Kate Spade: Kate & Andy Spade We're hard at work planning our next live show, so we bring you this favorite from the last year: Kate Spade. A 1991 conversation at a Mexican restaurant led Kate & Andy Spade to ask, "What's missing in designer handbags?" Kate's answer was a simple modern-shaped handbag that launched the iconic fashion brand. PLUS for our postscript "How You Built That", we check back with Dennis Darnell and his line of garbage can fly traps.
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Kate Spade: Kate & Andy Spade

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Kate Spade: Kate & Andy Spade

Kate Spade: Kate & Andy Spade

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Hey, just a quick thing before we get to the show. I have some amazing news, which is that we are doing another live show. It's coming up. And it's happening on February 8 in Columbus, Ohio. And I'll be talking with Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. It's supported by American Express Open, and tickets will go on sale in just a few days. You can get them at nprpresents.org.

And because we're gearing up for that, we're going to reach into the archives today to play one of our very favorite episodes for you. I know I say that every time. But really, this one is incredible. It's a story of how Kate Spade turned her name into one of the most popular handbags in the world. Enjoy.


KATE SPADE: We were still not making any money. Nobody was making a salary. We were - Andy was funding everything. I just remember thinking, I think we need to shut it down. I said, it's...

ANDY SPADE: We had run through our 401(k) money and, you know, all of our savings at that point. We still weren't seeing, you know, progression that was going to pay us a salary in the next year in the near future. So we thought, all right, we had a good run at it. We think we've had it.


RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.


RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how a Midwestern kid named Kate Brosnahan took a roll of burlap, sewed it into handbags and launched an iconic brand called Kate Spade.


RAZ: The person behind the brand you know as Kate Spade grew up as Kate Brosnahan in Kansas City, Mo. And she always loved fashion, but she never planned to work in fashion. In fact, she wanted to be a journalist. So in the early 1980s, she went off to study journalism at Arizona State University. And that was where Kate met her future husband, Andy Spade.

K. SPADE: We worked together at a clothing store, and I was on the women's side. He was on the men's side. And one day, his car broke down (laughter), and he asked me for a ride home. And we really started off as really great friends.

A. SPADE: And the car continued to break down, so I think it nurtured our relationship along.

K. SPADE: (Laughter).

RAZ: And the rest of the story? Well, 30-plus years later, they're still together. Anyway, Kate graduated from college first. Andy was a few credits short. So she decided to backpack around Europe by herself.

K. SPADE: Traveled around and came back to New York and went to a temp agency because I desperately needed some money (laughter).

RAZ: Why did you want to move to New York?

K. SPADE: Well, it was kind of - I really was expecting to go back to Arizona to be with Andy, but that's where my ticket, it started and ended in New York. And I didn't have the money to get back, so I needed a job in order to do that. So I started at a temp place, and I was typing. And they said, I don't think this is going to work out. And then she called the next day and said, can you get ready right now?

Conde Nast called, and they have a job in the fashion department. So they ended up hiring me. They didn't want to because I couldn't type. And my boss said, listen, she's great, and I don't need her to type a lot because we were doing fashion shoots and styling, so it wasn't as, you know...

RAZ: Yeah. What were you doing at Conde Nast?

K. SPADE: Well, I started as an assistant. So I was tying, you know, models' shoes on a photo shoot because they couldn't bend over in their clothes, that or getting hairstylists Snickers. I'm telling you, whatever, I ironed and carried bags. And it was a lot of work (laughter), I'll say that.

RAZ: And meantime, Andy, you were back in Tempe at Arizona State University?

A. SPADE: I was back in Tempe. I was struggling with a few required courses. I think I had more credits than necessary, but there were a few that I couldn't get through. But I did start an advertising agency my senior year in college. And so I started trading ads for - bartering food. And so I'd go to a restaurant, for example, and I'd bring in the ad that they had running in the local paper.

And I would show it to them and say, I think I can do better. If I come back and show you a better version of this, will you either pay me in food or give me a few hundred dollars? I had, like, 10 takers, so I ended up with 10 accounts. I mean, things were going well.

RAZ: And, Kate, were you still planning to head back to Arizona at that point?

K. SPADE: Yes. And I kept saying, oh, I'm coming back. I will only stay here for six months. Well, first of all, it was three months. Then I moved it to six. And then finally I said, I have to be honest, I kind of like my job. I loved it. And I loved, you know, the fast pace of New York. And suddenly it just - I loved it.

