Kate Sylvester laughs when she looks back at the beginning of her signature line in 1998. “We started out working in the back of a shop in Kitchener St. I worked part of the time in the store, selling the clothes. I actually sewed all the clothes, so when we’d open the doors I’d sewed up pretty much every garment in the shop. Things have changed a lot from then!” she laughs. Now the 40-year-old makes elaborate feminine masterpieces that are hugely popular around the world.
Her beautifully chaotic summer 2008 collection is a ramshackle mess of fabrics and layers, a classic Kate Sylvester line that seems to highlight the wearer’s own character and individuality. It also plays up Kate’s slightly cheeky but rather demure maturity.
She won’t give away the gist of her winter 2009 collection. “Because the collections are very concept-based, I have to think what I say,” she explains. “With the process it’s always very concept-driven, in that the collections are always tightly themed. I find I need that for my creativity,” she says. While she’s tight-lipped on the next collection, the mum of three young boys is happy to talk about herself.
“All my childhood I made little paper cut-out dolls, and I used to design all their little clothes, I used to colour them in with felt-tip pens. I’ve still got all of them,” Kate explains of her early interest in design. “The first thing I made was this really cute little sailor suit. I bought a dress from an op shop and cut it in half so it became a top and skirt. I dyed it grey and put white ribbon round the skirt and made a sailor bib for the top. So yeah, I started out by chopping up clothes and playing around with them, customising them.” This was early to mid ‘80s, when Kate was 13 or 14.
“It was probably in high school that I realised I could do it as a career,” she says.
Now proudly sustainable in her production, Kate’s team is currently taking part in the Sustainable Business Network’s ‘Get Sustainable Challenge’. With all her manufacturers onshore and organic and ethically-made fabrics at the ready, coupled with Kate’s inspired creativity and dedicated team, she’s churning out more creative and quality products than ever. Even if her workspace is “chaos!”
“As the season progresses, my desk just piles up with more and more references, you know, funny little bits and pieces, things, fabric swatches, half-sewn little collar shapes… anything and everything!” Expect the same excited mish-mash for Kate’s next line.