Women’s History Month: Three Austin Women Pursuing Passions and Breaking Barriers
We spotlight Kelly DeWitt, Sarah Yant and Katie Lowe, who are leading the way in traditionally male-dominated fields
By Avery Tanner
Austin is home to creatives, leaders and innovators across a myriad of industries. With Women’s History Month taking place this March, it marks the perfect time to not only honor the many contributions of those from our past, but highlight the women who are continuing to break barriers and pave a way for future generations. We spoke to Kelly DeWitt, Katie Lowe and Sarah Yant, three Austinites working in industries that are often considered to be dominated by men, about inspiration, mentorship and community.
Founder of KKDW Construction
Photos courtesy of Kelly DeWitt
Kelly DeWitt began building furniture nearly 10 years ago, and soon after, started her own construction business, KKDW Construction.
At the time, DeWitt was in her early 20s and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Travis had a cabinet shop, which allowed her to jump over the first hurdle of furniture making and invest in all of the tools that she needed.
“I was able to start creating things right away, but I had a full time job at the time, so I would work at night or early in the morning before work,” explains DeWitt. “People started wanting to buy the things that I was creating, which is still crazy to me, and it finally got to the point where I got a pep talk from a colleague of mine who told me I should just go do this.”
As DeWitt dove into KKDW full-time, she focused on designing, building and selling her furniture. Eventually, a client reached out asking her to fully furnish their newly-designed Austin office.
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“That was sort of the first large scope thing that I ever did, and because it was such a large scope, Travis and I did it together,” explains DeWitt. “We did the furniture design, but also the steel doors and windows.”
KKDW Construction was off to the races. Now, the small team designs restaurants, like fine-casual spot Birdie’s and cozy coffee shop Civil Goat Coffee, as well as office spaces, breweries and more. DeWitt makes a concerted effort to work on these spaces because she particularly loves designing furniture that people can use as a community.
“I love designing for spaces like that because people actually get to experience it,” she explains. “You see a home and think, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful,’ but you can’t ever go to that house. But you can go to my couch that I made for a restaurant.”
In all that she does, DeWitt is committed to making all feel welcome. This passion extends into her company’s mission statement, which reads, “Kindness is the first principle of doing business.”
“I had a pretty disappointing experience with a client who represented the antithesis of what that mission statement is. I didn’t like our interaction with him, and I remember thinking, ‘Am I gonna be upset about this?’” says DeWitt. “Instead, I wrote the mission statement because I want to make sure that I, and the company that I have created, never make anyone else ever feel the way that I felt.”
In the day-to-day difficulties of being a business owner, Kelly, who is also mom to a young daughter, leans on the support of fellow women who run their own businesses.
“I have my small group of female business owners whose industry might be completely different from mine, but it’s just nice to say, ‘Oh yeah, do you feel that?’ Or even asking what they use for payroll services, stuff like that,” says Kelly. “It’s just nice to be able to call someone up and ask.”
Community drives DeWitt as a business owner, as well as a designer. It’s where she finds her inspiration, and it’s her goal to create it in every project. She does so successfully by pursuing her passion, leaning on fellow female business owners for support and leading with kindness.
“All I feel like I’m qualified to do is lead by example,” says DeWitt.
Head Brewer of Koko’s Bavarian
Photos by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Katie Lowe is Austin’s newest brewmaster.
Lowe moved to town in November of 2021 from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she grew up and eventually attended Louisiana State University.
Now the head brewer at Koko’s Bavarian, a German-inspired brewery and biergarten on East 5th Street, Lowe first discovered an interest in brewing after going on a tour of Louisiana’s Tin Roof Brewing Co. Soon after that, she bought herself a home brewing kit.
“I taught myself how to brew and eventually, about six years down the line, I ended up getting a job at Tin Roof and learning how to brew on official equipment in an official capacity,” explains Lowe.
She was determined to learn all she could about the process of brewing, gearing up to turn her passion into a career.
