piggy back off of the mental health advocacy aspect of things…
KR: Which is kind of a recent foray for you…
KAP: It’s a recent thing for me for me, for sure. And that really did kind of come out of this thought that, ‘Okay, Target’s going to come out and what do I really want people to get from Wit & Delight because Wit & Delight is 50 percent Target, 50 percent Wit & Delight, so it’s not a full expression of the brand, but it will drive a lot of new people to the site, so what do I want it to be?’ And I think being forced to do that was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. So there’s this interesting aspect when you’ve been doing lifestyle blogging for so long, you realize there’s this sort of pursuit of perfection that a lot of bloggers have, I think it’s what keeps you up until one the morning writing about making salt body scrubs. There’s something kind of driving you, and I’ll never forget, someone said to me once when I was on the treadmill, he was like, ‘What are you running from?’ And I think there is a little bit of…if I can just make life perfect outside, it’ll happen inside and I just have this hunch that that drives a lot of people. So in sharing my story, it’s not projecting and saying if you’re a perfectionist, you’re that, it’s just saying that sometimes those feelings can come from a place that needs to be reconciled with, kind of accepting what’s not so perfect and then accepting the things that you are blessed with. So it’ll be a little bit about my journey to that point, and all of the crazy stuff that happened to me along the way, and I’m excited to do that, and basically the publisher said, ‘You’ve got to do the lifestyle one first and then you can follow up the more in-depth thing.’
KR: What you said about how you want people to interpret the brand, especially if they were coming to the brand for the first time via Target…I listened to your podcast with Jess Lively, and your quote about authenticity as being ‘Not needing external approval to feel good about your actions,’ was powerful and really struck me as being super relevant to the entrepreneur life, and I guess I’m wondering, in the context of careers such as yours that rely on the acceptance and celebration of internet audiences, how do you balance that?
KAP: It’s out of the need to stay sane. I mean, if your whole life and career and decisions that you’re making are based on the approval of faceless people, it’s very difficult to live with that and make decisions that…don’t become swayed…So that authenticity piece was really…my sort of internal struggle with separating my life from what was happening on the Internet. Of course there [are] lots of parts of my life that I share, lots of very personal things that I share. But then there are a lot of things that I want to keep for me, you know, and there are things that a lot of people share a lot of. I like to keep my relationship with my husband somewhat private; I’ll talk about things that I’ve learned, but when it’s his birthday, I don’t want to shout it to the whole world because it’s nice to keep those things close to us. When I’m with my friends, sometimes I don’t take my phone out. So where my real life is concerned, I try to keep the likes and the sort of approval of other people far away from it. Because where Wit & Delight is concerned, it’s out there for people to have an opinion about, and they can say that they like it or if they don’t, but it doesn’t change how authentic I’m being, and when authenticity comes to the forefront, that’s how I know if I’m doing it right or not, you know? If I can go to sleep and no one else is with you at that point, if you feel good, you’re good.
KR: Did your focus on authenticity have a lot to do with your decision to open up about your mental health issues, like you saw that as part of being authentic?
KAP: I felt almost that it would be irresponsible not to share it. For a long time and even when I was going through my divorce, my ex-husband said I really don’t think you should share anything about it, and I think he was right at that point in time…I would have been sort of just shouting. I think I was having a lot of these feelings but I hadn’t processed what was happening and in that way it felt a little bit irresponsible, and it felt a little bit, ‘Dear Diary…I needed to come to peace with it with myself before I put it out there, out of respect to him, out of respect to myself, so as I had come to peace with it and as I had gotten to know Wit & Delight as a brand, I thought ‘This is so much a part of why I’ve made all these decisions, why not come forward with it?’ And also I just didn’t think I could do it anymore, with not being as transparent as I felt I should be because if you sort of project a perfect life, it’s irresponsible.
