Inspiration strikes in funny ways. For Traci Highsmith, the founder of cat toy company Chester and Pearl, it came from some attention-hungry foster kittens.
“I never dreamed that I would someday own my own business.”
Highsmith spent over ten years working as a web programmer for a tech company. Anyone who’s worked in tech knows it can be a bit of a grab bag. It can be an extremely stressful environment that offers few moments of respite. Highsmith found hers fostering kittens from a nearby shelter.
“I loved being around adorable kittens and all their silly antics all day long, and also found meaning by providing a space for these rescues to grow into healthy cats to be adopted into loving homes.”
The fluffy stress relief those kittens provided quickly became a passion when Highsmith began creating cat toys and other items. The first item she created were cat beds in the form of tents and beach chairs. Adorable, right?
That quickly evolved into handmaking catnip toys with the leftover fabrics. The results were a hit. It became easy to be inspired by watching kittens play and interact with the world around them.
“Constructing with wood and sewing fabric for the benefit of animals I love was certainly a needed contrast from sitting in front of a computer screen all day long."
In 2018, Highsmith’s unfulfilling work as a web programmer came to an end and forced a career change for the better. Hunting for a new career wasn’t as daunting for Highsmith as would seem for many in the same boat. Having already created cat beds and a few toys, the next chapter for Highsmith seemed to write itself.
“I knew I didn't want to continue in the tech industry or work in front of a computer screen all day, but never dreamed that I would someday own my own business or that it would have anything to do with cats.”
And so, the business began. But who are Chester and Pearl? Are they her grandparents? Nope. Chester and Pearl are Highsmith’s playful family cats.
“My family adopted Chester and Pearl in September, 2020 after several difficult years of loss and, of course, going through the same global events that everyone was experiencing at the time. They instantly brought so much needed joy into our household.”
Chester and Pearl are more than just the delightfully playful and energetic cats the Highsmith family knows and loves - they are also an inspiration for many of her products. Chester’s fiestiness inspires the popular cat kickers. Pearl’s cardboard obsession has inspired one pattern. The two of them inspired another pattern having spent hours watching the birds and squirrels.
“Just creating products that remind us all of our cute kitties and make us smile is such a joy.”
While she no longer fosters kittens, she devotes much of her time to cat joy and, by proxy, ours.
“So many of the changes that have happened with Chester & Pearl have been the result of customer feedback, conversations at local events, and hearing stories from fellow cat lovers.
"Everything I do now is about sharing joy through the love of cats and it's exciting to see where that will lead.”
In just five years of business, Highsmith’s life has changed completely. She would tell you it was for the better.
“If you had asked me this question 5 years ago, I never would have dreamed this business would be what it is today."
"I've earned so much both about running a small business and the skills to make the physical products, so what excites me most about the future is how much more there is to learn.”
While she was once a dreary-eyed web programmer totally unfulfilled with her work, Traci Highsmith is now a beaming and booming entrepreneur who has joyous success ahead for her and Chester and Pearl.