I was very excited about interviewing veteran clothes designer and successful entrepreneur Karen Kane. I always seek out her line in department stores because my clients enjoy wearing well-made, comfortable, simple and flattering Karen Kane designs. I particularly like the dresses. Karen is knowledgeable, charming, humble and a real lady. She’s been running her impressive clothing operation as chief designer for over 30 years with husband and business partner, Lonnie. Eldest son Michael (who is equally delightful) has also recently joined the family business.
Angie: You shipped your first collection in 1979, sewing your own garments with husband Lonnie in your garage in Los Angeles, CA. Is there anything you miss about those days?
Karen: Those early years were incredibly exciting. Around the same time we got married, Lonnie and I decided to take a risk by quitting our jobs and trying to start our own company. There was so much happening all at once that it didn’t even occur to us just how much of a gamble it was. We invested everything we had in our first collection, and even though it didn’t total much, it’s still all we had at the time! I don’t miss the worrying and anxiety of those early days, but I certainly miss the feeling that came with putting so much at stake and not knowing what the future held. Also, I’ve loved sewing ever since I was a child. When we were just starting out, I hand sewed a lot of our early stuff. Today, I don’t have time to do it anymore and it’s something I miss.
Angie: What drives your passion for your business?
Karen: I love clothing. It’s been my passion for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I always looked forward to seeing something new in store windows. I still get that same excitement when I notice new trends or discover new fabrics today. I’m so grateful for the success we’ve enjoyed over the years since it’s allowed me to do what I love for a living.
Angie: You’ve been in business for over three decades, what’s been the most enjoyable part?
Karen: The constant evolution and progress that is inherent to fashion. It’s been amazing to see trends change over time and attitudes toward style evolve over the past few years. It’s funny to look back on the 80’s and vividly remember how great we thought shoulder pads were. I wonder if that’s how I’ll feel about skinny jeans in a few years. Fashion is great because you never know what will come next – it keeps you guessing and constantly gives you a chance to reinvent yourself each season.
Angie: Where is Karen Kane clothing manufactured?
Karen: Currently, 80% is produced in the United States and 20% is imported from China. Lonnie and I have acknowledged the importance of what it means to be an “American brand.” Especially in the past two years, we’ve started to shift a lot more of our manufacturing back to the United States. I think customers love seeing that “Made in the USA” label, and we feel a certain sense of pride in knowing that most of our products are both designed and produced here in the US.
Angie: As chief designer of Karen Kane, do you oversee all the designs? How much of the designing do you do yourself? What is the process?
Karen: I oversee all of the designs and I make sure that I see each piece before it is put into our lines. I still design a lot of the collections myself, but as my line has grown over the years, I’ve also tried to build a diverse design team here so that we consistently stay on top of trends and are open to new ideas.
Angie: Talk to me about your other clothing lines “Fifteen-Twenty” and “Red 23” and how its target market differs from the original Karen Kane brand?
Karen: These are two of the things I’m most excited about right now! Fifteen-Twenty launched in 2008, and is named after the birthdates of my two sons. It’s a contemporary line, so it’s predominantly sold in specialty stores. Fifteen-Twenty is all about finding an amazing top or dress for your night out on the town. Red 23’s first season will be this upcoming fall. It’s also contemporary, but it’s a collection of casual knits – stuff you can feel comfortable in on the weekends or around home. It’s named after the number I always play in roulette in Las Vegas. And just as I get excited at the roulette table, I am also excited about Red 23.
Angie: Do you wear your own Karen Kane originals?
Karen: Yes – all the time. I also wear Fifteen-Twenty constantly as well. I also like to mix together many different brands.
Angie: Who are your style inspirations?
Karen: I have always loved and admired Coco Chanel. Her sense of style is timeless and she’s transcended into a cultural icon. I also very much respect Ralph Lauren. In many ways, he invented and has perfected the idea of “American fashion.” In terms of creativity, Karl Lagerfeld is another one of my role models. I think he defines what it means to have true talent and vision.
Angie: What’s next for Karen Kane?
Karen: Well, Red 23 will be launching this fall, so we’re working on final touches for that. We’ve also recently expanded the Karen Kane brand into eyewear, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you soon see Karen Kane handbags as well. Our upcoming spring and summer collections are full of color and life, but I’m truly excited about what’s coming this fall. Expect a lot of faux fur, shearlings, texture, and comfortable sweaters. Sophisticated looks are back in a big way. On a personal level, my son recently made me join Facebook, so I guess I’m going to try to navigate that too now. Although if I had it my way, I think I would just stick to designing clothes!
Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience with us, Karen. You make an excellent product, and thanks especially for putting long sleeves onto dresses. I wish more designers would do that! I’ll happily continue suggesting your designs each time I shop with my clients.
Update: Be sure to take a look at the $200 Karen Kane giveaway that we launched in the competition section today.