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Kate Spade New York: Embedding Optimism and Originality

To hear how she and her team are being empowered to reimagine the brand, BoF meets Nicola Glass, the creative director of Kate Spade New York.
Kate Spade New York employees | Source: Courtesy
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NEW YORK, United States — Since its launch in 1993, originally as an accessories brand, Kate Spade New York has always engaged in a uniquely emotional relationship with its customers. Built around a sense of community and shared values before such strategies had even been named, the business has grown to become a fully-fledged lifestyle brand.

Now, under the new creative leadership of Nicola Glass, who joined the business in January 2018, the brand operates with the conviction that, with hard work and determination, absolutely anything is achievable — that success and a better future is possible through harnessing the optimism and initiative of its teams.

Prior to joining Kate Spade New York, Glass was senior vice president of accessories design at Michael Kors, overseeing all design and development for the business's three accessories product lines — spending a total of 13 years working for the New York company. Before Michael Kors, Glass was an accessories designer at Gucci.

BoF sits down with the Northern Irish creative director to hear more about her role, her experience in joining the company and her first impressions of the Kate Spade New York culture.

Nicola Glass, creative director at Kate Spade New York | Source: Courtesy

What excites you most about working at Kate Spade New York?

One of the first things that was most exciting for me personally about joining Kate Spade New York was that it was my first role as a creative director. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make my mark on the brand and evolve the codes of the house in my own way, while staying true to the brand heritage. I saw huge potential.

Having watched Tapestry guide the evolution of Coach with Stuart Vevers coming in, as an outsider at the time, I could tell that Stuart was supported by the leadership team in a very holistic way because they allowed him to touch all aspects of the brand, beginning with product but also with marketing, ad campaigns, store designs and more. I think that is very important for a creative director coming in, knowing that you are going to be given 360-degree creative influence so that you can ensure your vision is cohesively felt through all touch points of the brand.

How does Tapestry enable you to be collaborative in your role?

There is great alignment between Tapestry and Kate Spade New York. Tapestry has incredible resources, and the leadership team truly allowed me to come in and decide how I wanted to creatively work in all aspects, whether it was how I wanted to set up the design calendar, how I wanted our social media to be managed, or how I wanted to work with the teams developing the product. They let me set my own processes, rather than enforce the way other brands worked, while supporting me with their amazing depth of experience and capabilities.

I believe in not having too many layers within a team. I like having all the right people in one meeting at one time and making decisions very quickly, while also incorporating different departments, whether it’s marketing or design leads from other product categories, to keep meetings collaborative and efficient. It is also important to incorporate the younger members of the team as well, particularly when you are coming in and setting a new vision for a brand.

How do you develop your team? How does the company support you in doing this?

Kate Spade New York as a company has a lot of initiatives to grow and nurture the talent at the brand. There are different programmes for career development instilled at all levels, through both the internal network at Kate Spade New York but also through Tapestry’s people development team. These development programmes are really important. They cater to meet the individual needs of our employees and offer everything from executive coaching to building skills in areas that drive performance, as well as innovation and accountability.

Development programmes are really important, and they cater to meet the individual needs.

We have a very collaborative environment at Kate Spade New York, in which our teams often work cross-functionally, and we are committed to developing our teams through compelling and meaningful work experiences and projects at every level. For example, when I joined the brand, Kate Spade New York didn’t have a design team dedicated to hardware, by which I mean [designers for] the metal elements on a handbag. The handbag team was designing the hardware but there weren’t people with those specific skills working on it.

However, we have a small home furnishings design team, which focuses on the development of our home categories, including lighting and tableware. They came in to get some ideas for hardware and started coming up with other ideas. They’d never designed closures on handbags before, but they were excited to work in a different area and collaborate with the handbag team, and we came up with some incredible pieces. Now one of the designers, a very young woman who was on the home design team, is effectively leading the hardware design for handbags and she’s really excited to be in this new role.

How would you describe the company culture of Kate Spade New York?

Our company culture is a true differentiator and it really impressed me when I first arrived. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie and community at Kate Spade New York, and there’s a very passionate and creative culture. It’s been that way since Kate and Andy Spade founded the brand over 25 years ago, when Kate, a young and entrepreneurial woman, started from scratch in her apartment with one handbag design, which has evolved into a global lifestyle brand. Despite our enormous growth over the past 25 years, it remains a nimble and entrepreneurial place, something we have retained from the legacy of our founding.

What’s also quite unique about Kate Spade New York is the commitment the brand has to female empowerment. Not only is 85 percent of the company female, but 85 percent of the senior leadership is female. We’re also one of the few brands in the industry where both the creative director and the brand president are women. I think that’s very inspiring to employees too — they can see there’s no glass ceiling.

[The commitment to female empowerment] is inspiring to employees — they can see there's no glass ceiling.

Everyone is passionately working for the brand and working together to support each other. At the same time, people do hold each other accountable. There’s a lot of spirited, open dialogue which is done in a way that’s encouraging. As a company, the culture is focused on allowing and encouraging women to be the heroines of their own stories, which is true in the sense that people aren’t afraid to come up with ideas on all levels, and everyone’s voice is heard, which is a really positive thing.

What are the unique challenges and opportunities ahead?

I’ve been at Kate Spade New York for a little over a year, and although some of my designs were released early in stores in the past year, only recently — at the end of January — has my first collection officially hit stores. Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of designing my fifth collection for the brand — we’re four seasons ahead of the collection that’s in stores now. So, it is a challenge because you’re waiting, eager to see some results from the consumer. It’s nice to have a pulse check in order to decide how to move forward.

The opportunities are in how quickly and nimbly we can respond to what the consumer is telling us, and the ability to keep charging forward with the teams. But it’s also important to take a moment to reflect and capitalise on some early wins — like when you start to see real women out in the world and on social media, from all walks of life, wearing your designs with pride.

Our opportunities expand beyond the product itself. We just released our first advertising campaign, our website has been redone, and we have a new creative approach to social media, just to name a few — all of these different areas that we’ve been working on internally for a year have only been revealed in the last four weeks. We’re also seeing how people are responding and engaging. The response to my new vision for the brand is touching everyone in the company and it is incredibly exciting.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Tapestry as part of a BoF Careers partnership. To explore careers at Kate Spade New York, please click here.

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