About a month after I started My Midwest Is Showing, I received an email from Katherine Gramann. It turns out she and I have very similar stories – grew up in Wisconsin (even went to the same high school), moved away after college (her to California, me to New York), had awesome but crazy work lives, then felt drawn to return back to Wisconsin a few years later. We met for coffee shortly after she emailed me and instantly connected.
Katherine is the founder of Lake Effect Co., a lifestyle blog and retail brand that celebrates the beauty and adventure of lake living. Nearly everyone in Wisconsin has a connection to lake-life, and her brand is such a cool reflection of that. Katherine is super caring and entrepreneurial – you can see and feel her touch and well-thought out plans on every inch of her website.
Check out my Q&A with Katherine to find out more about her and Lake Effect Co.:
My Midwest Is Showing: When did you launch Lake Effect Co., and what inspired you to do so?
Katherine Gramann: I officially pressed “publish” on the site in December of ‘16, but the site-building and retail design component started up last summer. The idea was born years ago, but within the last 3-4 years the concept was on my brain and heart, and with each conversation with fellow lake-lovers, my hunch was affirmed - people want to talk about their love and wear it on their sleeve. I go on and on about it here.
MMWIS: How did you decide which products to offer? What inspires their designs?
KG: The product and design process varies, but typically it starts with a conversation with friends about an idea, concept or particular article of clothing. I think about what I like to wear when I’m lakeside AND in my normal day-to-day. I have so many design ideas floating around my head that I keep a running list for when I’m ready to put together the next set of inventory. I work with an awesome designer who translates my ideas into the final designs you see, but I’m inspired by conversations, time on the water, and the feedback of a key “advisory crew”. I call them my skinny dippers, and they get a lot of emails from me.
MMWIS: Tell me about the blog portion of your site.
KG: The blog is an opportunity for people to share their love of the lake. Whether they grew up on one, had one amazing trip, sharing those experiences is not only enjoyable and cathartic for the author, it’s also helpful in exposing adventures, locations and favorites to new audiences. When I ask people if they’d like to share, they usually come back to me with a ton of questions about how to narrow it down because they have so much they’d want to say. In fact, writers for the blog often find me through Instagram - they’ve found the account, see others’ stories, and can’t help but want to share their own. I’ve connected with some very fascinating folks that way, and that’s exactly what I hope continues over time: bringing people together over this mutual love of lake living and Midwestern experiences and traditions.
MMWIS: What have you learned about Wisconsin and the people here through your site?
KG: Lake Effect Co. has opened my eyes to the enormous range of activities and opportunities for adventure all within a few hours drive. Wanderlust is the most overused phrase these days, but I used to identify with it so strongly - this need to always have a trip planned, and more often than not, a trip that included a flight somewhere out of the state. In researching and talking with Wisconsinites, my state-wide bucket list is now overflowing with locations to visit all within our own border. And not only are these locations beautiful and the adventures somewhat limitless, the small towns and people that make up these special locations are incredibly unique and varied from one to the next. And once you get someone talking about a hike/lake/restaurant/community they love, the magic of their passion shines through. Which leads me to the second biggest learning - Wisconsinites are full of a pride and passion. While our outward passion (erhh...obsession) with our sports teams, beer, cheese and state as a whole is often what most would have come to mind when they think about the state, there is a subset of intensely passionate people who will exhibit that same level of knowledge and enthusiasm about really random, miscellaneous items. From paddle-boarding to community gardens to sailing to running to fishing to coffee, people seem to throw themselves into whatever it is that makes them happy. I think it has something to do with the Midwestern dedication and work ethic. If you’re going to do/love something, you’re going to really own it.
MMWIS: What do you think has been your biggest accomplishment or achievement with Lake Effect Co.?
KG: By far the biggest accomplishment so far has been building community and connections. For me personally, those connections and seeing people light up about the topic means I’m achieving my goal. There’s an amazing energy when folks talk about a particular lake memory or start to get excited about planning their next adventure. As cheesy as it is, I’m a firm believer in not wasting the time we have on this earth, and so when I know that something I’m doing is lighting people up or elevating someone’s life in even the smallest way, that’s where the reward lies.
