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Remembering the Authentic Kate Spade on the One-year Anniversary of Her Death

By Christopher Rosica, Author of The Authentic Brand (Noble Press, 2012), which featured Spade after a series of personal interviews.

Kate Spade, born Katherine Noel Valentine Brosnahan, was truly authentic. A talented fashion designer and entrepreneur, she and her husband, Andy, created one of the world’s most respected and successful lifestyle companies, which many entrepreneurs since have sought to emulate.

When she took her life tragically on June 5th, 2018, I refrained from writing about my experience of interviewing her and Andy Spade for my book. Now, one year later, I’ll share it.

Casting for the book could not have been more appropriate; Kate was the epitome of authentic. Here are some of her authentic qualities and what we can learn from lifestyle marketing visionary Kate Spade:

1.   Initially Kate Spade launched a designer brand of fabric handbags. At the time, most high-end, high-design bags were made of leather. The sophisticated and affordable handbags she introduced were refreshingly different. She went one step further when she introduced a line of designer paper products, including stationery and gift cards. At the time, this was unheard of for a “fashion” company. Others were launching shoes, belts, and accessories. When other fashion companies went in one direction, she was bushwhacking a completely new trail. This authentic approach was her mark and the cornerstone of the brand’s success.

2.   As Kate and Andy told me “We created a world around the handbag, a true lifestyle company. We didn’t just want to sell products.” They were offering smart and tasteful lifestyle solutions and the world adored Kate for it.

3.   Kate had unmatched taste and embodied elegance. To ensure her company’s vision became a reality, she and Andy wrote a book on business manners, civility, and etiquette, publishing it and sharing it with employees.

4.   She supported the arts and a variety of other causes; she felt it was her responsibility to give back and help others – and she did.

5.   Kate put herself out there – in spades. She was highly visible, memorable, and accountable. She was the brand.

Spade was creative and always creating. In 2017, Fast Company named Kate Spade one of the “Most Creative People in Business.” Fast Company got it right; so many of her endeavors and so much of her business life demonstrated this.

Katherine Noel Valentine Brosnahan was a visionary. She was intuitive and created a movement centered not just on products, but on lifestyle.

In summing up my experience with Spade and what I’ve learned from her, I’d like to share an excerpt from our interview:

“One of the things we do is to manifest our passion in our mission statement. We always wanted to have a nice, successful business, but at the same time, we always thought of ourselves as simply creative, intelligent people. We didn’t set out to be known as savvy business people. That was never my goal in life. Our goal was to be really smart, curious, creative, and fair in business. I want to have a business that is successful but wouldn’t compromise the culture of the company for the success of the company. That may be a bad business decision, but we work here every day. We give out the etiquette book that we’ve published within the company. We have an orientation video that speaks to the idea of being smart and respectful in business. People want to work for nice people. We built it (the company) in style and graciousness.”

– Kate Spade (pages 173-174 in The Authentic Brand)

If this isn’t authentic, I don’t know what is.

Christopher Rosica