A Q&A With Handbag Designer Kate of Arcadia – Have y’all heard of the New Zealand handbag designer Katie Smith of Kate of Arcadia? If you haven’t you’re about to. She is self-taught, and has spent the last ten years perfecting the art of leather, first with an old Phaff sewing machine, then co-founding the accessory label Dead Ponies, onto leaving new Zealand in 2010 to travel and continue perfecting her craft which eventually brought her back to New Zealand at the end of 2011 after designing for Australian brand Mimco. Kate of Arcadia was then born and I have to say these bags are super cool. I especially love the silver arrow that is placed on the front of some bags carrying the label’s name. I had the opportunity to ask Katie some questions which I obviously jumped at.
THHB- Hi Katie! I feel so honored to get an interview with you! First off, tell me a little about yourself. Who is Katie Smith?
Katie- I am a graphic design graduate (albeit a long time ago). I am a self-taught bag designer and crafter! I made bags because I love the process of forming something 3D from something flat. It’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s even harder to come up with a style that will suit a range of people. I guess I enjoy the challenge side of it as well. I have been creating since I was a child, be it perfume from rose petals from mum’s garden or bookmarks for my friends. Just always have, the only difference now is that I sell what I make.
THHB- I live in the US and have never been overseas. Where exactly did you grow up and what was that like?
KS- I grew up in the country on a farm and went to school bare footed. The experience was pretty awesome. A small town called Bombay in the North Island of New Zealand.
Carrying the Kate of Arcadia Mini Stevie Bag
THHB- Which art school did you attend? Did you like it or would you have preferred to go somewhere else?
KS- I went to Unitec, which offered a Visual Communication course in which I majored in Graphic Design. It was a 4 year degree which was very organic and very encouraging of building creativity, so even though I don’t use the qualification directly it was extremely useful.
THHB- What made you decide to design handbags? And what’s your favorite part of the process?
KS- I tried sewing clothes when I was a teenager and I was hopeless. The fabric was too hard to control and the stitches were so small, but with leather everything is much larger and its more like an object in itself than an item of clothing.
THHB- When did you start your own label Kate of Arcadia? What do you like best about working on your own label vs someone elses?
KS- I started Kate of Arcadia a couple of years ago. You can try whatever you like on your own and you don’t have to convince anyone else that it will work, and then get the finger pointed if it doesn’t. You can also show up late to work and that’s alright!! Not that I make a habit of that. When its your own company, it becomes part of your life and those close to you which is a good thing, if it can be kept to a healthy level.
THHB- I love all your bags, they are so beautiful! Do you have a favorite of your designs, if so which one?
KS- Yes I do, in the new collection the Bobbi in black is my favorite. I think it’s because of the zips on the front and how the bag looks when it is just held in your hand than squashed under your arm. I also like the Poecae’s, they are really useful and you can split them up which really does come in handy. I also like the Benny, with the nice soft fur on the front, it has 10 coil metal zips which look super chunky which makes the bag pretty cool.
THHB- Where does your inspiration come from?
KS- I make a lot of bags with myself in mind! Which might be pretty bad, but I have to like the style first to want to put it out on the market. I am pretty tall, so I have to keep in mind that not everyone is as tall as I am. I’m a low-key person, so I tend to stay away from fussy details simply because it is a personal preference. I don’t really find inspiration in fashion, but rather from shapes. It can literally be anything, on a truck, a tree or a combination of shapes is enough to get an idea. I am often annoyed by myself during design time, I can’t get to sleep because my brain keeps drawing and coming up with ideas.
THHB- What kind of materials do you use and what’s your preferred leather?
KS- I think deer is the best leather to work with, as it is the most luxurious. I use New Zealand deer, grown and tanned here so that is an interesting aspect of my collections. Sometimes I use cow leather as well. It is a rather limited material palette, but there’s a lot you can do with leather to make it look different.
THHB- What three items do you think every woman should have in her closet and why?
KS- Good jeans, they’d be different for everybody, but denim you can spend a whole day in comfortably. A comfy jumper that is good for thinking, sleeping and eating in. A very well cut jacket, depending on your style. It might be suit, denim or leather, just so long as it’s well cut and fits you well. It will be the finishing touch or the making of so many get up’s.
THHB- What’s next for Kate of Arcadia? Do you have plans for the future?
KS- A day at a time for the moment!
Don’t forget to check out the Kate of Arcadia site for yourself. You’ll get lost looking at all those beautiful bags!