KR: The whole aspect of curating a life for the public to kind of take in…
KAP: It scares me, it does. And it scares me in a way that I did it, but I did it with a lens on, and that’s why it’s so important that people know that the idea of Wit & Delight is the way that I look at the world. It is not my life, and that’s a very hard thing for people to see, and I totally understand it, so in some ways I worry that I contribute to it, and then in other ways, in the mental health way, it’s sort of saying, okay wait a second, there are all these other things you need to consider, there are all these other things that make up who you are, just because you’re curating things specifically for people to see or to take away from you, like, ‘I’m this kind of person or I’m that kind of person,’ which empowers a lot of people; don’t empower yourself to the point that you have blinders on, and you’re not really recognizing who you actually are, because then you’ve just got a lot of people who love lattes and hang out at Spyhouse (laughs), and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just that mental health piece was my way of saying, okay, let more of yourself out because it’s just as beautiful as anything else.
KR: I thought it was super powerful. You’re often described as a tastemaker. What does it mean to make taste, especially when “taste” is so different for so many people? And how do you feel about the label?
KAP: I think it’s kind of a funny label. I think it’s probably a more accurate one than influence because I do think there are ideas that we put out into the world that help people sort of figure out how to bring in a really good dish for dinner and they don’t have to think about that so they can find it on a blog that they love and go and do it, so in that way, you’re empowering people. It’s a funny thing to put a label on yourself, so I would never go and say that’s what I am. I hate saying it…
KR: What’s currently on your bedside table?
KAP: Oooh! The Chemistry of Joy, and I don’t know who that’s by, it’s by a doctor, and he’s from Minnesota, and it’s all about treating depression with three separate aspects of your life, it’s like understanding your brain, figuring out what to eat based on the types of depression you’re prone to, and then practicing mindfulness. So it’s not to say that…drugs are important at some point, but just kind of trying to figure out how to manage my own, because I’m pre-disposed to it, it’s not going away, so figuring out how to do that. And then what else do I have…I have Not that Kind of (Girl)…I’m looking forward to that and I like her point of view, so I, I mean, I enjoy those books too, but The Chemistry of Joy is really, one of those things…I read it last night and then I read it in the morning and it’s just, it helps me get ready for the day. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll have brown rice and avocado for breakfast instead of this donut that’s sitting there that someone brought over because I know…I know from eight until now (1 p.m.) I’m going to feel way better. It’s stuff that I should have learned when I was younger, but I’m learning now, and that’s all that really matters.
KR: Did Wit & Delight start as a blog predominately about home design?
KAP: Yes, it did. It started actually as a smattering of things…it really actually started as a place where I was sharing my graphic design work, and that’s how people got there. I shared the wedding invitations from my first wedding and that blew up and that was blogged, it’s out there, then it became a lot more about…I was an architecture major, originally, with an interest in interior design, so it was graphic design and architecture and that’s what it really was, and then fashion kind of came into it but that’s never been what it’s about. It’s this whole of idea of things that delighted me but also made you think, or found interesting.
KR: And you went to Iowa State?
KR: How did that expand to include fashion and products, arts and culture and food? I know you have a lot of contributors now…
KAP: It really just expanded on…I have a broad enough view, and when I got the confidence that Wit & Delight could be a lifestyle brand, that’s when I really expanded on those things; it also expanded with how my life was evolving. I became really interested in cooking and used to cook late into the night and whip up these big meals and I loved doing it, so the content followed that. In terms of my décor and style, that changes over time. Now we have a house, and it’s a very old house, and we need to do a lot to it. So we may or may not show the process of renovating this house. It definitely is sort of all these aspects of what’s happening in our life, and I think as I sort of, as I hit 30, it became very clear to me what 20-somethings needed to navigate and sort of, (it’s the) light at the end of the tunnel, because when I was 24 I was like, ‘It’s all darkness, it’s all terrible, everything is awful.’
KR: Yup, that sounds familiar to my immediate life at the moment.
KAP: I know, you couldn’t pay me to go back, but it’s so worth it, it’s so worth it.
KR: Yeah! As you develop different interests and those are reflected in the blog, to the extent that you want to share it, how do you maintain, and I guess this sort of goes back to Wit & Delight as your brand and career, how do you maintain a cohesiveness with all these different components?
