Not only was Kate Spade a remarkable designer, building a brand with a cult following thanks to her eye for quirky, bright and slightly kitschy designs, but she was also an incredible businesswoman.
After founding her namesake label as a handbag company in 1993 with her husband, Andy Spade, she was able to build her brand into one of the most recognizable fashion labels in American history. And she did it all without a stitch of formal fashion training (she earned a journalism degree from Arizona State University and later worked as a fashion editor before tackling design).
Though she sold her shares in her eponymous company in 2007 to spend more time with her family, the brand she built has stood the test of time; it was sold to Tapestry Inc. (then Coach Inc.) in 2016 for $2.4 billion.
“Before Kate Spade, only a handful of women had their own lines, Donna Karan, Susie Tompkins Buell (ESPRIT),” wrote reporter Yashar Ali on Twitter. “If you’re wearing clothes today that were designed by a woman or carrying a handbag designed by a woman, you can bet that she got there through a door opened by Kate Spade.”
On taking risks:
I’m from the Midwest, so I’m not much of a risk-taker. We are really listening to the buyers and the costumers. What are they buying? – The Cut, 2016
On embracing the fashion world:
A woman came up to me at my daughter’s school and said very quietly, ‘My daughter is interested in fashion,’ as if it’s not something you’d want to go into. I knew what she meant—but at the same time, you do know that you’re talking to somebody in fashion, right? My daughter’s school is very into academics. I don’t think that fashion is something people encourage in a lot of schools, but I think they should—it’s all about personal expression. – The Cut, 2016
On her business philosophy:
I do things that I actually love and understand. I love beauty—I have bags and bags of products, and I think Andy is thrilled I’m doing it so I don’t have to buy it anymore. – My Palm Beach Post, 2002
On her personal style:
If I I like it I’m wearing it … Some of the people I most admire in terms of design, they’re marching to the beat of their own drum. – People, 2016
On how she got into handbags from journalism:
Andy and I were talking one night. And I just said—I was looking ahead and I saw the fashion directors. That would be your next jump from being senior fashion editor. And I thought, I don’t really see myself wanting that job. So Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant.
And he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don’t start a handbag company. And he said, why not? How hard can it be? (Laughter) I thought, OK, really? He regrets those words. – NPR, 2018
On work emails:
A lot of my morning is spent sending emails because I don’t respond to emails or even check my email after seven o’clock at night. – The Cut, 2016
On learning how to build a brand without fashion experience:
I did start by buying big sheets of white paper. And I would cut out and tape, honestly, the shape that I wanted. And then I’d look at it and I’d make it shorter, smaller, cut it. And I went to a pattern maker that I found in the back of Women’s Wear Daily. She advertised that she made patterns, so I contacted her. She worked out of her apartment. And she was as patient as could be with me because I didn’t know anything.
And I remember being really embarrassed about that, that I wasn’t, you know, a student from Parsons or RISD or FIT, that I really didn’t know what I was doing. And I honestly started with paper. Then we’d make a sample out of any kind of fabric—muslin. And then I kind of got the shape down, and I had to find a manufacturer. So I called Women’s Wear Daily. – NPR, 2018