With a background in pattern making, Toronto designer Kate Austin‘s eponymous lifestyle brand is colourful, print-forward and upbeat (and couldn’t we all use a dose of that right now?!). From her fair-trade partnerships to the original designs hand-printed by artisans on fine organic cotton, silk, linen and wool using earth-friendly dyes and recycled water systems—social consciousness and care are key components to every Kate Austin item. Read our interview with Kate below, and enter to win! —Noa Nichol
Hi Kate! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
Hello! Thank you so much for this awesome opportunity! I’m Kate. I live in lovely Toronto, but my family moved here from the U.K. when I was a child. I’ve always loved art and textiles. In high school, I designed and screen-printed fabric to sew outfits for myself. I’m a knitter and a weaver, as well as a print and fashion designer. I’m basically obsessed with anything and everything to do with colour and textiles. I also co-own (with four of my favourite people in the universe) a knitting shop, the Knit Cafe, in the Roncesvalles Village. I have my BFA from NSCAD, so my background is steeped in fine art, craft and art/design history. I am a hardcore gardener as it’s a place where I can express my passion for colour and flowers. I love playing with textures and the changing seasons in my garden. It’s a big source of inspiration for me.I love spending time outdoors: biking, hiking, swimming and cloud/stargazing whenever I can. I’m a social justice eco-warrior in my life and work—I’m a total Aquarian! I’m a bit of a maximalist, and I love to fill our lives with colour and happy vibes.
When and why did you launch your label? What fashion/decor niche were/are you aiming to fill?
I launched in 2017. I had spent a few years licensing my print designs to other companies and I was discouraged by the lack of sustainable practises in manufacturing—especially in fashion. Serendipitously just as I realized I wanted to make a change, a dear friend connected me with incredible fair trade production partners in India and Peru. Kate Austin is a lifestyle label. I started with a capsule collection in just two prints. My favourite thrifted Japanese Yukata (summer robe) had just fallen apart, and I was in dire need of a new one, plus doesn’t everyone need at least one lovely dressing gown? So that was my first piece for the line! I wasn’t seeing sustainable and colourful, contemporary lifestyle brands at that time, so I set out to fill that niche. I also saw that my generation, Gen X, women 35-55, are so underserved in the fashion world. We are stylish, expressive, and politically engaged and yet there’s not that much that is designed for us! We’re often an afterthought in a millennial market. I wanted to serve these women like me and offer us something special. Kate Austin is about high-quality, effortless clothing you can live in. These are pieces you can literally pull over your head and feel ready to go because I know we are busy and our time is precious. I also felt strongly that sizing is oppressive and difficult to engage with. I spend a lot of time developing pieces that will fit and suit a wide range of bodies—“one size fits many”—and as our bodies change, we can keep wearing our favourite clothing.
What products/pieces do you offer, and what makes your designs unique?
The short answer is that my original print designs make Kate Austin Designs unique. I create all the prints and patterns for every product: block prints, screen prints, woven patterns, beaded patterns—basically the all-surface pattern designs. My line has been expanding and growing at breakneck speed in the last year. I started my line with a core group of casual, organic block-printed cotton apparel and accessories including robes, shirt dresses, tunics, dusters and scarves. This year, we have added cashmere wraps and giant silk scarves into the mix, as well as lovely beaded collar necklaces and merino wool felt floppy hats. Recently, I’ve been working on a lovely collection of kitchen and tabletop textiles: napkins, tablecloths, placemats, table runners. We also have a new line of lifestyle pieces including gorgeous handwoven baskets made from a cactus fibre, cabuya, from the Andes and hand printed furoshiki (wrapping cloths) made in my studio in Toronto. I’ve also got some very cute holiday gift items launching soon including block printing kits and “table gifts,” which are like holiday crackers … but sustainable!
Tell us how ethics, sustainability, goodwill and slow fashion/consumerism are at the forefront of the Kate Austin brand.
Working sustainably and ethically are non-negotiable aspects of the Kate Austin Brand. I always think about how doctors must take that Hippocratic oath to do no harm and I wonder why we don’t ALL have to make this promise? What a better world it would be! My commitment to goodwill, sustainability and social justice permeates the whole brand from design to production, to marketing, to delivery. I design pieces to fit a wide range of bodies and also clothing that isn’t tied to fast fashion trends, so there’s a longevity to styles. Your Kate Austin pieces are for life, not for one season! I also have mending kits available in case of rips or stains so that we can extend the life of our beloved pieces as long as possible! We also produce in smaller batches to minimize waste. I work with small, fair trade production partners (World Fair Trade Organization-certified where possible), and wonderful artisans in India, Ecuador and Peru who have ancient skills that have become endangered by industrialization and colonialism. I try to use organic fabrics whenever possible, and we upcycle as much of the remnant pieces we can with a zero-waste goal in mind. We use non-toxic dyes and some natural plant dyes too! Closer to home we do all local deliveries via bike couriers, and I bike to and from my studio every day. My goal is to generate goodwill and positive vibes through upbeat prints, colours and styles that are designed to make people feel great and gorgeous effortlessly!
There’s so much colour and so many prints in your designs; they are so upbeat and energetic! We have to know: do these principles reflect in your own personality?
Of course! I’m generally very energized by the world and easily amazed by everything I can find beauty in. I genuinely feel very deeply moved and hopeful every day. Seeing the beauty of the natural world, as well as the incredible people around me is inspiring. I have a lot of energy and I LOVE to laugh.
Fall/winter often see a downplay in print and colour; how do you suggest we add these back into our wardrobes and home?
It’s so true that as the colour drains out of the city, we tend to follow suit and tone down our homes and clothes. I take my colour inspiration from the natural world. For example, bright red and pink berries in the woods pop in a snowy landscape and are so cheerful to me. I have the most beautiful hot pink winter hat, by Misha lamprey from Augustina in Toronto, which glows when the days start getting dreary and makes me so happy. I have collected a rainbow assortment of soft cashmere cardigans over the years to make sure I wear colour in the cold months. I have a full houseplant jungle indoors for all the green I miss so much in the winter, and I do try to keep fresh cut flowers around the house as well once my garden has gone to sleep for the year— bringing colour and life into my home. My fall/winter 2022 collection is full of colour. After 2 years of lockdowns and Zoom calls, I feel so ready to bring joyful exuberance into every season, and to inject celebration, optimism and colour wherever I possibly can!
What’s the one KAD piece you’ll be rocking (or using) all fall/winter long?
I wear a lot of my KAD pieces year-round, but especially my Lena robe. I just LOVE to have an elegant, colorful dressing gown to throw on and “zing” up any outfit at home or at the studio! It’s so chic and fun.
Win! A $300 Kate Austin Designs Prize Pack!
Congrats Anne-Marie G. of Vernon, BC, who will receive a $300 Kate Austin Designs Prize Pack, including a Luxe Organic Cotton Satin Robe ($200) and a Quilted Bag ($100)! \Please note: if you are the winner, you will receive a DM (direct message) in Instagram directly from @vitadaily.ca. Please be wary of fake accounts, which often use similar handles with an extra or missing letter, number or symbol. We will never ask for a payment or for your credit card number, and we will never ask you to click through a link. If you are unsure whether you have been contacted, via Instagram, by us or a fake account, email us before responding.