Grandma Gigi serves chocolate ice cream to four-year-old Arabella and two-year-old Windsor at a pint size table in the spacious, light-filled kitchen of Katie May’s west Lake Forest home. The soundtrack to Disney’s Moana plays in the background. In a flash, Arabella hops up on the bench alongside the grown ups’ table and—with a decidedly mischievous smile—steals one of the chocolate chip cookies set out for our photo shoot.
Little “Winnie” clutches her sister’s Snow White doll in one hand (as she eats her ice cream) that she “borrowed” from her big sister’s room while she was at preschool. Daughters of May and her husband Greg, the girls are—in a word—adorable.
It’s not surprising that their mom is nothing short of that herself, not to mention creative, entrepreneurial, and somewhat of an Instagram darling with more than 20,000 followers and counting. In fact, it was her followers who encouraged her to start her eponymous clothing (for women and children), skin care, and home accessory line—Shop Katie May—after she started posting pictures of the nightgowns she made on her Singer sewing machine for her two daughters.
“I started by making myself and my girls clothing in the recent year,” says May, explaining that she started with pajamas because she had a hard time finding pajamas that were cute, comfortable, and affordable and because her girls liked sleeping in nightgowns. “When I found that I finally had time to be creative again, I would hop on my sewing machine any chance I got and make them pretty things.”
She also makes blankets with pretty print cloth on one side and super soft minky dot soft fabric on the other. And she branched out to include nightgowns and robes for moms too. “I want to emphasize how comfortable and wearable the pajamas really are for moms and kids,” says May. “They are made with the softest materials that move with your body while you sleep.”
May is not new to the fashion industry. As a 21-year-old who had studied fashion design and marketing in Madison, Wisconsin, she opened and operated a retail store there for five years. Called Sukara Sterling (her middle and maiden names), her boutique carried casual clothing, cocktail dresses, and a few of her own pieces.
“With an entrepreneurial spirit I opened my own store,” she says. “I learned so much on the job. My education was a great kick start but I feel like I learned so many valuable lessons with my shop and I feel like that was my greatest training.” That was all before her career in marketing (including starting her own internet marketing company) in Chicago, and marriage and children.
Still, May wasn’t sure she wanted to get back into fashion (with Shop Katie May). “I know it’s a crazy industry,” she says. “But I was encouraged to go for it by my followers who have been really supportive. I also wanted to show my girls that women can do anything. I always think of them when I’m working; I want them to know they can be anything they want to be.”
And while May’s online store is growing steadily, it’s clear that her priority is her family. After she and Greg (who works in the medical field) chose to make Lake Forest home five years ago, they started having children and began renovating most of their house.
It turns out—not surprisingly when you get to know her—that May does all the interior design and decorating herself as well. The home is as welcoming as May is herself, with a color scheme that artfully blends grays, creams, and whites with earthy browns and few pops of color. The couple replaced the flooring on the entire main level with dark brown wide plank “hand scraped” wood that creates just the right palette for the comfortable furniture. May has a knack for ensuring that there is lots of texture (in the form of rattan chairs, an eclectic earthy Jayson Home coffee table, and an inviting, patterned chair-and-a-half to balance the hardwood flooring, high ceilings, and other furniture that suggest minimalism and clean lines. Large stacked shelving on both sides of the fireplace in the family room offer space for loads of family photos (the Instagram in her), stacks of books on design, fashion, and art, and a few decorative pieces.
“I cherish our weekends around the North Shore and our treks into the city. We have some favorite local spots we love to dine like the Deerpath Inn, Miramar, and Bent Fork Bakery to name a few.” While they also enjoy regular travel to visit families on every coast, they always love returning home.
“I’ve made some amazing girlfriends in the community and everyone has been so welcoming,” she adds. “We truly love being a part of such an enchanting place. In the summer, you will see us at the beach, playing at the local parks, shopping locally in all the towns on the North Shore, or exploring the city. My daughters and I die for the Fourth of July here!”
May is equally enthusiastic about the upcoming holiday season.
“Any reason to celebrate is good in my book and Christmas is the ultimate Holiday,” she says. “There are so many things we do around this time of year but my favorite has to be the gingerbread house decorating and the Santa brunch at Exmoor Country Club. We love putting our tree up and trimming it as a family while blasting Christmas music, from anything classic to Justin Beiber Holiday.”
Some special traditions for the Mays include sleeping by the tree in their sleeping bags (“Although we never spend the full night,” she laughs), watching dozens of holiday movies (“My husband loves and must watch A Christmas Story every year, my daughters love the Frosty the Snowman classic, while I still really love Elf”), and baking and frosting Christmas cookies. She’d like to begin cutting down their own tree and going on a sleigh ride every year like she did with her family growing up.
But, currently, May is ramping up the volume for her holiday and resort collection. Her stock sells out fast just based on Instagram exposure. “The nightgowns make the perfect holiday gift, and all our products are shipped in high quality wrapped-like packaging,” she says. “I want people to feel like they are receiving something special so the presentation from start to finish was important to me.”
And all of this doesn’t even include the work required to keep maintain her skin care line Sukki Skin—a line of affordable, organic coconut products—which she launched before the nightgowns and blankets. Or her lifestyle blog, which includes recipes. Did we mention that she also wrote and self published a cookbook, Simply May, in 2004? And, she is gearing up for her first Market Week in January, where she’ll present her products to buyers at Style Max in Chicago.
As for future goals, May says that she would like to build the clothing line into ready-to-wear, including girls and mom’s dresses, skirts, and tops as well as a few things for boys.
“I’m inspired by creativity and people, and I’m thankful for my followers and that people find me interesting enough to want to see what’s going on in my life,” May sums up. “I enjoy being creative whether it be cooking, planning a birthday party for my kids, or designing my line. I encourage everyone to follow their passions and do what makes them happy.”