KAP: I think that’s where maybe talent lies a little bit? I’ve always been a visual person…and especially having a background in branding, cohesiveness and seeing patterns and making sense of things has always been what I’ve done, so it kind of just happens naturally, and I think it’s kind of just always being aware of what’s going on, and thinking of ‘that’s interesting, I’ll try that on for a little bit,’ and then I’ll try some food and it all just kind of creates this lifestyle that kind of plays off on one another but it all just goes through my filter, and I think that’s probably why it’s got the X factor, something that people really can’t put their finger on, because it is through my lens and that comes from a barrage of experiences and different things that make you who you are. I come from Chicago, an upper class suburb of Chicago, but my parents are very much middle class, so you’re kind of grounded but you’re still around really beautiful things and it just creates…a weird filter. Everyone’s is different. Everyone’s is cool and unique, mine just translates online because I am a designer and I have the tools to do it.
KR: Yeah, you’re good at it! You’ve talked a lot about your decision to go full time freelance and what that process was like…as a person who’s hardwired to be anxious, as you’ve said, which I really identify with, how do you effectively manage yourself as your own boss, while still being kind to yourself?
KAP: Yeah, I hired a project manager four weeks ago. Her name is Kelly Dorn and she is like a gift from God. She does 15 hours a week for me, she has a background in sales and marketing, really self-motivated, someone I could just tell, she was interested in my business; she cares about making it better and so finding someone who completed where I don’t have strengths, I found a person like that, and that takes a lot of anxiousness off my plate, where I can…really actually trust someone to have my best interest at hand when they’re emailing brands. So that’s been the number one thing. Keeping my phone out of the bedroom has been the other. I’ve slowly let it back in, but if it’s always there and buzzing…I turned off all the notifications and I’ll take four hours and not check and that’s how I have to do it. And again it helps separate what’s going on in the world with my personal life, and when there isn’t that boundary I get sort of like….you could probably relate to this if you’re an anxious person, you sort of feel a little sprouted tree that hasn’t grown roots yet, so it’ll just flap around and anyone’s opinion can uproot you, you’re off freaking out. Just making sure that I have great walls up, and then I’ve just got an inner circle of people, it’s smaller than it used to be, but I just know they’re the ones I can trust and it’s a long-winded answer, sorry.
KR: Not at all…For the parts of your career that are dependent on offering at least what people perceive as intimate looks into your life and home, where do you draw the line?
KAP: It’s all about your gut, and I actually feel like this is a post I need to put together, because it’s not a black and white answer every time the issue comes up. I think a lot about Joe and what he wants to have exposed. I think a lot about the brand filters, like do people need to know that? Probably a lot of things they don’t.
KR: What do you mean by the brand filters?
KAP: I mean, people don’t need to know if I’m having a freak out that day at that moment or if I’m upset about something that happened. Just because you’re vulnerable and just because you share your experiences with those things, if you’re always sharing them, you don’t have the opportunity to get through it yourself. So…if it’s not processed, I don’t share it.
KR: You still have the agency to decide what you want to share…
KAP: I think that’s important, and I think a lot of people now are seeing that…authenticity is sort of this buzzword that people are like, ‘Oh she got real,” and…most people don’t. Most people just sort of say, ‘Oh, woe is me,’…it’s a little bit whiny, and it’s very unflattering. So that’s just what I always think about…I’m not going to put something that’s not fully formed and doesn’t offer advice to someone else out there just for the sake of patting myself on the back, because you’ve got to fill that from within…it’s not black and white. I did start a personal Instagram page, and a lot of people thought, ‘If you wanted it to be private, why didn’t you just make it private?’ but I wanted people to know that Wit & Delight isn’t real. @witanddelight_ is the idea from the designer, art director point of view, @kateapeters is what happens outside…
KR: And that’s still curated, too.
KAP: It still is, it’s not like, here’s where we went to brunch every Sunday and who we’re with all the time. There’s just elements that don’t need to be shared. Is it interesting? It’s not interesting. It’s not interesting to anyone else, like who I want to have brunch with…it’s something I haven’t quite fully formed yet, but you’ll see that blog post in a couple weeks probably.
KR: Looking forward to it.
KAP: It’ll be a hot topic for sure.
Kaylen is one of The Riveter’s co-founders and editors. She moved to Minneapolis, MN after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in August 2013. In addition to her editorial duties at The Riveter, Kaylen also works as a freelance researcher for The Sager Group. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kaylenralph.