Q&A Interview with kate spade CEO Craig Leavitt and CCO Deborah Lloyd
Back in February, I moderated a panel at FIT on Creating Sustainabl
BACKGROUND ON THE SOCIAL ENTERPRISE PARTNERSHIPS:
How did the partnership with Women for Women International ("WFWI") originate?
DL: The founders of our brand had been working in a very small way with some women from the program in Bosnia, doing hand knit goods. When we started looking around for an organization to support, we realized we already had one- we just needed to make the program more formal and robust.
How many years have you been producing social enterprise-made products?DL: Like I said earlier, the brand has been making a few pieces for some time before Craig and I came to the brand, but our formal agreement with Women for Women started in 2009 when we founded the Hand in Hand program.
DESIGN / CREATIVE INSPIRATION:
Where do you find your greatest source of inspiration? Is there anything that stands out in your mind?
DL: We were just in Rwanda in December and the colors and the way women mix these brilliant bright colors and bold patterns was so inspiring. I loved the way that they‘d be wearing 3 crazy bright contrasting patterns all at once- one on their skirt, one on their top and one on their head wrap. It was jaw dropping. Really beautiful and so organic.
DL: Yes- absolutely. We often send members of our design and production team to the countries, to help train the women and to ensure a certain level of quality.
DL: I really just try to take in my environment- wherever I am. I am constantly inspired by what is around me and then I share that with my design team and our women artisans.
How did you gain buy-in / build the business case for the program?
CL: Both Deborah and I felt so passionately about this project, that it really didn’t take much convincing for the rest of our team.
From my experience, merchandising dept. is most difficult, because there are competing interests. What are your strategies to gain buy-in from that team?
DL: Luckily, our head of merchandising is equally passionate about this project personally, so it wasn’t too hard.
DL: There are so many things that we have found to be difficult. Sourcing the raw materials in country has been very difficult, quality control is tough. We struggle with our costing and margins as well. It’s all hard- but worth it!
CL: I think we underestimated how much we would need to invest in marketing the program and educating the press and consumers about the collection. It really is tricky and you need to put the time and the resources behind making sure your message is clear.
DL: Don’t be afraid to get on the ground and really dig into the communities to find out what their real needs are.
THE WAY FORWARD:
How has the industry changed or advanced since the beginning of your involvement? What needs to change?
CL: Because the manufacturing industries are so young in most of these countries, any advances we make felt like leaps and bounds. So yes- they are changing, but there is still a long way to go.
DL: How ambitious most of these women are. They are driven and they want to work hard and to provide for their families. They are also incredibly positive- true optimists, despite overcoming horrific circumstances.
CL: We are looking to evolve our program and are in the process of doing so now. No news yet - more to come!