Making the 45 minute drive down Auckland’s Southern Motorway and then winding through the dry (normally lush!) Bombay Hills injected my week with the perfect fresh start it needed. It was a piece of the country I had never been to and my rural roots buzzed with excitement. Kate of Arcadia designer Katie Smith had sent me a detailed email and map that definitely rung with adventure! “It’s 4.5 kms down the road, look out for the old musty green Merc and text as I’ll come meet you at the gate”.
With Katie found, we walked across a paddock and into a tunnel shaped, corrugated iron farm building. This was the sort of structure that had hosted a great deal of industry in its time, so fittingly it had now become the workshop of a luxury leather accessories label; Kate of Arcadia.
Two industrial cutting and embossing machines sat side by side near the entrance, while the cleaned out animal stalls were put to good use storing swathes of leather and equipment. Negotiating a steep flight of stairs we popped out a man hole and onto a mezzanine. Sun filtered through skylights in the roof and revealed a large work table encircled by various grunty looking sewing machines and patterns hanging from the ceiling. What an incredible juxtaposition it was to see a rack of lush, yet to be released leather bags, hiding away in rural South Auckland. I loved every single part of it and it simply screamed the “kiwi can do” attitude.
Katie first began designing bags while at Unitec completing a Degree in Graphic Art. As with all good ideas, her friends started to catch on and orders began to flow in. Spurred on by demand in her final year of Uni and up until 2009 she and business partner Liam Bowden founded popular accessories brand; Deadly Ponies.
While setting up that first business, Katie also worked full time during the days as a product designer for an interiors brand, leaving bag design and construction for the evenings. In 2009 it was time for a change and she skipped the Tasman to take a position as a bag designer at powerhouse Australian accessories brand; Mimco. Over the 18 months there she gained invaluable experience and combined with her practical construction skills she had developed, it was no surprise to anyone when she purchased two industrial leather cutting and embossing machines on TradeMe and made the decision to return home.
Her brothers bore the brunt of that internet shopping by being tasked with actually relocating the machinery into the shed on her mothers property. With the help of an extra heavy duty truck, a fork lift and now slightly messed up Ute they managed to get the bones of Katie’s new brand; Kate of Arcadia, on location with little chance of leaving!
Kate of Arcadia is now selling it’s 4th collection into a list of well respected stores throughout New Zealand and Australia. Admitting that she hasn’t had a weekend off since October, I can see that this is less of a problem for her than others. Despite the fact that she personally hand makes every single bag -when sharing the new range with me she buzzed with excitement at it’s size and introduction of new printed fabric which she had also designed. While I saw months of sewing needles through fingers, all she could see was the focus of her passion improving, progressing and ultimately giving her the satisfaction of measured success.
I left the dry Bombay hills feeling incredibly inspired. Pop up shops, Ponsonby Road and nice white studio’s don’t reflect all home grown fashion brands ….. I had just been somewhere special!
All photography: Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM KATIE:
It’s not the slick factory or team of workers that create a successful brand
– it is simply the person with the passion.