Today’s career profile features Katherine Feiner, the founder of the fashion brand Katherine Feiner. Katherine is a talented designer whose pieces have been featured in InStyle, People, Women’s Wear Daily, and more. She has such fantastic advice about working in fashion, starting a fashion company, being an entrepreneur, and drawing inspiration from everyday life.
What inspired you to start Katherine Feiner?
I decided to start this label to reintroduce classic, feminine, yet strong designs focussed on details and longevity to the contemporary market.
I studied couture and textiles with a focus on beading and embroidery in college. I spent the entire four years focussing on why the details matter and how the smallest accent can turn a classic silhouette into something extraordinary. I was also extremely frustrated with what was available at the time in the contemporary fashion market. I realized there was hardly anything being offered to women like me, who gravitate towards a very classic, yet strong and empowering feminine aesthetic. I can obviously appreciate and identify with trends, but I’ve always been interested in building my wardrobe with pieces that have longevity – pieces that have been made well and with purpose. There is not a single thing in our collections that we don’t see becoming staple pieces that you’ll continue to love and wear over and over again.
How would you explain your brand in a few sentences?
Feminine, classic, strong, empowering, romantic. Built for the woman who exudes confidence with style and grace along with a sense of fun and adventure.
What is one of your favorite moments so far?
We were just featured in WWD as a member of the “New Guard” of emerging designers. That definitely has to be one of the most exciting highlights for me so far. I’ve religiously read WWD since college, and to see our name recognized in THE industry publication was an amazing moment for the brand.
How do you get inspiration for each collection?
Every collection is different in terms of how we start our development. We generally come up with a feeling and a mood for the collection – where is our girl going to be going this season; what is she going to be eating, drinking, and seeing; and what will she want to be wearing whilst she lives through all of these experiences.
SS’15 was a particularly special season for me, as I was simultaneously planning my wedding in Italy and honeymoon in the Greek Islands. That process and our development for the season completely merged and played off of one another. I was constantly thinking about what I wanted to wear in these beautiful places surrounded by my friends and family, drinking wine, eating pasta, sitting next to the rocky Mediterranean beaches, and how was I going to capture the romance I felt. We developed all of our prints based on the gardens of the property where we were married in Ravello on the Amalfi coast. Our textiles came from Greek fishermen’s homes and the colors and feel of the islands.
You previously worked at Burberry. What were your role there? Did what you learned help you start your fashion brand?
I was the assistant planner and merchandiser for Burberry Prorsum shoes and accessories. The time I spent at Burberry was monumental in helping me figure out the business side of fashion. Being a planner is by no means glamorous. Your life essentially consists of Excel spreadsheets full of costings, import and export taxes, pricing, shipping costs, etc., which all feed into figuring out your margins and ultimately understanding how you’re making a profit. You are essentially running a business! Obviously Burberry runs on a massive corporate scale, but I still use the same system and templates for planning. I am ultimately a designer and a creative at heart, but at the end of a day I needed to understand strategy and how to build this into a brand with longevity. I will forever be grateful to my time as an Excel slave (seriously though) at Burberry for giving me those fundamentals.
What advice would you give to someone in the first five years of her career?
Be prepared for a roller coaster and hold on tight!
I think the first few years of anyone’s career, especially people starting their own clothing line, is to know your brand. Know your aesthetic, know what kind of player you want to be in your industry, and fight for it. When I first started I had a ton of people giving me advice and insisting I go in specific design directions in order to capitalize on certain “of the moment” trends. I found myself loosing control of what I really wanted Katherine Feiner to be and what we stood for very early on. The beginning building stages of every brand is a delicate one. In order to stay on track, you have to be strong about knowing who to listen to and when to alter your course. I absolutely feel like I now have the ability to recognize when to hold my ground and stay the course. It was a hard lesson to learn, and a challenge I feel every designer will encounter, but you do come out stronger for it, so that’s a good thing!
What is on your desk right now?
My desk is literally covered with colorful swatches for our next collection (mainly sparkly beading and embroidery samples), my trusty notepad as I have to write down everything and am the master of lists, my brand new Annick Goutal candle in scent Noël which keeps the studio smelling like Christmas, and big stack of my Katherine Feiner correspondence cards from William Arthur. (I’m a huge fan of handwritten notes.)
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best and most classic pieces of advice I was given when I started (and something I still repeat to myself almost on a daily basis) is that if owning your own business was easy, everyone would do it.
There will be storms to weather, there will be struggles, there will be great rewards and great disappointments. When you are at your lowest point, you will still need to be able to say, “This is worth it. I am strong enough for this. This is what I am meant to do.” I know it sounds a bit depressing, but it has been the most meaningful, motivational, and hopeful piece of advice I have ever been given. It’s helped me immensely over the last few years.
What is a fun fact about you?
My husband and I recently became the proud parents of a very fluffy mini golden doodle puppy named Doug. We subsequently started an Instagram account, @dougthedoodledog, for him (as you do, obviously) and have a ridiculous amount of fun giving Doug “a voice.” Our entire family is involved at this point and we’ve just been approached to potentially turn his adventures into children’s books! It’s completely random and hilarious and something that I definitely didn’t see coming!
Thank you, Katherine!
Images via Katherine Feiner.