A. SPADE: When she got her job offer for $14,000 a year, everything changed.

K. SPADE: (Laughter).

A. SPADE: She said, I'm staying. And that's when I said, well, I'm going to - I'm moving to New York.

RAZ: And you just figured, I'll find something there?

A. SPADE: Yeah. I figured I'd find something there. I had a little portfolio of advertisements that I'd written and art directed. And so I took that with me to New York in hopes of finding a job.

RAZ: And what, did you guys - did you, like, move in together?

K. SPADE: We did.

A. SPADE: I forwarded a little bit of money that I had to Kate for a security deposit on the cheapest apartment she could find. And I remember arriving, and Kate said, call me from a pay phone on the corner when you arrive and I'll get out on the fire escape. So I called, and I walked to 26 Renwick Street. And I looked up, and she was out on the fire escape, and she threw down a sock with a key in it.

K. SPADE: That is true (laughter).

A. SPADE: It's easier to throw it down than to walk.

RAZ: And you had, like, your, like, suitcase with you?

A. SPADE: I had one warm coat, a suitcase and a portfolio.

RAZ: Wow. And did you - Kate, I know you went to an all-girls Catholic high school.

K. SPADE: Yep.

RAZ: Did your parents have a problem with you living with Andy?

K. SPADE: They never really said much, but my mother was not pleased with it.

RAZ: Yeah.

K. SPADE: She was not pleased with it at all. But, I mean, I just kept saying it was a matter of economics (laughter). We were just being practical.

RAZ: So, Andy, did you actually land a job in advertising?

A. SPADE: I did. I was interviewing at a lot of programs like Y&R and Ogilvy & Mather, but my portfolio didn't reflect the kinds of accounts that were working on - cars and IBM. But one day, I was walking through Grand Central Station, and a young man in a suit pulled me over. I was carrying my portfolio. And he said, what do you do? And I said, well, I'm looking for a job as a copywriter.

And he said, do you have a minute? I said, sure. He said, I'd love to look at your portfolio. And we stopped in Grand Central Station, and he went through my portfolio. And he said, I think I might have something for you, I'm a recruiter - just happened to see me walking through Grand Central Station.

RAZ: (Laughter) Wow.

K. SPADE: Is that crazy?

RAZ: That's crazy, yeah.

A. SPADE: This is an honest to God true story. And he went through it. And he said, meet me in my office tomorrow, which I did. And he sent me on three or four interviews, one of which was an agency named Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt. And they had an opening for someone to work on the Army National Guard and Merrill Lynch. And he said, I know you haven't had any experience on these types of businesses, but I like your chutzpah. At the time, I didn't know what chutzpah meant until...


A. SPADE: ...I called someone and I said, what does it mean? And they said, oh, it means you have - you know, you took a chance starting your own business. It's a positive. And so I got that job.


RAZ: So - OK. So you guys are in your early 20s. You're living the New York life. Kate, you're working at Conde Nast.

K. SPADE: Right, at Mademoiselle magazine.

RAZ: At Mademoiselle magazine, which is pretty great actually.

K. SPADE: Yeah. It was amazing. I mean, my mom framed when they put my name in the masthead. She still has it framed (laughter).

RAZ: And what were you doing? What were you - what did you start to do there?

K. SPADE: Well, it was first assistant with the senior fashion editor. And then I was promoted to associate editor, and I was in charge of all the accessories. And I did that for a couple years. Then they promoted me to senior fashion editor. And if there's one thing I did learn, it was how to be very resourceful. And it came in very handy for when we started our business because, I mean, it was do not come back to me with no. I mean, you figure it out.

I mean, it would be we have to go on a shoot in two days and we need eight tickets to the Bahamas and figure out how to get us all there. I mean, if we're all on different airplanes, I don't care, but get us all there. And I was like - make it happen (laughter).

RAZ: So I guess it was sort of the early '90s, like, maybe 1991...

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: ...When you decided to leave Mademoiselle magazine.

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: What was going on? Why did you decide to go?

K. SPADE: It's funny. You know, Andy and I were talking one night. And I just said - I was looking ahead and I saw the fashion directors. That would be your next jump from being senior fashion editor. And I thought, I don't really see myself wanting that job. So Andy and I were out, honestly, at a Mexican restaurant.

And he just said, what about handbags? And I said, honey, you just don't start a handbag company. And he said, why not? How hard can it be? (Laughter) I thought, OK, really? He regrets those words.

RAZ: Why handbags, Andy?

