Shawn Laughlin

Principal Designer & President of Caskata

What inspired you to start your business?

I love to entertain, and creating a beautiful environment around the table for people to gather and linger. There seemed room for a different sort of design aesthetic at that table.

What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?

Cash flow has plagued us from the start and continues to be the biggest struggle we have. In manufacturing, we must purchase large quantities of component pieces, then work to sell through them in a timely fashion. We are creating what is essentially a fashion brand, in a very mature industry dominated by a few major players. These large global corporations spend a great deal of money to maintain their market dominance and their lock on distribution outlets, and it can be a very slow process to garner enough attention and shelf space to begin to steal market share. Major shifts in retail, however, have begun to favor us. As consumers move more of their shopping online the playing field is becoming a bit more level, and business is growing rapidly. With that growth comes additional funding challenges, and an elusive break-even point. Hard work, determination, and a willingness to learn are the tools we’re using to be successful.

What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?

Think long and hard before embarking on your venture, and remember that it will undoubtedly take more time and effort than you plan on.

What three traits define you?

Humility - the ability to recognize the value of other perspectives, and take the best ideas from wherever they may come.

Determination - I believe if I work hard enough I can learn what I need to and do whatever needs to be done.

Courage - to keep marching into my fears day after day.

What women inspire you?

My grandmother and mother who were both early feminists and modeled the value of a woman having a meaningful career outside the home. My daughters for carrying on that legacy. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Meryl Streep.

How has being a WBENC-Certified WBE helped your business?

WBENC Certification has helped open doors to opportunities with major corporations that otherwise would not have the incentive to seek out new suppliers. It’s also allowed me to meet many amazing women who share some of the challenges of running a business as a woman.

What do you see as the coolest or most important trend in your industry?

The shift to online shopping has opened up a $41 billion industry to smaller players like Caskata, allowing consumers to discover new products they might otherwise never have an option to see.

As a business owner, what keeps you up at night?

How to meet payroll, and wondering if I’m completely crazy!

What do you love about being a business owner?

For me, I see creative thinking in every aspect of my business. Problem solving from multiple perspectives is a fascinating, engaging, and sometimes extremely satisfying process.

What’s the hardest part about being a business owner?

There’s a real sense of isolation - no one really cares as much about what you’re doing as you do.

What are the biggest obstacles you see for young female entrepreneurs?

The time and mental energy it takes to start a business is enormous, and can often leave little energy or space for other aspects of life.

How do you define success?

Being able to keep doing what I love, the way I think it should be done, with enough money to lead a relatively comfortable lifestyle.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

What’s done is done - learn from your choices and focus on what’s next.

What’s your favorite career moment?

Being chosen to create the tableware for last year’s Met Gala. I grew up as a little girl going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my grandmother on the weekends. Seeing the famous Temple of Dendur space at the museum filled with gorgeous tables featuring our dinner plates as a central focus of the event design was a real thrill.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

I would learn how to use Adobe Illustrator and Microsoft Excel until they were second nature. Then I would study SEO, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Analytics until I was completely fluent in the language and nuances of social media.

What are you reading or listening to right now?

I read cookbooks like novels, currently Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt, for relaxation and inspiration. Then I cook like mad on Sundays.

What’s the best way to start your day?

A cup of coffee and a half hour on my Peloton bike.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a lawyer, and then someday hopefully a Senator.

How do you unwind after a long workday?

I enjoy a glass of wine with my husband while we make dinner together and talk about our days.

What do you like about your workspace?

We have long skylights that run the length of each of our spaces, and I love the natural light.

Fill in the blank:

When I face a challenge, I... try to take it apart piece by piece, removing as much of my emotional response as I can. Then I discuss it with people who might have a different perspective than my own.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself ... Maybe you should go into finance… OR …Choose something you love and design a life that works around doing that… OR …Follow your interests and forge your own path.

The one thing I couldn’t live without is… my family.

By this time next year, I will be… feeling differently about my daily experience… less stress on an ongoing basis.

The best thing that happened to me last week was…we were nominated for the industry award for Tabletop Manufacturer of the Year (an award we won three years ago).

To get my creative juices flowing, I…walk the beach, go to an art museum, or cook something elaborate.


One of only a handful of ateliers of its kind in this country, the artisans and designers at Caskata create beautiful handmade bone china and porcelain tableware that's delicate to look at, but strong enough to use every day. In their skylit studios they combine inspiration drawn from the New England landscapes and coastlines that surround their workshop, with perspectives formed by years spent in New York and Paris. With a focus on contemporary interpretations of classic motifs, their compositions are both timeless and fresh. Meticulous attention to detail is evidenced in each handmade piece, making these true modern-day heirlooms.

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