Kate Spade: The Woman Who Helped Young Women Enter Adulthood

By Ann Varner

My first Kate Spade bag was a bright blue, square-shaped purse with green polka dots on the inside. I still have this bag as it’s my favorite. The color and shape are so unique that everywhere I go I receive compliments and the question “where did you get that?” I usually tell them my secret – the Kate Spade surprise sale. This sale was the only way I could afford a Kate Spade bag. All the clearance items would be an extra 75% off. I could always get a bag for under $100 that was big enough to hold everything I needed it to. My Kate Spade bag gave me all the confidence in the world when I was 20-years-old and learning how to navigate life. I had just moved to a city where I knew no one and was figuring out what to do with my life, and this bag symbolized my quest to find myself.  I was learning what it meant to be an independent woman in today’s world and that bag helped me grow from adolescence into young adulthood.

Many young women like me felt the same way. According to a recent article in The New York Times: “Buying a Kate Spade handbag was a coming-of-age ritual for a generation of American women. The designer created an accessories empire that helped define the look of an era. The purses she made became a status symbol and a token of adulthood.” No truer words have been written.

Kate Spade, with her husband Andy Spade, launched the Kate Spade label in 1993. Her bags were quirky, much like her smile. They had bright colors and fun designs that made people smile. Unlike other designer bags, Kate Spade bags were affordable and women of all different economic classes could afford to have one of their own. All Kate Spade bags have their own personality, and it was easy to find one that matched your own. Unlike many of the male purse designers in the world who created neutral colored purses with large logos, Kate Spade knew what women wanted to carry around. She became one of the first women entrepreneurs in the fashion world with a high rise to success. A great quote in the Atlantic sums up what Kate Spade did for women:

“Working in an industry largely run by men, Spade didn’t invent the idea of the professional woman who also cared about style; she was just responding to the reality of what women were already doing…she solved the problem of what women wanted without elitism.”

Kate Spade is a Kansas City native. Born and raised in Kansas City, we are proud to call her our own. She also contributed to the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City after her friend suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her impact on the fashion world showed that a girl from the Midwest could become a fashion mogul in New York City.  Her red lipstick and smile will be dearly missed. I encourage you to not focus on how she passed away, but on her successes in life.

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