Kate of Arcadia is a collection of leather goods with artisanal craftsmanship. Designer Katie Smith uses fine materials and subtle hardwares to reflect her own passion for art, function, and nature. After spending some time traveling, Katie has rediscovered new inspirations to showcase through her line of luxurious bags whilst maintaining the foundation of the finest leathers.
This isn’t your first foray into your own brand. Tell us about the beginning.
Ten years ago, I began my career by studying graphic design and stumbled into sewing, specifically leather. Since then, I have started two labels in NZ and designed for a well-known international label. Starting a label in NZ and building that brand is very different than some of the Australian brands. For example, while working in Australia there are many more people involved which makes everything on a much bigger scale, specifically on the production side and designing 4 ranges a year.
Tell us about the inspiration behind this collection.
Inspired by the darkness, I designed most of the new collection at night time when it was cold and dark. During my design process, I became consumed by the black and dark colors. When photographing the campaign shots, we used the bright colored lights to emphasize the darkness in the various leathers. I wanted to bring in the black fur cow hide, even though it is black, it is just so much deeper. Possibly because it does not have the same shine as the leather. I was also influenced by three kittens. Someone abandoned a very pregnant cat on our property and she eventually gave birth to four kittens. The litter was made up of three amazing tabby’s and one black kitten. The tabby’s almost look like ocelot’s, so seeing them develop the patterns in their fur and develop from kittens into sleek adolescent cats, inspired my use of the hair on cow hide and specifically the fallow deer hide.
Your focus in your accessories are functionality and high grade material. What sort of material do you focus on and how do you ensure its quality?
The leather I use is New Zealand Deer leather, farmed here and tanned here. It comes from the South Island. I have been through the factory and watched how the entire process is executed, so I am confident in their product. In terms of functionality I seem to always design bags that I want to wear or think are cool. Since I am not a girly girl, I almost always try to do ten things at once and need a bag that takes care of itself rather than getting in the way. The bag isn’t too heavy or too large and doesn’t look silly with any outfit. This type of functionality is one of my main influences while designing.
What about the functionality of the handbags?
In addition to the functionality mentioned previously, I try to make bags that can be used more than one way. For example, a clutch with a long across body strap, a wristlet, and then the option to take both straps off so that it is a stand alone purse. I think this is cool as you buy one item and then you can use it in three different instances.
Have you done any collaborations in the past or plan to do any in the near future?
Yes I have done a few. It’s a cool way to see your designs through someone else’s eyes. They know what they want out of the collaboration, but then see something in a bag or a material that you have not seen and vice versa. It’s a great way to get interest in a special project, specifically if there are limited edition pieces.
Many celebrities are dipping their foot in the fashion pool giving them an immediate leg up. How do you set yourself apart, or not get bogged down by the masses?
Kate of Arcadia is made in New Zealand, right here in our workroom. Nothing is made in China or Bali. It makes a huge difference when the person who is dipping their foot in the fashion pool can design, make a pattern, draw, or whatever it may be so that there is some connection to the piece. If there is some form of connection then the product looks so much better for it. I personally make all the samples, so when something does or does not work, I know about it which makes a solid foundation. This also means that you can be much more creative, rather than being governed by samples in a factory or having someone else draw for you.
What advice do you have for emerging designers?
If you want to sell your collection listen to your customers, listen to people that are not your customers. Be prepared to work 24/7!