“My route was teaching myself. You can go to certain schools for it, but that can be pricey, and it’s hard to dedicate that time if you’re working and you’re trying to pay your rent,” says Lowe. “I used outlets that we have at our fingertips like books at the library, the internet, Reddit.”
After many years in Louisiana, Lowe was looking to expand into a community that had a much larger knowledge of beer and extensive opportunities in the world of brewing. Austin was the answer.
Lowe got the gig at Koko’s Bavarian and made the move. Now, she does all of the brewing and kegging of Koko’s six house-brewed beers, including German-style Pilsner, Dunkel and Hefeweizen, among others. Someday she hopes to train somebody from within the restaurant to assist her in the process.
As she continues to establish herself in Austin, she is meeting fellow women in the beer industry through the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women who are involved in brewing in various capacities.
“It is an organization that supports women in the industry through scholarships, knowledge, education and sharing in the community,” explains Lowe. “Here in Austin, it’s been huge to meet the women in the industry like Mel and Jen at Austin Beerworks. They have been really great at introducing me to a lot of different people.”
Lowe has big plans for the future of Koko’s, with hopes to eventually produce more in-house brews and host a large Oktoberfest onsite this fall. As she settles into her newfound role in town, Lowe is determined to make connections and visit all of the breweries she can.
“There’s been a lot of opportunities for me to meet women in the industry and get involved in the community here,” she says. “It’s been really, really great.”
Founder of Twistleaf
Portraits by Paige Newton
Sarah Yant is channeling a childhood love of nature into Twistleaf, the land design studio she founded in Central Texas. As a young girl growing up on a family-owned farm and ranch in northeast Texas, Yant developed a lifelong passion for plants.
“I was around gardening and growing things my whole life,” says Yant. “It was such a [big] part of the environment I grew up in.”
Her mother was an organic gardener and interior designer, who often took Sarah and her sister to plant nurseries — something she says was an incredibly formative part of her life.
In college, Yant pursued a degree in feminist studies and worked at domestic violence shelters. Eventually, she ended up working at an organic farm outside of Washington D.C. just after graduating.
“That’s where I really reignited my passion with nature,” she explains. “It’s like I had to get away from my roots to come back to them.”
Yant started propagating vegetables and harvesting and selling them at farmer’s markets in the D.C. area. After that, Yant started her landscape design career, launching Twistleaf back in Texas in 2020.
“I ended up owning my own business,” says Yant. “It was not a path that I really had a vision for, but it kind of evolved.”
Twistleaf is a full-service design build studio. They see their projects through from start to finish, first creating a master plan and then working with the organization throughout the whole process.
“We actually do the installation and construction ourselves as well, so we’re really intimately involved in the process,” says Yant. “That’s something that’s really important to us: those client relationships, communication, making sure that we’re managing and stewarding the process from beginning to end.”
Now a business owner and a land designer, Yant balances being creative and running a business daily. On a day-to-day basis, you can find Yant on a job site, coordinating with her team and clients, giving crews directions for whatever project they’re working on, but also working on the company’s bookkeeping, brand work and office administration.
“I love business and I love what I do. I love entrepreneurship. I love leadership,” says Yant. “It is a challenge for any business owner, when you are intimately involved in your business and you’re running the business too. “
Yant recognizes mentorship as a key to her success in the land design industry. She considers Annie Gillespie, who owned garden design company Botanical Concerns before retiring, to be an integral mentor who took Yant under her wing.
“I think that mentorship is important for everyone in their field,” explains Yant. “And I think it’s especially important for women in the field of landscape design.”
Twistleaf recently completed their largest project to date, building the new 11-acre Horseshoe Bay Nature Park. The park will provide nature education and a space for community wellness. Yant and her team were intimately involved in planning all the details of where the trail will go and what the features of the park are.
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With that project now complete, Yant is looking forward to more work to come — from large-scale parks to smaller-scale residential projects — as she strikes the balance of being a creative and an entrepreneur.