Welcome to Working On It, marie claire Australia’s series asking CEOs, founders, experts and trail-blazers the big (and not so big) questions about how they work.
Today we’re talking to fashion designer Kate Ford, who after working with some of Australia’s best designers launched her own eponymous label — mid-pandemic. KATE FORD is ethically made with sustainably sourced fabrics such as cotton, silk, ramie, merino wool and linen. Her latest collection, Sentinel Soul, is inspired by Paris and the city’s love affair with poetry.
She tells Working On It about the magic of risk taking, her early Etsy business, and how she’s balancing running her own company while about to become a mum of twins.
marie claire Australia: What is your current role and how would you describe a typical day?
Kate Ford: I am currently the jack of all trades at Kate Ford, not just solely design – the joys of starting your own company! I get up quite early, go straight to the gym, walk our pup, eat breakfast, then I’m straight into work. My day never stops once it starts, with everything from emails, managing employees, liaising with factories to designing seasons ahead, I’m currently taking on everything the business has to offer. I’m also soon to be a new mum of two beautiful twins so I’m sure I’ll have a new answer in October!
MC: How did you get here?
KF: I studied a three-year Bachelor of Design course in Fashion Design at Whitehouse Institute of Design. After completing my course, I was very lucky to gain a position right away as a Design Assistant in the fashion industry at the age of 20. I have worked for many prestigious Australian fashion designers where I built a lot of connections, gained a lot of experience & worked my way up the ranks. This lead me on the path to starting my own company – a dream since I was a young school girl.
MC: What was your first ever job?
KF: I actually worked at McDonald’s throughout my schooling years, I then quit to study Fashion Design. Upon starting my course, I started hand-making my own lingerie to sell on Etsy which quickly turned into a part-time job where I started receiving wholesale orders quite quickly!
MC: And what was your worst ever job?
KF: No offence to anyone working at McDonald’s, but it would have to be McDonald’s. I lived in the era where your parents told you working at McDonald’s opens many career paths. Unfortunately for me, it did not help me gain access into the Fashion Industry, it just allowed me to smell like oil for days hah!
MC: What’s your career advice to other women?
KF: “To take risks, no matter the outcome, you will either become wiser or happier!”
I teach occasionally as a guest lecturer at a few colleges and I get asked a lot by students how they can start their own fashion label. I remember asking that same question to one of my teachers in fashion school, who told me it is crucial to gain industry experience first. I am so grateful my teacher told me this, it’s a piece of advice I now pass onto my students.
I think back to the days I was hand-making lingerie in my parents’ garage and thinking I would be able to make a living out of these wholesale orders and that I did not need a job after I finished my course. Boy was I wrong. It took me years of working in the fashion industry to realise I was ready to officially start my own label and I am glad it did. I gained an understanding of my own design aesthetic, who I am as a designer and as a brand name, the type of boss I want to be, the stores I would like my brand to be stocked in as well as my factories and employees I would like to work with. I would never have been able to do any of this as that 18-year-old making lingerie in her parent’s garage using off cuts of French lace. Experience is crucial and it will either make or break you as a designer or a business person.
MC: You launched your eponymous line, KATE FORD, in the middle of the pandemic — not the easiest thing to do for a line inspired by travel! How did lockdowns and travel restrictions impact (or accelerate) your launch?
KF: Kate Ford was actually meant to launch with SS21 an entire year prior to launching, although it didn’t feel right and we did not want to rush the process. We were unable to sell physically in a showroom due to restrictions and lockdowns here in Australia, we did need to improvise and sell digitally. This meant an amazing photoshoot which was impossible in Australia, I did need to improvise and sent the entire SS22 collection to my amazing photographers over in LA who organised and created the most amazing shoot for the Kate Ford launch in Joshua Tree, CA.
MC: Sustainability has become a huge focus for the fashion industry. How does working with sustainably sourced materials, recycled fabrics, and natural fibres impact the design process?
KF: We love exploring talent in the communities that do not have the opportunity to express their artistic skills on a high scale such as my artisans in India who are hand-making all of our crochet garments and belts, to working with organic and sustainable fibres that do not use harsh chemicals for manufacturing or dying processes as well as not buying stock fabrics or items where we are not sure the original origin or how they were processed or by whom. We are very cautious of working with new factories as I personally need to inspect all of our factories and working conditions.
MC: How do you deal with your inbox?
KF: I have major OCD with my inbox. I cannot finish the day without ensuring all emails are unread and replied too!
MC: And how do you deal with burnout?
KF: I have struggled with anxiety and extreme stress throughout my career and I have learnt to deal with it a lot better as I have gotten older, ensuring we are always meeting critical path deadlines which most of the time are unrealistic but they seem to happen! I do try to meditate every morning, drink less coffee, eat a very healthy diet and exercise as well as regular breaks when I am feeling overwhelmed.
MC: What have you bought that’s made the biggest difference to your productivity?
KF: Pin boards and installing them on the wall! I am a very visual person and my entire office is covered in pin boards. It makes me feel very organised being able to visualise not only new seasons, although reminders instead of flicking through notes or searching emails.
MC: Describe your power outfit.
KF: It would have to be something from the newest Kate Ford season, I am a sucker for a blazer or suit pants, but our newest Pre-Fall 2022 season brought out a stunning wrap dress which ticks all the boxes, the Devina Wrap Shirt Dress will have to be my current go to.
Devina Wrap Shirt Dress, $495, from KATE FORD
MC: What’s your current work bag?
KF: I have swapped all bags out for our brand-new Stella McCartney baby bag! I do not think it is big enough for two babies, although we will see how we go!
MC: WFH or office?
KF: Since COVID and how lonely I have been, office for sure! I am a social butterfly.
MC: BYO lunch or takeout?
KF: BYO lunch! I am very particular with my eating habits.
MC: What’s on your desk right now?
KF: Loads of new season fabric strike offs, fabric swatches, lab dips, printed paper artworks, order forms and deposit invoices, passport, laptop, notebooks, stationary and look books. Very messy desk today!
MC: Email sign off?
KF: Speak soon, xK