While doing a bit of online shopping recently, I stumbled across a brand I was unfamiliar called KARA. After doing a little bit of research on the brand I found out that it was started by Parsons Fashion Design alumnus Sarah Law. Sarah graduated in 2008 from the fashion design program and following school she worked as an accessories designer for the GAP for three years. Using the skills she learned at Parsons as well as the knowledge acquired while working at the GAP, Sarah was able to create her own handbag line, KARA, which she launched in January of 2012. Since then, KARA has been featured in VOGUE and is now in stores such as Saks, Opening Ceremony and Nordstrom just to name a few. I chatted with Sarah about her cool line of handbags, how Parsons prepared her for starting her own business and advice for future entrepreneurs!
Lauren Davis: Congrats on the success of your line KARA! In what way do you feel Parsons prepared you for what you are doing now?
Sarah Law: Thank you very much! One of the most important ways Parsons prepared me for what I do now was teaching me how to develop inspiration. Organizing my thinking so I am better able to use my inspiration or take an idea and develop a concept around it and then eventually develop a product from that.
During my junior year I studied abroad in Paris and that had quite a large impact on me. Being in such a different environment than what I was accustomed to, I think was essential for my growth not just as a design student but on a personal level as well. I was also lucky in that I built a network of friends who I met while studying that have given me a lot of support and continue to do so. I think the school’s high standard really sets a tone, which I believe is the reason Parson’s alumni have always stood out in the industry.
LD: It is probably every young designers dream to get their line picked up by a major retailer. How were you able to get attention from stores like Opening Ceremony, Shopbop, etc. and how did it feel when that actually happened?
SL: I was very excited and grateful to have been able to be picked up by such prominent retailers on my first outing. It takes a lot of work and persistence!
I put together a list of retailers to target and set out consistently emailing, calling and visiting those that had NY locations. My aim was to meet buyers in person, so I tried whatever resources were available to me. It was all very new to me so I had no idea whether what I was doing would bear any fruit but thankfully, it eventually did pay off.
LD: I know you worked at GAP for a couple of years before starting KARA. How do you feel you/your business benefited from not starting right out of college? (pros and cons here would be good!)
SL: I found working at Gap to be very beneficial for a number of reasons. Learning how to work in a large office environment was a very valuable experience. A big part of my job, or any job is knowing how to clearly communicate with people. This is an instrumental skill to have in effectively managing a team and clearly getting your ideas across.
Similarly learning how to merchandize and understand the customer has been extremely useful to me. Knowing how to build on existing styles and expand and refine my line in a cohesive manner is currently a large part of my design process. And of course learning about the consumer- their shopping habits, what works and what doesn’t-and why, has been important in how I approach design and marketing for my brand. Incidentally, I was introduced to Patrick Robinson, who was the Creative Director of Gap at the time by Roopal Patel who was on my senior thesis review panel.
LD: Did you find it challenging to go form something as structured as GAP to suddenly being your own boss?
In the beginning you will have to set up your own routine and follow it, which takes a lot of discipline. That said when you believe and are dedicated to something, it is very exciting to be your own boss and create your own schedule and path.
LD: What keeps you inspired? What’s your design process like? (books you are reading, blogs you’re looking at, etc)
SL: I read and look at a lot of books and magazines to keep abreast of what’s happening but I am mostly inspired by developing materials and trims. In terms of blogs/websites, I am a big fan of K-Hole, the trend forecasting group’s reports, and for daily reading I like Style.Com and Business of Fashion.
My design process usually starts with looking at what bags I would like to wear and what styles/shapes are missing in the line. Functionality and how something fits into my everyday life are the most important elements.
LD: What is something you’ll always remember about your time at Parsons?
SL: My foundation year was extremely intense but the program was very successful in encouraging students to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. I remember our first assignment in 3D design was to build a pumpkin made from wood, which I thought was hilarious because I had never made anything with wood before.
The teachers approached everything with the attitude that if you work at something, learn it thoughtfully, then it can be accomplished.
LD: Where do you hope to see KARA in the next couple of years?
SL: In the near future, I feel that we have a lot more to accomplish with bags in terms of styles and fabrications. Eventually I do intend to develop into ready to wear once I feel that the accessories line is fully established.
LD: What advice would you give Parsons students looking to start their own businesses post college? Also, what advice would have for any young artist/designer?
SL: The best way to learn anything is by doing it!
My advice is to have a clear idea of how you will reach your customer. I think the most successful designers are the ones that know how to communicate their ideas to others. Knowing how to work with other people and how to communicate so that they can understand your vision clearly is the largest part of the job.
Huge thanks to Sarah for this interview and be sure to checkout the KARA online store!