On Tuesday afternoon, the fashion world was rocked by the sudden and tragic loss of Kate Spade. The vibrant and iconic designer reintroduced the world to color. Bright color. Despite the great sadness at our loss, the legacy that Kate Spade leaves behind is one to be celebrated by women around the world.
The Kansas City native who went on to establish a fashion empire with locations in almost every country in the world was an inspiration, both as a business mogul and for her love of family.
When I entered college, there were few designers I could name, or afford. But it didn’t take long as a Kappa Kappa Gamma to learn that Spade was more than a famous alum and sister, she was a role model.
Her Classic Nylon Phoebe bag was like a rite of passage. The idea of having one of my own was all the motivation I needed for logging extra hours at work-study and my job at the university rec center.
But more than that bag, Kate represented girls like myself, from a town in the Midwest, who wanted to leave school and build something that was great and beautiful. So I had no problem working hard to support a brand created by a woman like that.
How Kate Spade Made Her Name
When Kate Brosnahan was in college she met a boy named Andy Spade. Soon after, she took his name as her own, both in marriage and in business. Without a background in fashion or a nest egg, in 1993 “Kate Spade” was born.
But the first few years were far from glamorous. According to an interview with NPR, that first year she spent more than $4,000 on materials and admission to a New York City trade show to show her bags. But by the end, “We hadn’t even sold enough to cover the cost of the booth,” Spade said. In fact, Spade made no money for the first three years of her company. At one point, the couple liquidated their 401(k)s to keep the company going.
That situation led Kate to use every source and skill at her disposal, including becoming an apprentice, working out of her apartment, and walking boxes of her product to the nearest Post Office. She believed in herself and her product. As she once put it, her mission was “timelessness” in the aesthetic of her bags. That is exactly what women like me were looking for: the perfect marriage of structure and personality.
Then in 1996 everything changed. The entrepreneurial spirit and husband-wife partnership paid off, as Kate received the Best Accessory Designer of the Year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and launched her line in several department stores.
From there, the two continued down their empire-building journey. After becoming a retail giant, a portion of the company was sold to Neiman Marcus Group in 1999, and the rest of the company in 2006. At that time, Kate told CNBC they decided to sell so they could focus on family.
She did just that. Kate took a multi-year break from design to raise their daughter, Frances. In that time, Neiman Marcus sold the Kate Spade company to Liz Claiborne for $125 million. In 2017, her brand was sold to Coach for a whopping $2.4 billion.
Kate Spade’s Triumphal Re-Entry into Fashion
When Kate reemerged into the fashion world in 2016, she did so in pure Kate Spade style, by launching a high-end line of shoes and handbags named after her family: Frances Valentine. “My grandfather, father, brother and my daughter’s name is Frances. And then Valentine was my mom’s dad’s middle name because he was born on Valentine’s Day,” she told WWD in late 2015. Kate was building Frances Valentine until her untimely death at age 55.
Kate leaves behind her husband, Andy, and their 13-year-old daughter, Frances. Spade also leaves behind a legacy of entrepreneurship and hard work that young women can look up to. We can all aspire to her commitment to her vision and her family. I will forever fondly think of Kate, college, and my sisters when I see that Phoebe bag.
The world is certainly a more colorful and beautiful place because of her. She will be missed truly by her family and fans.
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