A. SPADE: Well, she was an accessories editor. And she collected, you know, handbags for fashion shoots. That was one of her key responsibilities. So she'd have to get handbags from, you know, vintage stores, for beach shoots straw bags. She had a personal collection that was amazing. And then she knew every handbag company in the market. And I thought she understood it better than anyone. What's missing in the market?

RAZ: And what was missing in the market at the time, Kate?

K. SPADE: At the time, things were very - bags were too complicated. And I really loved very simple kind of architectural shapes. And I would wear these very simple shapes, none of which were famous designers. I mean, there were no names. If someone were to say, whose is that? I'd say, I don't know, I bought it at a vintage store or it's a straw bag I got in Mexico.

So - and they were all very square and simple. And I thought, gosh, I mean, why can't we find something just clean and simple and modern?

RAZ: So - OK. So about this time that you wanted to quit, you were thinking, like, I'm done with fashion magazines?

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: And Andy was like, you know bags, you know, like, why don't you try to do this on your own?

K. SPADE: Absolutely. He had actually said it before I quit, so I kind of already had it in the back of my mind. And I remember at the very beginning thinking, why didn't I stay? I could have made an income while I was working on this. And someone said to me the truth is you would never have done it had you stayed because I wouldn't have been as scrappy or as - I mean, you know, it was kind of, you know, do or die.

So I think if I'd still been working, I would have been, like, a little bit more lackadaisical about it, whereas when you don't have an income coming in, you're doing whatever you can to make it happen.

RAZ: So how did you even start to design handbags? I mean, you had no background in design. You didn't...

K. SPADE: Zero.

RAZ: How did you even know what to do and, like, what - and how to sew things and put rivets in and all that stuff?

K. SPADE: It's funny. I did not know. And I did start by buying big sheets of white paper. And I would cut out and tape, honestly, the shape that I wanted. And then I'd look at it and I'd make it shorter, smaller, cut it. And I went to a pattern maker that I found in the back of Women's Wear Daily. She advertised that she made patterns, so I contacted her. She worked out of her apartment. And she was as patient as could be with me because I didn't know anything.

And I remember being really embarrassed about that that, that I wasn't, you know, a student from Parsons or RISD or FIT, that I really didn't know what I was doing. And I honestly started with paper. Then we'd make a sample out of any kind of fabric - muslin. And then I kind of got the shape down, and I had to find a manufacturer. So I called Women's Wear Daily.

They connected me to a department that - they really said, we don't do that, but someone in the fashion department said, oh, it's so odd, I know someone. And he had left himself, this production guy, to start his own business.

RAZ: So was this guy that you found, was he a designer?

K. SPADE: He wasn't a designer. He was a manufacturer. So he did the production. And so I brought in my samples and he was like, OK, well, I want some money up front. And he really was very nervous that I wasn't going to pay him. And - but he took our tiny little production, honestly, which would be 10 bags at a time, you know.

RAZ: And how long after, like, you sort of started to sketch out designs was this? Was this like a few weeks later or months later? What - did you - were you working on this idea for a long time in your apartment?

K. SPADE: Yes. I mean, I'd say at least a year, Andy?

A. SPADE: Yeah, at least a year. And you were freelancing at night and certain days a week as a stylist. And, you know, after getting the patterns made, the next big challenge was finding someone who would sell us fabric. And because we didn't have any experience, none of the fabric houses would sell us anything other than a hundred yards, for example, right?

RAZ: And a hundred yards was obviously too much.

K. SPADE: Oh, yeah.

A. SPADE: Five hundred yards. We only needed to make six bags.

K. SPADE: (Laughter).

A. SPADE: We had six shapes. So we only needed probably 40 yards, 30 yards.

K. SPADE: Twenty, 25. So I called - I looked in the Yellow Pages, and I looked up burlap. And I found a potato sack company that was willing to sell to me. And they had three different, you know, weights. And I needed the heaviest weight so that it was, you know, substantial enough for a handbag. And that was actually our first collection.

RAZ: Made out of burlap?

K. SPADE: Made out of burlap.

RAZ: So what did the bags look like? Were they sort of - I'm imagining, like, brown burlap kind of rectangular little bags.

K. SPADE: Yes, absolutely, with raffia fringe and this webbing handle. And I found a webbing company also in the Yellow Pages (laughter).

RAZ: All right, so you get this - you get these samples. And then - what? - you - how do you get that - how do you start? What's the first thing you do?

K. SPADE: You go to these accessory shows.

RAZ: Trade shows.

K. SPADE: Trade shows. And you have to get accepted, and we did. And of course, you know, you're - you get the worst spot because all the famous people end up in the front.

RAZ: This was in New York, the first one?

K. SPADE: In New York at Javits Center.

RAZ: This was the first trade show, you went to debut the Kate Spade burlap bag.

K. SPADE: Yes. And we honest to God brought in our own tables, our own chairs. We brought in lamps...

A. SPADE: From our apartment.

K. SPADE: ...Books. Yeah.

A. SPADE: Our apartment actually - our booth turned into our apartment for the week, yeah.

K. SPADE: Basically.

RAZ: Were you guys nervous? I mean, Kate, were you, like, I don't know - were you worried that maybe somebody from Conde Nast would see you and you'd be a little embarrassed or somebody would sort of call you out and say, what are you - or who are you guys?

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: Were you freaking out?

K. SPADE: I was. I - because the editors come by as well as the buyers to the trade shows. And I really didn't tell my parents or my family about it or anyone for that matter because I thought, if it doesn't work, I will be so embarrassed because everyone kept saying, why would you have quit your job? You had insurance, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, who do you think you are? I just knew my family would just, you know, oh, you got a little hotheaded - big-headed there in New York and think you can start this company.

So I kept it on the down low.

A. SPADE: We intentionally didn't really talk about it much...

K. SPADE: Yes.

A. SPADE: ...To family because I think secretly we both thought it would fail.

RAZ: How did people respond to the bags?

K. SPADE: Well, I remember crying because when I came home, we hadn't even sold enough to cover the cost of the booth. And I started crying. And Andy said, well, who did you get? And I said, well, we got Barney's. And he said, OK. And I said, Fred Segal in Los Angeles, and he was like, right? And then it was - he goes, Katie, (laughter) he said, you've got two of the best stores in America, why are you crying?

I said, I think we should shut it down. I'm very conservative. And I said, I have no interest in losing money. I said, and we've - you know, we've already spent $4,000. That's it for me. I'm not a gambler. So that's where Andy was like, no, keep going. And also I have to give a great deal of credit to the editors. Now, at the time, we weren't selling a lot, but the editors were putting us in the magazines a lot.

RAZ: What was it about your bags that appealed to them or that got their attention?

K. SPADE: I think because they - it wasn't anything anyone was doing. And everyone - there is a fabric show in Paris called Premiere Vision that all the designers go to. So sometimes you can end up with the same materials. Mine came out of the Yellow Pages (laughter) so chances are I wasn't going to run into any people that had the same materials. So we were doing something different, which was really to our advantage.

RAZ: So editors were like, look at these beautiful burlap bags.

K. SPADE: Well, I don't know if they thought they were beautiful, but I knew they thought they were interesting (laughter).

RAZ: Yeah.

K. SPADE: And we did, we got a lot of credits. And that's when my mother first found out and she was embarrassed. And she called and said, you know, how embarrassing that you didn't tell me and my friend had to tell me. And I said, oh, you know, I don't know, I don't want to make a big deal of this. And, you know, OK, it's one credit, that's not a business (laughter), you know.

RAZ: How did you come up - how did you sort of land on the name Kate Spade?

K. SPADE: Well, that was Andy because we were - I was not Kate Spade. I was Kate Brosnahan. And I kept coming up with these names. And Andy kept saying Kate Spade because we were 50/50 partners. And finally I just said, OK. And everyone said, I love it, Kate Spade New York. And I remember telling - to your point about my Catholic parents - I told my mom.

Honestly, she burst into flames. And she was like, but you're not Kate Spade. And I said, I know, but - and she said, oh, now you'll never be Kate Spade, now you've, you know, you've jinxed it. And why would you name it Kate Spade? And I said, well, it's my first name, his last name, and it's like Dolce & Gabbana. And she goes, who the hell is that?


K. SPADE: And I said, never mind. I said it'll work, (laughter) we hope.


RAZ: In just a minute, why after three years of making no money, Kate and Andy almost walked away from their little handbag company. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.


RAZ: It's HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So when Kate and Andy debuted the original Kate Spade bag, they got orders from Barney's and Fred Segal. And that was a big deal in the world of fashion. But even with those orders, it didn't mean Kate and Andy were suddenly flush with cash or living large in New York. It wasn't even a guarantee that the company was going to be successful. In fact, Andy, he kept his full-time job in advertising.

A. SPADE: You know, paying the overhead...

K. SPADE: Yeah.

A. SPADE: ...Basically the rent and the other expenses, right?

K. SPADE: Absolutely.

A. SPADE: While Kate freelanced and started the company. And I just thought, well, we're both 29, 30 years old, and, you know, it's time to do it. We don't have children. Let's not quit. Even if we lose everything, you know, Kate can always go back to a fashion job. You know, I can continue to work in advertising.

RAZ: And you guys were running the company, like, out of your apartment?

K. SPADE: Well, we had to move to a loft in Tribeca because we were in a small apartment.

A. SPADE: Oh, that's right.

K. SPADE: Then we moved to a loft. We had boxes, honestly, Guy, everywhere to the point where our loft bed was up these stairs that we'd crawl up. The entire apartment was just a sea of brown boxes. But that sounds like we were doing very well, but...

RAZ: Yeah, yeah.

K. SPADE: ...It really wasn't. We were still...

RAZ: You were shipping out things from the apartment?

K. SPADE: Oh, yes, for at least two and a half years, you know.

A. SPADE: So Katie would take the train to Brooklyn to the factory, pick up the boxes, take them back on the subway...

K. SPADE: In trash bags.

A. SPADE: ...In trash bags, walk them up a five-floor walkup. And she was shipping and packing bags and doing everything and taking orders on the fax machine. I remember they'd come through in the middle of the night. We'd hear...

K. SPADE: Right.

A. SPADE: ...(Imitating fax machine), I'd go, good. We'd get excited (laughter).

K. SPADE: But the orders would not be that big because it was hard to - for people at that time to kind of - once they started selling, then you get bigger orders, so it was really very gradual. I mean, it was at least three years before we paid ourselves maybe 15,000 a year. I mean, it was...

A. SPADE: Fourth year we paid ourselves 15,000, and we were still working out of our apartment.

K. SPADE: Yes.

A. SPADE: And it was our home office and our shipping warehouse and our home.

RAZ: Did you start to see, in the first year or two, women walking around New York with Kate Spade bags?

K. SPADE: I did, most of whom were editors (laughter) who were getting them at a very good discount, so. But eventually we started to see it. And I remember thinking when I did, that was a big deal. And, you know, I think it took people a while. Even my family, my sister was working at Gucci and actually called me and said, we're all pitching in for mom for Mother's Day to get her a Gucci bag. And I thought, what? Are you serious?

RAZ: (Laughter).

A. SPADE: I remember that.

K. SPADE: Because they really didn't think it would be much. I still should be upset with them about that. Hopefully they're listening (laughter).

RAZ: So all the while you're shipping bags out, you're getting orders in, and you are still designing bags?

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: So you're working like crazy?

K. SPADE: We are. And - well, what we ended up doing was we took on two partners for sweat equity only. It was my friend Elyce Arons, my best friend since I was 18, and then Pamela Bell, someone that we just met through friends here in New York. So the three of us were in cars going to the factories. I was really doing the design only, but, you know, I also was steaming the bags, box and packing all of it.

RAZ: And how were you guys funding all of this? I mean, was it all with your own money?

A. SPADE: Yeah. I got a job offer to work for Saatchi & Saatchi in LA and I'd - I almost tripled my salary. And, you know, we were still funding the company ourselves. And we needed money for fabric, and we needed money for the trade shows. And so we both agreed that I would go to LA.

RAZ: Oh, Andy, you did move to LA?

K. SPADE: Oh, he did. And I thought I could go back and forth, and at the time, Elyce and Pamela would hold down the New York part and I would do - FedEx in all my designs and materials, and...

A. SPADE: I rented a little house that I called the house I never lived in. And I never bought a piece of furniture. And I just took the money and sent it, you know, put it back into the business.

RAZ: Did you ever hit a point in the first few years where you thought this was going to collapse, this was going to fail?

K. SPADE: Yes. And I remember calling back to Elyce and Pamela in New York. And I said, I think we need to shut it down. I said, it's...

RAZ: Wow. Were you guys, like, in debt or?

K. SPADE: It was hard. I mean, it was - we were still not making any money. Nobody was making a salary. We were - Andy was funding everything. And at that point, we were all kind of putting money in. Pamela would put in some, Elyce. And I just remember thinking, oh, again. It's like - oh.

A. SPADE: We had run through our 401(k) money and, you know, all of our savings at that point. We still weren't seeing, you know, a progression that was going to pay us a salary in the next year - in the near future. And we thought, all right, we had a good run at it. And I think we called the partners who we brought in as equity partners on a handshake without any salary, and we said, we think we've had it 'cause we were exhausted.

And they said, well, we just left to start with you. And, you know...

K. SPADE: Right.

A. SPADE: ...We haven't had any returns on our time...

RAZ: Yeah.

A. SPADE: We've put in to - the deal's not, you know...

K. SPADE: That's true.

A. SPADE: ...Not working. So we felt like we can't just walk out. And I remember we spoke and said, all right, we're going to go back.


RAZ: Do you remember what year that was?

K. SPADE: I'm trying to think - '95?

A. SPADE: '95, '96 - '95 probably - '95. And I did get another job in New York, a great job, actually. And so...

RAZ: But still, the company was not making money?



RAZ: Not profitable.


RAZ: What was the turning point? What happened?

K. SPADE: I would say the stores really started to buy more. We were in Saks and Neiman's. And when the larger department stores started to buy, it kind of really took off. And we won the CFDA award, which is the Council of Fashion Designers of America. And there were reporters from around the country, not just New York, at the show. They were saying, you know, oh, my - who is this? And so that really, really helped us a great deal, I have to say.

A. SPADE: That was the award that, you know, most, you know, small American designers didn't win at the time. It was usually, you know, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, all those people. And I remember, Kate, when we came back to New York and we were hoping something would happen, that either Neiman's or Saks, they were buying for two or three stores. And they said, we're going to buy for all of our stores.

RAZ: Wow.

A. SPADE: And that was 50 stores or more than 50 stores, and that quadrupled our business.

K. SPADE: But what you have to realize is when that happens, although it's very good, you also have to upfront pay for the production. They don't pay you for 30 to 60 days. So I remember thinking, how are we going to afford this? But we never borrowed a dime ever.

RAZ: Was there something that you guys did, like a business decision that you made that was the key to turning this around, or was it just more people started to discover it and you just - you had just persevered through those rough years and then it finally just kind of on its own, you know, got discovered?

K. SPADE: That's exactly what happened. I mean, it really was just kind of a little bit of a snowball effect, you know, just got a little bigger and a little bigger and a little bigger. And I think at the point where the larger department stores were picking us up, I think then we realized - I think we have a business here. We loved it. We kept getting larger and larger spaces in the stores, which is very important.

You know, at first, you're on a tiny little table, then maybe you get a few bigger space on shelves. And the next thing you know, you have store and store - shop and shop is what they call them where your name is above it really big (laughter).

RAZ: Yeah, how did you feel about that, to see your - to walk into a fancy, you know, store and see your name there?

K. SPADE: I think it was more fun for my mom, actually (laughter). But it was a lot of fun. I have to say, in the opening of stores - you know, we'd opened a store in SoHo, tiny little 300-square-foot store. And the next thing you know, we're opening at a bigger store in New York and then we're opening in Los Angeles and Chicago. And, you know, it was kind of - at that point, it became a little dizzying and a bit of a whirlwind, but it was fun.

RAZ: And so at some point, you guys sold a part of the company. And was that to sort of scale up or, like, to make it even bigger?

K. SPADE: You know, it was also a safety net, quite honestly, for us personally. And it was Neiman Marcus. And we thought, that would be somebody that would be in a position to help us.

RAZ: And they bought a little bit more than 50 percent of the company at the time.

K. SPADE: They did. They bought 56 percent.

RAZ: And reportedly, for more than $30 million. Was that just insane to you guys when it happened?

K. SPADE: Yes, it was (laughter).

A. SPADE: They were, I think, our biggest client or store at the time. And we were doing very well with them. And they had just started investing in other little brands that they thought had potential. And, yeah, when they came to us, we were completely in shock.

K. SPADE: Yeah.

A. SPADE: And it was exciting because we thought, wow, if everything goes away tomorrow, you know, we'll be able to sustain the business. I mean, if...

K. SPADE: I mean, it was really about, you know, being able to have a bit of a nest egg going forward for the four of us.

RAZ: And then what did that mean when Neiman Marcus bought more than half? How did it change Kate Spade?

K. SPADE: We started going into more categories because they were encouraging that, which a lot of the stores - not just Neiman's, you know, it was Saks - all of them were really encouraging us to branch out into other categories. So we did stationery next, which - that was right when the phones and emails and all that were replacing people writing notes.

And people came to us and they said, well, when we said another category, we didn't mean, you know, a dying category. So I think what they were implying was shoes. They really wanted some real substantial second categories or third, fourth. So then we started doing shoes. And it really just started, you know, I think it was just a good boost.

RAZ: And, I mean, you guys probably had to go from you and Andy and your two partners to lots of employees quickly, right?

K. SPADE: We did, but we had done that actually, you know, in the process slowly, slowly changing, you know, offices. And we'd take a floor, and then we'd take another floor in the building. And then we started hiring people, PR and...

A. SPADE: We started hiring departments.

K. SPADE: ...Different departments and production people and then hiring people that had more experience. So I really had a lot of people around. And Andy did - Andy really surrounded himself with a really great art department. And I really had great designers with me. And I think we really developed employees that were amazing.

RAZ: When did you start to see Kate Spade bags all over the place? Like, because of course it became a huge iconic brand. When did you first kind of realize that that was the case?

K. SPADE: I'd say it was about '97. It was still very New York though, I must say, very New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. I think it was about '98 or - where you would see them, you know, in any city that you went to.

A. SPADE: And counterfeits started around '96.

K. SPADE: That was about - yes, the counterfeits.

A. SPADE: We started seeing them on Canal Street.

K. SPADE: Which Andy said that's actually a compliment. He said, you know you're doing something right when they're on every blanket on every street corner.

A. SPADE: And I think we celebrated for a day, and then the next day that was over.


RAZ: You guys sold the rest of your share of Kate Spade, I guess, in around 2007 and kind of just walked away from it. Why did you decide to do that?

K. SPADE: So we had a baby in 2005. And I just remember thinking it was a perfect opportunity. And I think the point was that Neiman Marcus at the time was selling themselves to Texas Pacific, and they involved us. And I must give them a lot of credit for that. But when we sold, I remember thinking, now it's kind of like we have a boss.

And I remember thinking, I want to leave on good terms. It was a perfect time to leave. I wanted to spend time with my daughter. It was - you've heard so many horror stories about people who sell and then they stay and then they fight and then they sue. And I just thought, that's too ugly for me. So we left on great terms. We stayed, we did a turnover for a year I think we were there.

A. SPADE: Yeah, a transition to make sure...

K. SPADE: Yes.

A. SPADE: ...All the employees who we loved had agreements to carry on and, you know, making sure everyone understood what the process was. And...

K. SPADE: And they understood, the new owners understood. And they were very gracious. And I think we all handled it very well. And it was seamless. It was a very quiet exit (laughter).

RAZ: Do you guys - I mean, you guys obviously have this incredibly strong marriage. I mean, you met when you were college students.

K. SPADE: I know.

RAZ: You're still together. You have a - you created this - these amazing brands. And how do you (laughter) - how do you have a marriage and a business and make it work?

K. SPADE: I mean, I'll say from my perspective, I remember people saying, how do you work together? And I was thrilled. And Andy one day said, listen - I said, oh, wait up, wait up, I'm not ready yet. And he said, oh, no, no, let me tell you right now. If you think that every day we're going to go to the office together, and we're going to have lunch together...


K. SPADE: ...He said that's not happening. We actually worked on separate floors for that very reason because I had a tendency to go into his office. And he'd be on the phone and I'd say, get off the phone I have something to tell you or ask you. And that - we had to really - I had to myself find boundaries. And we had to make a conscious effort not to talk about it 24/7, which is - as you can tell by how quickly I talk - my tendency. And I also am very - a nervous person. I worry a lot. And Andy could not be more different (laughter).

RAZ: You have - you were, like, the sleepless nights person?

K. SPADE: Yes. And always, you know, the sky is falling. And Andy was like, oh, you know, it's fine.

A. SPADE: And I think that because we kind of grew up together, you know...

K. SPADE: Yes.

A. SPADE: ...From our 20s up until now in our 50s. And we actually have a lot in common, which helps.


RAZ: You guys recently launched a new company together. You call it Frances Valentine.

K. SPADE: Yes.

RAZ: And, Kate, you changed your name from Kate Spade to Kate Valentine?

K. SPADE: I did. Well, I added it. I didn't change it. I just added Frances Valentine into it.

RAZ: Yeah.

K. SPADE: So it's very - it's Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade. (Laughter) It's, like, pretty long.

RAZ: Did you do it in part because Kate Spade had become its own thing and beyond a single person?

K. SPADE: Yes. And I thought it was important to make sure that we weren't stepping on any toes, and that we distinguished our company. And I think that was important for both of us. I mean, people still call me Kate Spade. I go by it, but I get confused myself so you can call me Frances if you want.


RAZ: And can you tell me about Frances Valentine? What does the company do?

K. SPADE: We are doing shoes and handbags. And we actually, when we started, it was initially just shoes. And although we've only been in business for...

