Meet: Kate Towers
Kate Towers was a founder and co-owner of one of my favorite Portland shops in High School—Seaplane was open 2000-2008 and carried a variety of handmade garments from a variety of local designers. Kate’s collections are non-seasonal and often more akin to art than mainstream fashion. Since Seaplane, Kate has focused exclusively on custom items and pieces she sells on Etsy, but also has the challenge of making time to sew while raising her two small children.
How did you first learn to sew?
My mother used to sew a lot. She made dresses for herself, for my sister and I. she would help us make doll clothes, etc. and eventually I took an interest in making things on my own and she bought me my first sewing machine one Christmas. I think I broke it the first week trying to sew more industrial materials than it was meant for.
What led you to choose sewing as a career path?
I think it chose me, or we met somewhere in the middle. I was always interested in fashion design. I went to art school and studied illustration, design, and fine arts–but didn’t really get into clothing construction until later on. I consider the work I do to be art since most of my pieces are one of a kind, and somewhat experimental. My work has become more functional over the years but I try to find a balance. I ran a clothing store for 8 years and we specialized in local designers and clothing as art. Eventually the retail end of things became a bit draining and I also had my first baby. I would bring her to the shop with me on the days that I worked. I felt like I was neglecting one or the other, which didn’t seem fair so I decided to move on to focus on raising her and continue designing. We now have another baby and finding the time to be a mother and a designer has been very challenging. I am keeping things simple for the moment, working when I can.
What were some of your favorite and least favorite aspects of running the shop?
I really enjoyed “curating” the shop, tending to the garden. I would constantly re-arrange things, making sure everything was displayed in an interesting way, window displays, etc. watching customers explore the shop and take it all in. It was an unusual selection of pieces so it sort of felt like a museum – and people would come in to see the new exhibit from time to time. I think I really enjoyed the artistic aspects of the shop – but the business side is where it got tricky. You have to pay the bills and do taxes–the dirty work. We also did a lot of consignment with local artists/designers and while a lot of these people are close friends it was also hard to have to deal with everyone’s emotional attachment to their work and the little idiosyncrasies of mixing business with friendship. All in all I enjoyed the whole process and feel like it was a good run, a really exciting time in my life!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I never know when I’ll be inspired, that’s the beauty of it! Inspiration can hit at any given time, on any given day. I don’t tend to go out looking. Past pieces I’ve made have been inspired by nature, romance, texture, balance, and color. A lot of times it’s a feeling I’m trying to evoke a mood.
What is your workspace like? What are some aspects of your workspace that are important to you?
Funny you should ask. Right now my workspace is just that, a workspace. I wouldn’t call it my dream studio by any means, but it’s functional. I used to have a beautiful sunny room in an industrial warehouse, then we bought our first home and I moved to the extra room in the front of the house – but now with the 2 kids needing space I recently moved to our basement! I thought I’d never be able to work subterranean but it’s actually okay for now – and it’s a place for me to escape! As far as what’s important, a huge cutting table, ways to organize all of my fabric and tools, cleanliness, light (which is my biggest sacrifice below), and having everything in one room.
Do you have any tips for aspiring designers/seamstresses?
As far as making a career out of it, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline. Only do it if you love it. Be inspired but make it your own.
Who are some other designers that you admire?
I can’t imagine anyone will ever top Alexander McQueen. I also love Olivier Theyskens and Lanvin to name a few.
What is your favorite sewing tool and why?
The seam ripper – a much needed tool while experimenting! Erasable fabric marking pen, and my tailor’s ham for perfectly pressed darts and curves.
Do you have any suggestions on how to fit sewing time into a busy schedule like yours?
Right now I’m living off of a few hours of daycare a week, but there are SO many other day to day things I need to catch up on that it sometimes feels impossible. Plus forcing creativity on a set schedule doesn’t always work. It’s hard, I love my children to pieces but giving up my creative freedom has been one of the hardest things for me.
What would you like to be doing/sewing in the future?
Sometimes I feel like giving up on the whole sewing thing. Okay, not really, but sewing has good and bad moments and it’s easy to feel discouraged. Maybe it’s the weather or working in my basement. But ultimately I want to continue to do one of kind pieces, the special things, while also producing mini yearly collections that I can sell wholesale–the bread and butter ultimately. Alas, the preparation and investment for this seems too daunting to me at the moment. But eventually I’d also like to get my kids line going. I don’t mean to sound negative and I truly love designing, but it’s not the easiest way to make a living. It involves a lot of sacrifice, and it’s my art so I’m a bit emotional about it, but it does have its dark and shining moments!
April 18, 2011 #
Wow, what beautiful creations!
I wish I could reassure Kate that things do get easier as kids get older. Now that mine are both in school full time, it’s much easier to find the time to be ME. Of course there are other challenges that crop up…
April 18, 2011 #
Yea, I’m hoping things get better for her too, she’s inspiring. I do love that her interview is so honest – so we can see even the most creative and amazing of people will come into life obstacles at some point but hopefully perservering will work or maybe something will just “click” and balance out. Right now I’m at a difficult time in life (even though publically it doesn’t seem it) and I’m hoping it’ll get better. *crosses fingers*
April 20, 2011 #
A relief to read something honesty in the ‘perfect life’ sea of blogs out there. Any sort of creative ambition and/or career is incredibly hard work and requires a huge amount of energy and self belief. It must be really hard when you have family responsibilities and lack of time and sleep that go along with them. I have got some of Kate’s images in my inspiration folder from college a few years ago ( far far away in Edinburgh, Scotland) so even when she is having a nap or wiping a little nose she should know that her work is out there doing good in the world.
April 20, 2011 #
Thank you for this beautiful and honest interview. I have three kids myself, and I aspire to beauty such as Kate’s in my garment sewing!
I’ve found myself disillusioned by the notion that I can have it all – a different topic I know. Kate’s words made me wonder, though, that in being willing to struggle through the tensions of all we love, and the paths we have chosen, we can still find the good pleasure of so much – and it’s all the sweeter a reward for our struggle.