MMWIS: What keeps you motivated?
KG: When I started dreaming up the site, I knew I wanted there to be a component of giving back to the lakes. For the next few months, 5% of retail sales from the site benefits the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and while the recipient of that 5% may change over time, the charitable component will not. Obviously the amount given rests on the store’s sales volumes, so I’m currently incredibly focused on growing the business and ensuring there are desirable items available for purchase so my contribution to the Alliance for Great Lakes can be substantial. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned over and over, the community aspect is another key motivator. I’ve seen how community can be so beneficial to us as humans. We move from a sense of “meh” to feeling excited and positive simply by finding niches and/or a few other folks who get us, who have had similar experiences, etc. So, knowing that there is a chance to impact people through community-building keeps me dedicated to providing quality, genuine content in all the places you may encounter Lake Effect Co., whether it’s the blog or social media.
MMWIS: What are you currently reading? Watching? Listening to?
KG: I have a stack of Great Lakes books that a lawyer friend told me I should read to brush up on my research for the business, “in my line of work, research is never a bad thing.” But reading and TV other than Scandal and Fixer Upper just never happens. I do listen to a ton of music and podcasts while working and driving though!
Podcasts: Jenna Kutcher’s Goal digger, Jess Lively’s “The Lively Show”, Dan Harris “10% Happier”
Music: Bon Iver, Ásgier, Motown Remixed, Jack Garratt, and a LOT of country.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Wisconsin for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
KG: I love this question. I love hosting out-of-state guests. I have a pair of friends from CA’s Bay Area (previous coworker and her husband) that makes an annual trek to WI where we do a number of things: drink bloody marys, tailgate and attend a Packers game, brewery tours, and chat with strangers. They seriously can’t get enough of all things Wisconsin. When people are visiting over the summer and are able to be flexible, I suggest they time their trip around Summerfest so they can experience that, Milwaukee summer days and nights (which will include most of the above items, just from an outdoor patio), and then close their time with a relaxing day or two by a lake. But, the first thing everyone should do when crossing the border or hopping off a plane is find a spicy, well-dressed bloody mary!
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
KG: While I’d be a fool not to mention the gorgeous scenery - the land and lake-scapes easily steal my breath on the regular - I think my favorite thing is the people. The Midwest is full of generous, hard-working, fun-loving, and adventurous people. There is this interesting prioritization of both damn hard work & damn hard play that likely exists in other locations, but is incredibly apparent in ours. Perhaps because half the year can be quite dark and gloomy, it seems that we have a way of seizing every opportunity to enjoy sunshine. And since half the year of dark and gloomy is, you know, half of your life, there is also an admirable sense of responsibility around making the most of what we’re given. Additionally, Midwesterners seem to prioritize connection. It’s rare that you make it through a trip to the grocery store or a walk down the sidewalk where you don’t make eye contact or have a short conversation with a stranger. There’s a sense of “we’re all in this together” that I never found when living in locations outside the Midwest where you keep your eyes in your own lane and only worry about yourself. In the midwest, others’ business can easily become yours, and not in a pushy or overly nosey way, but in a “what can I do to help you” way. Trusting that people are genuinely just curious and compassionate is an adjustment for so many out-of-state folks when they first come to the area that I’m so glad they have to make.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
KG: To somewhat piggy-back off my favorite things about the Midwest, two things seem to consistently stand out as how I’m so clearly from the Midwest, other than my overuse of local colloquialisms and “oofta.” I’m incredibly hard-working and generally assuming the best in strangers / humankind. I had coworkers in California intervene on a number of occasions for both of those characteristics. They’d see emails coming in at odd hours, as I was working late hoping to get work complete by the next morning so as to not be a project bottleneck. This still holds true, and while I definitely don’t condone this societal epidemic of the “glorification of busy,” I AM a firm believer in working hard and doing my best at most tasks, regardless of how long it’s going to take me. I also trust just about anyone and usually give people the benefit of the doubt, never considering that they’d have ulterior motives. And while people on the coasts consider that ignorance/naivety, I’d rather live that way than with my guard constantly up. That’s just downright exhausting.