Designer Spotlight Sarah Law, KARA

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I grew up in Hong Kong. I'm half-Chinese and half-American. I grew up in a very international family but also really love to travel on my own. It really affected my design. When I graduated from Parsons I worked at Gap for two years. It's funny because when I quit my job I felt like it was kind of this turn of life events. I had broken up with the boyfriend I'd been dating for six years and just wanted to get out of New York, so I traveled anywhere and everywhere looking to take in a lot.

FOAF: We’ve been fans of your line for a little while now and have loved seeing you grow. What inspired you to start your line?

Sarah Law: I always wanted to have my own business. I came from a family where my dad was very business-oriented and my mom was always making things, whether she was cooking, baking, drawing, or sewing. Halloween costumes were a big deal. Working at Gap was a very eye-opening experience because it taught me a lot about merchandising. A business like that is very much reliant on what people are buying, so I was very eager to learn and then apply it to my very small business with a very specific customer. I felt like there were a lot of girls out there that were my age, in their 20’s, who didn’t have a huge salary, and spent less money on clothing but a little bit more on accessories. I knew there was a growing market of girls who wanted handbags that didn't have things all over it - no hardware or a ton of logos. I didn't want a bag that was wearing me.

FOAF: Earlier you were saying how your parents making things was always really influential to you. That sounds really technical to me. Do you think your design process is more creative or scientific?

Sarah: It's a combination for sure. I really feel strongly that you can't have one without the other. I'm always very fascinated by what I feel like people are missing in their wardrobe and their lifestyle. The technical part is looking at what I hear customers say they want and the creative part comes into photo-shoots and sourcing material. Sometimes we do a little bit of a novelty every season and that tends to come from trying to work with materials we've never worked with before. That's a really good part of where we find creativity in the development process.

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FOAF: You went from working at Gap to then starting your own collection. How do you feel the transition was between working in a corporate office to then being an entrepreneur and having your own business?

Sarah: It's obviously a very night and day experience. The really wild thing that a lot of people misunderstand is that since running my own design business, I probably spend 10 to 15% of my time on design and the rest of my time on everything else that goes into it. You don't learn those other things when you go to design school. You don't learn how to incorporate a design business or all the back end work. Then there is the whole component of HR - managing people and selling your product and getting it to market. At a corporate company I was just designing and everybody else was sourcing materials and selling the products for me. But this job is every aspect. You have to be paying attention all the time.

FOAF: Why did you choose bags and what are the key elements that you look for when you're buying a bag yourself?

Sarah: Bags to me are fashion but then they can also be functional and formed. There a lot of areas you can play with. I grew up in a time where there was an "it" bag and spending an absurd amount of money was a norm. I want people to feel like you don't have to be the things that you purchase and you don't have to be the things that brands want you to be. You're your own person. That was something that I really wanted to examine from my commercial level and a personal level. 

FOAF: Do you have a certain checklist that needs to be fulfilled when you're getting a bag?

Sarah: I'm always looking at bags from every brand. I recently went to Frieze Art Fair. I love going to events like that, more than anything just to look at what people are wearing and look at the bags that woman are carrying. I try to buy more utility things, which is very true to my brand. There's something fun about buying things that are functional. I like having a part of my life that I don't have to think about product. I love getting dressed really quickly and then getting to work and not really worry about what I'm wearing and focusing more on people that I'm with and not being distracted.

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 FOAF: Who do you feel is your quintessential customer?

Sarah: I always make jokes in the office, but it's sort of like a Lisa Simpson kind of girl or like a Wednesday Adams. It's definitely someone with a darker sense of humor like a Daria. It's really funny because I've seen a really wide range of women wearing the bags. I've seen some girls who have a preppy office style, and then I'll see older women who are very artsy at Dover Street Market. That's the biggest message for the brand. It's not about the brand. It's about you, how you put yourself together, and how you express yourself.

FOAF: Are there any bag trends you love right now?

Sarah: We're all pretty obsessed with a small bag right now, like a tiny obnoxiously small bag. What does really well for us is our Nano Crossbody – a tiny bag with a soft detail on it.

FOAF: So what's next for you guys?

Sarah: We've really been working on 3D printing. 3D-printed hardware could be something that we incorporate down the line. I've been more focused on design and I feel like I'm trying to get better designer, taking more time to sketch and look for inspiration. Having the time to focus on my design is really important.

FOAF: What's one piece of advice you would give to anybody that wants to get out of their 9-5 job and follow their own path?

Sarah: There's definitely no amount of education that will prepare you for this. Failure is inevitable, there's no perfect process. It's about a continuous non-stop development, journey, and work-in-progress. I feel like you have to be ready for that. It's not about a line one time. People show up in my office every single day - it's not just one season and it's over. You can't beat yourself up when you make mistakes and you lose money. You really have to look at it from a larger perspective and try to not waste your mistakes.

 

 

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