Katherine Parr: “Life is a team effort”

Life is a team effort, reach out and engage with those who you can help, not only those from which you can gain. My mentality on this has been explained by the analogy: “Once you make it to the top, it is your responsibility to send the elevator back down to bring up others.” As part […]

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Life is a team effort, reach out and engage with those who you can help, not only those from which you can gain. My mentality on this has been explained by the analogy: “Once you make it to the top, it is your responsibility to send the elevator back down to bring up others.”

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Parr.

Katherine is an American artist, designer, and social entrepreneur based in New York City. She began her career as a fashion model, discovered by photographer Patrick Demarchelier after earning her degree from Villanova University’s School of Business. She had previously turned down modeling opportunities to attend college. She has been featured in a variety of modeling jobs in domestic and international fashion markets, between television, magazines, and runway shows, for clients including Diane Von Furstenberg and Vespa.

Katherine left the fashion world twelve years ago, in a move which was featured on CNN World News. She left her private sector career to pursue her U.S. government teaching certification simultaneously with work as a schoolteacher of immigrant children in an inner city for over five years.

An artist since childhood, she developed a series of decorative arts and jewelry during this time which was featured in a show at an art gallery in Europe and has been shown in a variety of locations and worn by public figures. She continues her jewelry and art designs which express her interest in global culture and philanthropy, having worked with global artisans including those in Kabul, Afghanistan; Cape Town, South Africa. and New York City. Design partnerships have benefited UNICEF, the Edeyo Foundation, and Turquoise Mountain, NGO.

Katherine has recently co-founded and launched Parré Chocolat, an ethical luxury brand, and works directly with farmers in Latin America to generate economic and community empowerment.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Thank you for your interest. I was raised in a family of creative American educators with a focus on the importance of family. My parents had lifetime careers in public education, my father was a US. Government-awarded District Superintendent, based in Sea Girt, New Jersey. I was surrounded by a great deal of creativity and social consciousness, always doing creative activities, including entrepreneurship as a teenager, and giving back the community.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I am called a social entrepreneur with a principal aim to build systems that have a positive impact on society. Recently, I have founded/co-founded two luxury product businesses that maintain ethics and transparency in the supply chain. I create jobs for jewelry artisans (for Katherine Parr Jewelry) and cacao farmers (for Parré Chocolat) in the developing world by connecting them to consumers in the developed marketplace.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

A friend from USAID came to dinner at our home one night during his tenure running operations in Afghanistan. He not only brought me a polished lapis lazuli bowl and some jewelry but by sharing his work of economic empowerment in the country as well as the vast natural resources and talent. That evening sparked the passion to help improve lives through my passion for jewelry. I began Katherine Parr jewelry with that aim by starting my first collection in 2016 working in Afghanistan.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I am fortunate that my background between fashion modeling and social entrepreneurship has opened many doors to new people and experiences. When I was working as an inner-city schoolteacher and social entrepreneur, I spearheaded a cross-cultural partnership through the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, where the Secretariat of UNGEI connected me directly to the director of HRH Queen Rania’s education initiative in Jordan. That empowering moment, ten years before I properly launched my jewelry company, showed me that I could really access anything I put my mind to.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I think it is critical that young people know, that following graduation from undergraduate university studying business, I, intentionally and strategically, gained a great deal of experience in the luxury goods industry before starting either of these companies. Aside from modeling internationally for top companies, I worked in-house for designers including Diane Von Furstenberg to learn about all facets of a fashion business. Without that first-hand experience, I never would have the capabilities I had when I began building a business. It is my understanding there are now entrepreneurship programs at universities and with non-profits that exist but my first-hand experience was invaluable.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I have had fascinating experiences working with Turquoise Mountain, my NGO partner in the Middle East. Not only did some of the team from Afghanistan visit me in New York just prior to receiving an award for sustainability from the United Nations in 2017, but my jewelry has been exhibited at Clarence House for HRH The Prince of Wales, and I was invited at his invitation to dinner with a group at the same location, which is his personal home. I am very fortunate that jewelry has brought me on a remarkable journey from working with artisans in Kabul to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House in London.

Can you share a story about a the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

No one is infallible, I have certainly made mistakes. A mistake I have made is listening to advice from the wrong people, either those trying to hold me back from achieving, or others with profitable yet unethical business philosophies. So many people have advice for a young person starting out and it is critical to analyze exactly who your mentors and friends are, in order to make sure their values align with your own.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Through the Accessories Council, I received helpful mentorship advice from Jay Lakhani from Deepa Gurnani, a jewelry brand with an ethical supply chain and philanthropic initiatives. Between design and brand refinement, pricing, and margin enhancement, I am grateful to Jay and the Accessories Council for the helpful counsel that has prepared me to launch future collections more successfully than I had in the past.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

My businesses are about economic empowerment and community support. In addition to creating jobs in Afghanistan, I support scholarships for girls at the Turquoise Mountain primary school in the neighborhood where the artisans I employ work. This is of particular importance to me as it is a country where women and girls, and their education, are suppressed by the Taliban. I recently learned two of the Parr Scholars have emigrated to the United States where they can continue their education under a system that believes girls and boys should receive equal opportunities.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I recently gave a TED Talk on Conscious Consumerism that was translated into eleven languages for its global relevance (link:

This talk highlights the narrative on how society and communities around the globe can make conscious choices and mobilize their purchasing power to strategically help empower economically those who make or create our goods. This can be local or foreign aid, and it is in the form of “hand-ups” not “hand-outs.” By choosing to buy from companies with transparent and ethical business practices we can make a difference and empower others by providing work and pride.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

Educate yourself on your industry before taking the plunge.

Why? Entrepreneurship is no easy ride; if you jump in the ocean without learning about the waters your risks of drowning vastly increase.

Find one or more mentors.

Why? I love to share my oversights and successes with my mentees, as well as learn about others hindsight so I can have 20:20 vision as I tackle new challenges.

Start small, focus and be patient, then build to scale, in that order.

Why? Once you learn how to crawl, you can walk, then ride a bike, before driving a car. If you prove your concept and your capability, you earn your license to drive the bigger, faster vehicle, not the other way around.

Focus, by closing the door on non-essential activities you open more doors for your main enterprise.

Why? Focus gives you the ability to maximize your efforts. Distractions dilute your effectiveness and efficiency.


Life is a team effort, reach out and engage with those who you can help, not only those from which you can gain. My mentality on this has been explained by the analogy: “Once you make it to the top, it is your responsibility to send the elevator back down to bring up others.”

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

This drive really comes from within, and I am hesitant to tell others how to live their lives. That being said, we can rationalize this initiative by thinking about what life would be like without support of ourselves, or our planet. We must protect our planet, and especially help to improve the lives of those who live on it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Melinda Gates and HRH Queen Elizabeth II of England are two incredible women I have yet to meet. I admire their work for their communities, for women, and society, tremendously.

How can our readers follow you online?

The companies I’ve founded are active on Instagram at @katherineparrjewelry, @parrechocolat, and my personal Instagram is @katherinegparr, and Twitter @parr__katherine, the brand websites are ,

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