ShopStyle: An Interview with Karen Kane
Both Karen Kane and her namesake brand are synonymous with classic style and her fall/winter 2012 line is no exception. As both an entrepreneur and fashion designer, Karen Kane has built a brand that is both fashion forward and family focused. I recently had the opportunity to interview Karen about the past, present and future of her career and brand:
1. Tell us more about the inspiration behind your fall and winter lines. It seems you love to travel, were these special places you visited?
Our fall collection had a lot of Western-inspired undertones, so we pulled ideas and colors from some of our favorite places in the American West — Northern California, the desert Southwest, and California’s National Parks. When it came time to design Winter 2012, we were just entering spring (it was March 2012). So, to get myself into the “holiday” mindframe, I pulled inspiration from some of my favorite places to visit during the winter. Our November group, “Wild Red,” is full of beautiful reds and animal print — very much like you’d see in Vegas anytime of the year. For December, we shift into “Cosmopolitan” – full of bold fuchsia and silver, which channel the streets and energy of Manhattan around the holidays. Finally, for January, we get away from the cold with an escape to “South Beach” and the tropical shades of azure blue and canary yellow.
2. What is your favorite piece from the fall or winter line?
That’s a tough call! I’d have to say it’s a tie between two of our dresses. I have always loved cheetah print (it’s always in fashion), so the long sleeve dress in Wild Red is a personal favorite. I also really love the black & white spot print dress we have coming out in January. During our photo shoot, we used one of my husband’s vintage cars as a backdrop — the white really makes the dress pop.
3. You have had such an incredible career in fashion design. What advice can you offer others looking to take a similar path?
Follow your passion. I have loved making clothing since I was a little girl. My mom bought me a sewing machine when I was very young and I taught myself how to sew on it. She saw how much I loved making clothes for my Barbies and paper dolls and really pushed me to follow what I loved. My husband was the one who suggested starting our own company. Before that, I was a pattern maker at a junior clothing company. If you follow your passion, and aren’t afraid to take some risks, you have a much better shot than 99% of the people in the fashion industry.
4. What is the most important thing being an entrepreneur and designer has taught you?
To trust my instincts. Fashion is a difficult industry because you are constantly battling between personal expression and business practicality. You have to understand that you’re not only designing for yourself, but also for your customer. Each season, it’s tough to strike the perfect balance between my favorite styles and the ones that end up become our bestsellers. My favorite dress one season may end up being a slow seller. Even as I’ve grown as a designer and learned things over the years, that kind of disappointment never becomes easier to accept. On the other hand, when one of your favorite styles becomes a bestseller, it’s an incredibly rewarding feeling — and it makes you feel great being able to share something you love with so many other people.
5. The Karen Kane brand is a family business including both your husband and your sons. What is it like to work so closely and how do you keep the business separate from the family?
It’s an amazing feeling. When my sons were younger, Lonnie (my husband) and I made the conscious decision to bring them to work with us each day after their school days ended. It was an interesting experience trying to conduct business meetings and being interrupted by small kids running around the office, but I think it made us the company we are today. It’s impossible to separate my family from our business — they are one and the same to us. We talk about work at dinner, and at work we talk about our family life. Our interests are all a little different, which makes it interesting. While I love design, Lonnie really focuses on sales & production, and Michael (my oldest son) works on our marketing and publicity. My youngest son, Robert, is still in college but during the summers, he interns with us and helps me design.
5. Where do you see the Karen Kane brand in the next five years?
Great question! I have no idea. The fashion industry is changing so rapidly that it’s very hard to say. The online world is definitely having a huge impact on our business. In the past two years, we’ve seen amazing growth on the internet — with our own website, as well as all of the other sites that carry our line. In stores, we’re on the cusp of launching a new in-store shop concept, which we plan to roll out in 2013. You’ll see it in some flagship department stores first, and then at more local stores as we expand the roll out. We’ve toyed with the idea of some brand extensions like shoes, handbags, accessories, but we’re still not sure which ones we’d explore first. We need another family member to join the business so we can start tackling those!
Thanks so much to Karen for giving us a look inside the brand and we wish you all the success in the world. If you need an adopted daughter to handle one of those brand extensions, I know where you can find one!
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