Starting a new business in the wake of a pandemic may seem unfathomable, but for Katie Pickerel it’s a reality she can’t quite put into words.
Pickerel a Pueblo native, oversaw marketing for Pueblo Academy of Arts when she decided to open a comprehensive creative and design company called RUTH Productions early this year.
Within weeks of opening, the coronavirus outbreak hit the nation.
For Pickerel’s budding business, an opportunity arose within the chaos.
“I couldn’t ever have imagined what we’ve experienced this year,” Pickerel said. “But initially – one of my favorite mantras that I build my life off of is, ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.’”
RUTH Productions began to provide the community with photography, video production, marketing, graphic design, and other multimedia production; but quickly adapted to the circumstances thrust upon small businesses around Pueblo.
“How it started was, I got the idea to put up a graphic,” Pickerel said. “It was a graphic of businesses that were still open and operating even though we were being shut down. So, it was moreso local restaurants – I ended up with four or five graphics. It was a pretty fantastic situation where I had restaurants reaching out to me saying, ‘We are open, can you please put us on your list?’ It was kind of something I just did at random.”
Pickerel’s family is close friends with the owners of both Tacos Navarro and Pass Key. Pickerel said witnessing small businesses of Pueblo struggling weighed on heavily on her mind.
“They would share how life has just changed for them,” Pickerel said. “These are places – they were so busy consistently because they are staples of Pueblo.”
So, after success with the graphic, Pickerel decided to utilize another facet of her company – video production. She ventured into making one-minute promos for the businesses that were facing the difficulties of the initial stages of the pandemic.
“I started with our family friends and just asked, ‘Hey would you mind if I filmed a video to let people know who you are and what you do?’” Pickerel said. “That was at the beginning of my company, so I didn’t take payment for it. What it came down to was I really just wanted a portfolio for myself to show people what I do.”
Beginning this endeavor, Pickerel said, the guidelines concerning safety measures weren’t clear where her business was concerned. She was left questioning whether she was doing the right thing, despite taking all precautions personally while working.
“I just knew that I didn’t want to see the people of my community struggle,” Pickerel added.
Each segment Pickerel named, ‘Strong As Steel’ is available via the RUTH Productions Facebook page, and Pickerel said while working on this project, she was well-intentioned.
Thinking out exactly how she wanted to portray not only her portfolio, but Pueblo as a whole, Pickerel chose a theme of strength that is rooted within the community’s history.
“I know that Pueblo is such a strong community, and that’s why I named the segment ‘Strong As Steel,’” Pickerel said. “If you watch each video, inevitably it all ends up in some way shape or form finding the steel mill in the background based off wherever they are located. We are such a place – we love so strong. We are a proud group of people who have long-standing traditions.
“So, the hardest part for me was navigating how to bring that aspect out while we were in the middle of something that nobody had a grasp on. I had to decide who I wanted to be, how I wanted to look, and inevitably how I wanted Pueblo to be seen. For me, the most important thing became how I could safely navigate these things while showcasing these places.”
Recognizing her business was still new, Pickerel capitalized on each opportunity to not only help build her rapport, but to honor the generations of Pueblo.
“There were people trying to figure out – no matter how much they had saved, no matter how much they felt they had been smart – how not to lose their livelihood,” Pickerel said. “Most people here have spent their lives building. I mean a lot of these places are built on generations of family members, and so it was about trying to keep the integrity of Pueblo as a whole.”
By June, RUTH Productions was established enough to sign a lease and now has a shop in Midtown.
“It’s kind of wild to look back and realize it was only March – April that this all kind of began,” Pickerel said. “I started a business in the middle of a pandemic, and I cannot tell you if I am sane or crazy.”
Looking back at the foundation of RUTH Productions, Pickerel said is unexplainable.
That foundation organically produced an avenue of the company, Pickerel never intended on pursuing – an apparel with a purpose line.
In her time at PAA, Pickerel developed affirmative mantras as a form of inspiration and accountability for staff and students alike.
Then while building her own company, the mantra model followed Pickerel; foreshadowing a mentality that endured and flourished throughout the pandemic.
The line was inspired by a woman she worked with at PAA, Pickerel said.That initial inspiration then led to the creation of a collection of shirts in honor of her former coworker and created a sense of comfort in an unprecedented time.
“I knew I wanted something to start resonating on people’s hearts of, ‘We are going to be OK;’” Pickerel said. “I didn’t know what that was going to be or what it was going to look like. But I ended up doing that small series of shirts in honor of my (former) co-worker, she’s a five-time cancer survivor – just an absolutely phenomenal person.”
The first collection of shirts with inspirational messages displayed on them, Pickerel said, were ‘It is well with my soul.’ An old hymn, Pickerel said, that is a reminder to take a step back and take a breath.
“Then I released (a collection) ‘Make Waves, Move Mountains,’ and that was really in the height of me deciding to open an actual, physical storefront,” Pickerel added. “The next one I released was in July, which said, ‘The Storm Will Pass.’ That was that feeling of us, kind of starting to get ready to come out of what we were in.”
Pickerel released two other collections, ‘With Strength in My Soul,’ and ‘Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful.’
The theme that ties each of the collections together, Pickerel noted, was the affirmative mantras developed through her time at PAA.
“We used to have these column responses with the kids,” Pickerel said. “Our original principal – her idea behind them was just an ancient idea about giving blessings. You give blessings to people as they leave, because you never know if you are going to see them again. It was always such a core foundation of who we were there.
“It’s based off of capturing kids’ hearts that was from a really cool behavioral study. So, the woman I am honoring in (the original) collection would say, ‘Be brave, be bold, be you.’ Then the kids would respond, ‘Be your own kind of beautiful.’”
Each of the shirts has a line from the saying, Pickerel said, it completes the trifecta.
“When I say what my entire intention was for apparel with a purpose was, I took it and ran with it,” Pickerel said. “I took my own personal struggles that I wasn’t public about, and I turned them into apparel.”
More than any of her other production projects, Pickerel said, the apparel line was done with her entire heart.
Despite the pandemic, the entrepreneur has kept building her business even while she ran “Made for More.”
“That’s just encouragement for where we are now,” Pickerel added. “Trying to navigate these capacity restrictions – the ups and downs everyone is going through. It doesn’t matter who you are, we are all just trying to navigate these waves we’re on.
“But if we can all keep our eyes fixed on the fact that, we are created for a bigger purpose – we are made for more than a pandemic. I really think we are all going to be better because of it. I know it has been hard for a lot of people, so putting these shirts out there has been my way of encouraging people in whatever facet of their life they need.”
Chieftain reporter Alexis Smith can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @smith_alexis27. Help support local journalism with a subscription to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow.