At the risk of stating the obvious, the clothes we wear matter. And not just in the sense of sartorial splendour and self-expression, but for those across the supply chain and beyond working towards a more sustainable fashion future. To celebrate these creatives putting people and planet first, we’ve introduced a digital series called Nice Rack! (…get it) so we can go behind the seams with some of our favourite sustainable brands, together.
After years of working in the industry, Sydney-based fashion designer Kate Ford launched her eponymous resortwear label mid-pandemic. Ideated with an overarching philosophy of creating bravely and treading lightly, her pieces are ethically made in fair trade factories with a direct focus on sustainably sourced natural fabrics. Think billowing sleeves, romantic prints and an adventurous spirit and you’ll be instantly transported to the KATE FORD world.
above KATE FORD
Tell us about yourself…
I am Kate Ford, founder and creative director of the Australian women’s resortwear brand KATE FORD. I am Sydney-based and recently a new mother of my beautiful twin babies, Ryder and Dakota. I grew up in the small town of Camden, southwest of Sydney where I completed high school and shortly after enrolled in a Bachelor of Design in Fashion Design at Whitehouse Institute of Design in Surry Hills. Since then, I have risen through the ranks of numerous prominent Australian design houses, gaining rigorous training, invaluable experiences and countless passport stamps, all of which have shaped the essence of KATE FORD.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
I have built KATE FORD as a sustainable brand due to ‘sustainability’ being much more than a green label. It’s an attitude, a practice and a commitment to keep learning and improving everything we do for people, place and planet. The fashion industry accounts for a staggering percentage of the world’s landfill, and we’re passionate about combating that by minimising waste at every touch point of our processes. From conception, all KATE FORD womenswear has been made with natural fabrics sourced sustainably from the earth, such as cotton, silk, ramie, and linen, with synthetic fibres only taking up two percent of our fabrications – only used on pleated styles for functional reasons.
It’s an attitude, a practice and a commitment to keep learning and improving everything we do for people, place and planet.
I personally have visited every fair trade factory we work with. Meeting the makers and seeing first-hand how the whole manufacturing process operates from end-to-end on the ground is incredibly important to me and the ethical credentials of the brand. I am a big advocate for handmade items and this is why we love to work directly with artisans who are extremely talented in many fields and KATE FORD is dedicated to sharing their wonderful work with the world and the consumer.
When did you know you wanted to get into fashion?
I grew up in an artistic and sporty household, surrounded by painting, sewing and sport. My older sister and I were constantly playing dress-ups in our mother’s clothes or we were being run around by our parents to after-school sports and competition weekends. I was either going to go down the path of sport or an artistic direction but I was more drawn to a fashion design path based on how passionate I was about creative subjects in school.
During my time at the Whitehouse Institute of Design, my first brand began as a university project, hand-making delicate lingerie using offcuts of vintage French lace, but quite quickly became an international success and it pushed me into the industry at age 20. I guess you can say I never looked back after this!
Why were you inspired to start your label and what continues to inspire you as a designer?
I felt as though I was not completely happy in a job I ever had in design. Even though I absolutely loved what I was doing, my cup was never full. I was constantly reminded how amazing the company I was working for was from outsiders and I had worked for Australia’s top designers, but I always felt something was missing. I lacked the freedom of creating to my own brief, not following someone else’s vision, and designing according to a plan. I wanted my own hours and my own creative freedom – I also wanted to be my own boss. COVID hit and it felt as though it was the right time to take a break and follow my heart. My cup has now been filled and just keeps getting fuller. I am extremely grateful for the company and brand I have created as well as the experience I gained throughout my career.
Even though I absolutely loved what I was doing, my cup was never full. I was constantly reminded how amazing the company I was working for was from outsiders and I had worked for Australia’s top designers, but I always felt something was missing.
How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices within your brand?
We love exploring talent in the communities that do not have the opportunity to express their artistic skills on a high scale such as the artisans in India who hand-make all of our crochet garments and belts. We also work with organic and sustainable fibres that do not use harsh chemicals for manufacturing or dyeing processes as well as not buying stock fabrics or items where we are not sure of the original origin or how they were processed or by whom.
We are very cautious about working with new factories as I personally need to inspect all our factories and working conditions. We’re constantly trialling new ways to source and manufacture.
Experience and knowledge are two things I can forever take with me on the sustainable path, educating others as well as making a difference by bringing out a resortwear brand that follows the same beliefs and ethics as I personally do.
Tell us about any standout moments in your career…
It would have to be becoming a working mum to not one but two babies! I am always so used to the ‘go, go, go’ and was focussing solely on my career and launching my business. Although I was working on launching KATE FORD in the back end for a year, I found out two weeks prior to the launch that I was pregnant with twins! I spent the year getting employees and practices in place to help the business continue while I found my feet being a new mum, although the twins decided to come six weeks early! I then found myself working in the hospital the minute I gave birth. It hasn’t stopped but I can say maternity leave does not exist when you’re your own boss, ha! Although I would not change it for the world, it’s safe to say I am still ‘go, go, go’ just in different ways.
Although I was working on launching KATE FORD in the back end for a year, I found out two weeks prior to the launch that I was pregnant with twins!
What are your favourite pieces to wear?
Who are a few of your favourite local designers?
I am still a sucker for AJE and Sir; they’re true to their roots and such influential Australian brands.
What do you think needs to change in the Australian fashion landscape?
I think there are a lot of brands making some great steps and changes to support in helping to build a sustainable future. Although the biggest issue I still see is fast fashion and the fast fashion brands that are popping up daily that the consumer is still buying into due to the lower price point, which really does disappoint me. The reason being is that you are not able to understand where the product has come from, who has made it or how/where the materials have been sourced from which does cause a lack of connection to the product you are purchasing. In saying that, we need to be open-minded and continue to educate ourselves in order to grow and pivot as needed. This is something that needs to change overall in the industry so that we’re collectively lessening our footprint both locally and globally.