Visionaries: How Kate Spade Started Her Luxury Business

Kate Spade’s iconic bags are beloved by thousands of women, and her company is valued at billions of dollars.  But she will be remembered by female entrepreneurs for her vision, tenacity, and style.  We would like to take a look at how Kate Spade started her luxury business and turned into an inspirational example for fashion entrepreneurs around the world.

A Start in Journalism

Kate Brosnahan attended Arizona State University and graduated with a journalism degree in 1985.  She spent a year backpacking around Europe before settling in New York.  She then earned a job at Mademoiselle magazine.  During her five years there, she would reach the position of senior fashion editor and head of accessories.  This background gave her needed experience and introduced her to business contacts that would help her as an entrepreneur.  Brosnahan left the magazine in 1992 to create her own line of handbags.

A Leap of Faith


it all started back in 1993, when kate brosnahan spade, a former accessories editor at mademoiselle, set out to design the perfect handbag. debuting with just six silhouettes, she combined sleek, utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes in an entirely new way. and so kate spade new york was born. –  Kate Spade – The History


Although she had no experience in design, Brosnahan began an apprenticeship of sorts with a pattern maker in New York City.  She learned quickly and rolled those new skills over toward making her own line of simple, colorful bags.


Visionaries: How Kate Spade Started Her Luxury Business


Brosnahan and her future husband, Andy Spade, liquidated their 401(k)s to provide the capital for Kate’s new endeavor.  As Kate developed her initial line of bags, they relied on Andy’s income to keep them afloat.  This was a huge risk for both of them, but it would be one that paid off.  In 1993, they invested several thousand dollars to purchase the materials needed to make bags for a New York City trade show.  Both Barney’s and Fred Segal noticed Kate’s cheerful designs and agreed to carry them in their stores.  Even though her designs were being sold in two of New York’s top department stores, it would take several more years before the now-married Spades would earn a profit from the business.  That all changed when Kate’s designs were recognized by a renowned fashion council.

A Prestigious Award


women and fashion editors fell for the fresh, modern sensibility, and our first shop in new york city swiftly opened in 1996. as the company grew, our graphic approach and trademark wit created a visual shorthand for a brand recognizable the world over.


In 1996, Spade earned the “America’s New Fashion Talent in Accessories” award.  Not only did this mean that industry insiders were recognizing her fashionable designs, it also brought much needed attention from retailers.  Soon Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus were carrying Kate Spade bags in all of their stores.


Visionaries: How Kate Spade Started Her Luxury Business


This big break nearly quadrupled the Kate Spade business.  Instead of working out of the Spade’s apartment, the couple opened their first storefront in SoHo.  From there, Kate Spade New York bags became incredibly popular with female professionals.  The classic styling and affordable price point allowed working women, like Spade herself, to carry a stylish, quality handbag.

Incredible Success


in 2007, spade turned the reins to design powerhouse kate spade & company (formerly known as liz claiborne, inc.). shortly after, deborah lloyd took the helm as president and chief creative officer with an aim to broaden the line while honoring our rich history. along with ceo craig leavitt, she quickly launched clothing and jewelry collections, quickly followed by the introduction of bedding, legwear and fragrance.


By 1997, Kate Spade New York had sales in excess of $28M.  Two years later, Neiman Marcus acquired a 56% stake in the business for $33.6 million.  By 2006, the company was reportedly doing $99M in sales.  In 2007, the Spades sold the remaining 44% stake in the company for nearly $60M.  Tapestry, Inc. bought Kate Spade & Company in July 2017 for $2.4 billion.  All of this because Kate had an entrepreneurial spirit, a supportive partner, and incredibly strong work ethic.  She is one visionary that will be missed in the world of fashion.

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Visionaries: How Kate Spade Started Her Luxury Business