A. SPADE: Not a year - just a year.

K. SPADE: ...A little over a year, but we've realized that people were expecting bags.

RAZ: And, I mean, now you're, I mean, it's a little bit different - right? - because the hunger is - I'm sure it's still there, but it's not like a do or die thing. Like, it must be, but I don't know, is it less stressful?

A. SPADE: We have air conditioning. I think that's a big difference, right?

K. SPADE: (Laughter).

A. SPADE: Elevators and air conditioning.

K. SPADE: Exactly. I would say there's - it's both. I feel a little more confident. I think Andy feels the same because we've done it before. But on the same hand, you think that people are expecting a great deal. So there's still a lot of pressure, trust me. And we're self-financing again, so I'm not crazy about, as I mentioned earlier, losing any money (laughter). So, you know, this thing better work.

RAZ: Do you - when you walk past a Kate Spade shop today or see a bag, do you feel emotion - an emotional attachment to it, or is it sort of, like, well, you know, that's a different thing now?

K. SPADE: It's funny because I do look at it, and I don't - people have said, oh, do you have any regrets? And I remember thinking, oh, I hope I don't, and I never have. And I think they've done such a good job that luckily I don't have to have. And we do walk by the stores. And I have a funny story that we actually walked into a store to buy my daughter something.

And we went to the cash register, and she said, are you on our mailing list? And I said, I don't think so. And so then I used my maiden name. And I said - she said Brosnahan. And then my daughter kind of kept nudging me. She was dying for me to say something, and I didn't. And then I remember thinking, you know, no, I'm not on your mailing list, but I think I helped create it (laughter).

RAZ: That's the end scene of your movie?

K. SPADE: Yes.


RAZ: You're in a Kate Spade store and they're asking you if you're on the mailing list.

A. SPADE: We were looking for the ending. Thank you. That's - oh, my God, let me take a note.

K. SPADE: Right (laughter).

RAZ: That's Kate and Andy Spade. And, by the way, if you've ever heard of Jack Spade bags for men, Kate and Andy were behind those two. And, no, Jack is not a real person, just a cool name.

K. SPADE: I mean, honestly, people constantly are saying, you know Jack and Kate Spade - right? - or you know Kate and Jack Spade. And then I don't want to embarrass them, but I'll say, oh, you mean Andy. And they're like, oh, Andy? And they're like...

A. SPADE: Too complicated.

K. SPADE: ...Are you divorced? Who's - where's Jack? (Laughter).


RAZ: And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear about the things you're building.


RAZ: Hey, thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today, we're going to bring you an update to the story of how Dennis Darnell solved a problem we can probably all relate to.

DENNIS DARNELL: You know, when I used to get home, you'd come in the house and there'd be that one fly flying around. You'd have no idea how it got in there, but it's flying around and it's bugging you.

RAZ: I think we can all relate to that problem. Anyway, one summer day in San Diego where Dennis lives, he and his wife Joylyn were sitting in the kitchen and they were watching a fly buzz all around.

DARNELL: We sat there and watched it trying to get into the garbage can. And one of us said, why don't we drill a hole in the lid and let it in but put a trap on the underside of the lid?

RAZ: And that is how the Garbage Can Fly Trap was born. Flies, of course, love garbage, so Dennis designed this trap where you drill a hole in the lid of your garbage can and then you pop in this little plastic doorway for the fly.

DARNELL: But there's also a second part, which is the cartridge, which is lined with flypaper. And so while the fly thinks it's going down into the garbage can, it actually walks into the disposable cartridge and becomes stuck.

RAZ: And once the cartridge gets full with, like, you know, 100 flies, you don't have to look at them or touch anything sticky or gross. Instead...

DARNELL: You just push the button on the lid and the cartridge falls into the garbage can.

RAZ: That's Dennis Darnell. Since we first spoke to him a little over a year ago, he started selling his products on Amazon. He and his wife are still selling the original fly traps. But Dennis says their best-selling product is a pet waste bin that comes with a fly trap. And last year, their sales jumped from $300 to 25,000. Hey, if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. We love hearing what you're up to. And thanks as well for listening to our show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to how howibuiltthis.npr.org.

Please also subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can also write us at HIBT@npr.org. You can tweet us. That's @HowIBuiltThis. Our show is produced this week by Casey Herman. Ramtin Arablouei composed our music. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Dayana Mustak. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.

[Clarification: A previous version of this transcript identified Kate Spade, formally known as Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade, as Kate Valentine. For clarity purposes, we’ve updated the transcript to identify her consistently as Kate Spade, the fashion brand she is known for creating.]

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