To own a Kate Spade handbag is to have punched a ticket into adulthood for a generation of American women. What began as a humble idea in 1992 quickly became a phenomenon amongst New Yorkers. Kate Spade saw a gap in the handbag market, a longing for a simple, elegant and approachable handbag that wouldn’t break the bank. In honor of the late Kate Spade, let’s take a look at her branding genius, how she grew a simple handbag design into an iconic brand with just a few honest and simple marketing strategies.
The woman we all knew and loved as Kate Spade, was born Katherine Noel Brosnahan in Kansas City, Mo. on Dec. 24, 1962. Her father worked in construction, and her mother stayed at home to take care of her and her five siblings. She attended college at Arizona State University, where she studied journalism. She supported herself by working two jobs, one at a clothing retail store where she would meet her future husband, Andy Spade. Though she wasn’t obsessed with fashion, it was something she loved. Later, when she moved to New York, she landed a job as an assistant editor at Mademoiselle magazine.
An Untapped Market
It was during her time working for Mademoiselle magazine – specifically as the accessories editor – that she noticed the market was severely lacking a handbag that was both affordable and stylish, something that wasn’t “gaudy and oversized.” She was looking for something that was “a functional bag that was sophisticated and had some style,” — she would later recall. After her first show, she realized the handbag needed a little something extra, something to emphasize the brand. She worked through the night, sewing the logo (which had been on the inside of the bag) onto the outer face of the handbag. What was then Barneys of New York ordered a few handbags to sell in their store, and the rest is history. The bags quickly became a must-have accessory, one that you couldn’t walk a block through the streets of New York without seeing one.
Kate Spade built her handbags – and her brand – around her personality. She leaned heavily on her own approachability and sense of style. When managing any brand, authenticity is what resonates most for people, and Kate Spade’s handbags authentically represented not only Kate’s lifestyle, but one that many young women wanted to live, one of casual luxury, elegance and style.
Growing the Brand
When Kate Spade opened her first storefront, deciding where it should be located was no easy task. Much work went into it, as Andy Spade would later recall, “We would talk about how to make decisions about, like, store location. What does it say if we’re in SOHO? What does it say if we’re on the upper east side? All of these things communicate something about the brand.” It’s true. As you develop your own marketing strategy and brand management campaigns, there will be many important decisions to consider — ones that should reflect the authenticity of your brand and the lifestyle you’re product represents. And, it’s important to remain truthful throughout the process.
Remembering an Icon
On June 5th, 2018, we lost a style icon in Kate Spade. She will be remembered for more than just her handbags, lifestyle and brand management. Many New York women can recall the first time they purchased a Kate Spade handbag, how they saved for it, how much it meant to them. As we reflect on her legacy, it was her simple honesty and lifestyle that touched us the most.
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