Katie, you too created a business out of The Prince’s Trust’s Enterprise Programme. What led you to The Trust?
The Enterprise Program was recommended to me by several people. It was so fantastic to have a support system and a semblance of structure at the beginning of starting my business. I still follow a number of people I met through the trust and I love seeing how we’ve all developed and the different directions our businesses have taken.
When did you first have the idea for Kate Barnét and what made you want to pursue the path of your vision?
I went travelling in Northern India for two months with my best friend after university and fell head over heels in love with the colours and prints I saw there. I was working in a job I really, really did not enjoy, which was impacting my mental health quite negatively and one day some of my friends had enough and just said : ‘you’re always going on about starting a business, just quit, and get on with it.’ I wanted an excuse to go back to India, I wanted an excuse to use those prints. So I looked for a product which I could have made in one-size to keep costs down and landed on dressing gowns. The rest, as they say…
Who do you design for and how do you want your customer to feel when they wear your designs?
Women who love colour and print, and who have an enormous sense of fun. Most customer pictures I get sent include them holding a glass of Prosecco in their PJs which I think is fabulous. I created Kate Barnét because I was sick of looking sloppy around the house. And I was looking really sloppy - think old boyfriend's trackies and big oversized freebie t-shirts (largely stained). So my pyjamas are the antidote to that - I hope women feel effortlessly put together, casually glam, and of course - comfy.
Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs?
Our prints are selected from end of the roll/deadstock fabric so it is a case of whatever catches my eye (and my mum’s! ). I spend hours and hours, days and days, looking at prints, and I am very decisive. I like what I like! Occasionally I will have a game plan, like, I want stripes! But I strive to put a Kate Barnét twist on every single product. More is more in my book.
Tell us about the creation process of your products. How do they translate from your vision into the customers hands?
Usually, I fly to India once or twice a year, to choose fabrics and check in with our stitching factory. I search high and low for the fabrics I use, you would not believe some of the places I have gone to check out a new pile of deadstock fabric. Once they are secured I usually ferry them in a tuk tuk to my stitching factory on the outskirts of Delhi, cart them inside and then have long meetings with my factory partner about how we translate this fabric into some of the ideas in my head. I work closely with a tailor, talking through my plans. Sometimes the answer is ‘that is a ridiculous idea’ but sometimes it works, and sometimes it is magic. At the moment of course, it looks a bit different. I’m up very early in the morning so I can catch India time, and we WhatsApp for hours. I recently got sent 5 pictures of orange satin that all looked exactly the same but apparently were ‘vastly different’ in real life, so things like that are impossible. But we are so lucky to have that technology now and to be able to keep business going. I trust my partners in India to make decisions, they know the brand well by now and that has been really crucial.
Creating your own business comes with a whole host of other areas to learn about as you go further into your journey. What have been the biggest learning-curves for you since beginning Kate Barnét?
COVID has been the most testing time I think. We’ve had various factory closures, deliveries turning up months and months late, cancelled photoshoots… the works. There have been many tears over the last few months mainly because it all felt so out of my control! However business has been steady and customers have been loyal and understanding - so there is a lot to be grateful for.
More than ever, there is a positive focus on retailers to acknowledge the importance of a healthy supply chain with strong company values and supportive manufacturing practices. How have you found this process as a young brand and what positive changes would you like to see over the coming years within your industry?
I knew NOTHING about fabrics. Nothing. And it’s such an important part of building a positive clothing brand. I am working with a really amazing company in Gurgaon, India, at the moment who are taking me through all the pros and cons of each fabric and the truth is there is no perfect fabric. I’m glad I’m wising up to it. I am pleased to have a close working relationship with the factories we use and to have visited them several times. I am surprised how many fashion companies have never visited the factories they work with. There is a lot of work to do in the fashion industry which Corona has exposed, for example the factories in Bangladesh who had their orders cancelled by huge high street retailers. Completely unacceptable.
Running your own company is a full time job. I’m sure, like me, you rarely ‘switch off’ from your growing to-do list, orders and product inspiration! When you’re feeling bogged down by it all, what makes all of the hard work worth it?
Getting delivery of new products is SO exciting for me, because I have no idea what the end product is going to look like (I don’t get samples made up before hand I just trust my gut). Opening every new creation is like a Christmas present. And then to get tagged in customer photos of them wearing my product! Bliss.
What is your favourite memory on your Kate Barnét journey?
Being featured in the Daily Telegraph. It’s been a dream of mine to see a product I created in the press and when it happened I was overwhelmed with pride.
Why is it important to support smaller, homemade brands?
Because we care, so much! I’m a post lady on the side to make keep my business going. The hustle is real. And I think that means we provide better customer care and interaction.
What are your little moments of happiness throughout the day?
Genuinely getting messages on instagram from my customers. Whether it's great feedback on their purchases or LOL responses to my Instagram stories I love them all. I feel like I have 4 and a half thousand new friends.
What do you wish you’d known when you were young?
That Margaritas are the perfect drink.
Where did you spend your lockdown and what important lessons did you learn in this time?
In my flat in London, occasionally going out to post letters. I learnt that sometimes things are just completely out of my control - and that’s ok.
What lessons would you like us to hold onto after the coronavirus pandemic is over?
Buy small! You will feel better for it, you will make a huge positive impact on someone else’s story and (usually) you are making a positive ethical/environmental purchase.
Shop Katie's blooming pyjama business: www.katebarnet.com