Vibrant colors, cheerful patterns, playful styles; all of these things are synonymous with the brand that Kate Spade created. The brand, which launched in 1993, stands for "optimistic femininity." It became one of the most well-known bag brands in the world. But before it was the name on handbags all over the world and a company worth over a billion dollars, it all started with a woman with a vision for the future of handbags.
Source: The New York Times
Kate Spade, formerly Katherine Brosnahan, was born in Missouri in 1962 to a construction business owner and a housewife. Her early passions were not for fashion. She even shared once that as a kid, she would not have even known what Chanel was. She graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in journalism in 1985 and moved to New York with then boyfriend Andy Spade. In New York, Kate began working at Mademoiselle magazine, where she worked her way up to becoming Senior Fashion Editor and Head Of Accessories.
Source: The Cut
In 1991, Spade left Mademoiselle with the goal of creating her own handbag line because she saw a gap in the market. She craved a fashionable, utilitarian handbag, and when she couldn't find it, she took matters into her own hands. She shared that it was her husband who encouraged this decision, saying, “The reason I started making handbags was because of Andy's suggestion.”
With no formal training and little knowledge of design, Kate’s early ventures were a leap of faith for her and her husband. Andy put over $30,000 from his retirement fund into their business, and in 1993, the Kate Spade brand was started. To kick it off, Kate embarked on creating six handbags for the collection. “I remember being really embarrassed that I wasn’t a student from Parsons or RISD or FIT, that I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she told NPR. Nonetheless, she persisted.
One of the first six bags she created for the initial launch was the Sam bag. The boxy bag went down in history as the classic Kate Spade purse. Though it did not bring her international fame upon its first launch, this style would stick with the brand through the decades.
Spade shared that after her initial attempt, though it was not entirely unsuccessful, she considered throwing in the towel. Little did she know, great success was right around the corner. The brand’s sales reportedly jumped to $1.5 million in 1995 from only $100,000 in 1993. And in 1996, Kate was awarded the New Fashion Talent in Accessories award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In this same year, she opened her first store in New York City. Her husband, Andy even quit his job to work on the brand full-time. Essentially, this was the year that they found full success.
Source: USA Today
In 1999, Kate and Andy sold 56% of the company to high-end department store Neiman Marcus for $34 million. They remained heavily involved with the brand though. In the following years, the brand expanded into ventures such as menswear, fragrance, and shoes. They even made the decision to move into e-commerce, making Kate Spade one of the first fashion brands to take this leap. It was not until 2007, a year after Neiman Marcus sold Kate Spade to Liz Claiborne, that Kate and Andy left the company. Though the brand went on in her name, Kate was not involved with it any more after her departure. In the wake of a very successful career in fashion, Kate dedicated her time to philanthropy and to her family. The Kate Spade brand was sold to Coach, now Tapestry, for $2.4 billion in 2017.
In 2018, Kate Spade tragically died by suicide. Her death prompted people all over the world to share how influential she and the brand were on their lives. This woman took a chance on herself despite having no formal training and in turn created a handbag empire. The legacy left by Kate Spade was one of joy, and her willingness to be vibrant and playful in fashion is something that will influence the industry and the world forever.