Stories Vol. 2 The ladies behind Catbird: Rony Vardi & Leigh Plessner
Handcrafted in Brooklyn, Catbird is a consistent go-to for gifts and special pieces of jewelry to reward yourself or others. Rony & Leigh shared with us their story of building this epically feminine brand, running a all lady team, and staying motivated outside of the office.
Can you tell us a bit about your lives before Catbird?
Leigh: After college, I was a buyer at Politics & Prose in Washington DC (an incredibly special independent bookstore). That led me to move home to NY, start my own stationery line, and do lots of odd writing and merchandising jobs. I’ve worked since I was 15, being industrious at work helps me justify luxuriating in life!
Rony: I’ve also worked since I was 15, starting as a lifeguard. I took it very seriously! My post-lifeguarding careers included working in a bookstore, being a seamstress, managing a futon shop, being a graphic designer...
Rony, can you identify the tipping point when you decided you wanted to open your own shop, or was that always your end goal?
Rony: One of my graphic design positions was in Dumbo in the late 90s, when there was really nothing there. I watched a woman open a café/art store and witnessed over the first few months since she opened, how she changed her store to suit her customers’ needs. Something about that agility and change really excited me and I felt that that was a path I wanted to pursue.
Leigh, when did you join Rony and how did you feel about being part of a jewelry brand? Was this a departure from the career path you envisioned?
Leigh: I’ve been at Catbird for almost 11 years! Rony was a customer of mine, and when I found out she was opening a new store, I jumped at the chance to work out of my house for one day a week, and then two days...and then, I closed my stationery company and joined Catbird full time!
What thrills you the most and concerns you the most with growing your brand?
Leigh: A wonderful, kind, smart expanding team is thrilling, being able to both stay exciting and honest to what we love is something I think about a lot.
Rony: Ditto to what Leigh said about what is thrilling. The team we work with is endlessly inspiring and a true joy to be around. I think a lot about making sure we continue to make decisions that are true to what we believe in yet still also allow us to grow.
To follow @catbirdnyc, it seems your team is always grabbing drinks together, buying cupcakes or treats for the office... how else do you balance the stress of managing such a large team? Are office activities a cornerstone of your weekly schedule and how do you carve out the time for fun during a busy week?
Leigh: We work in an open office (you’ve been to visit!) which really sets the tone of collaboration and communication. We have a few different snack tables and having something sweet appear is communal and warm and lovely. I don’t particularly have a sweet tooth, but I love sweets aesthetically and symbolically.
Rony: I seem to have developed a late-onset sweet tooth. :/
Your brand has evolved so much since it’s conception. Do you feel you have followed the evolution of your customer or do you think the catbird girl is a different one now then 10 years ago.
Leigh: I think we’ve all evolved together, and as we grow up as a brand, we’re able to talk to even more people, without losing the connection to the Brooklyn girls who have been with us since the beginning.
What makes you feel most beautiful in your own skin?
Leigh: A walk in the neighborhood on a day when the air feels barely there, and an ice cream truck is not too far away.
Rony: Hanging with my kids. They seem to think I am beautiful, always. They’re never like, ‘Oof bad hair day.’.
What is the most special piece of jewelry you own? And let’s nip the obvious in the bud and say, with the exception of your engagement or wedding ring.
Leigh: My Memento Mori Ring from Bittersweets in honor of my mom. It’s the first one she made, and it’s 22k, so the gold gets more burnished and loved over time.
Rony: Not to be a copycat, but I also have a Memento Mori ring from Bittersweets to commemorate my dad. I also have a really old Threadbare Ring that is a testament to Catbird to me - delicately beautiful and very strong.
Congrats on your temp shop in LA! We all know the differences in LA vs. NY dressing, but how does it apply to jewelry? If you had to identify what the most popular styles will be in LA vs. NY, how would you define the separation?
Leigh: We’re pretty excited to find out! This is our first visit out there, so we’re really learning. I think, though, one of the special things about our jewelry is how well it slips in with one’s own existing mix. I sorta think our bestsellers here will be our bestsellers there, but we’ll see!
What keeps you going outside of the world of Catbird?
Leigh: It’s a whole big hodge-podge, the outside world feeds Catbird and vice-versa! But for me, books, movies, vintage nightgown-hunting, and neighborhood drives with Teepee, my chihuahua/muse and my husband. Our cat Coral prefers to stay at home.
Rony: Coffee? I am committed to expanding my kids’ worlds, which can be challenging because I sure do enjoy staying home.
Big thanks to these ladies for being supportive of Llani from the very start. We love Catbird!
Interview by Alana Oates
Photos compliments of Catbird