Today’s kickass chick is someone I only met last year, but who blew me away with her ideas and philosophy about life and business.
Kate Zarboch is the owner and head designer at Escargot, a brand of children’s swimwear and clothing. I met her at a party, where she told me her history – jetting around the world as a designer for Bonds and Berlei only to give it all up to follow her passion.
It can’t be easy trying to get a foothold in the fashion market, but Kate was determined. I love how she works hard and is so in love with her job. She is just the sweetest, most generous girl and I’ve stayed in contact with her ever since that afternoon party sipping champagne on the lawn.
I wanted to know how she went from flying to Italy on the company dime for “inspiration” to crying herself to sleep at night, desperate to make her dream a reality. I mean, that takes guts, right? To take that leap and come up against setback after setback. I’ve learned so much from her very wise words, and I hope you do too. Say hi to Kickass Kate!
What do you do?
My Job is to create the cutest swimwear and baby suits in the whole world to make kids smile! I am the boss of our little Empire: a kids brand called Escargot… which means I pretty much do everything involved in the business – admin, sales, dispatch, marketing, what ever it takes and most importantly, my favourite job is to design the collection as the creative director!
Why do you do it?
I have loved designing for as long as I can remember. I was the 3-year-old hand-sewing outfits for my dolls, and kids wear has always been my passion. I was thrilled to create collection for Speedo and Bonds during my career, but nothing beats the smiles when a little girl puts on an escargot swimsuit for the very first time and squeals with delight… mummy it has a tutu! …or a newborn baby snuggles in to the comfort of one of our Milk Cotton Baby suits. I developed this brand to bring the most beautiful, colourful collection to life for kids around the world to enjoy
How did it start?
I was working as a designer at Berlei designing lingerie and while I loved that, I wasn’t jumping out of bed with excitement about designing bras each day. My boss kept saying “every time you design a bra it is hot pink…where is the nude, wheres the black?”. I worked up the courage to quit my job and walk away from the security of great wages and a full time job, to follow my dream which was designing kids wear again. Berlei had a big farewell party for me and the next morning at 6am I flew out to Tokyo and LA to get inspired, and Escargot was born!
It turns our Berlei couldn’t live without me so hired me back as a part time freelancer two weeks later and I had the best of both worlds, a paying job while following my dream to build Escargot.
Were you scared, or did you know it had that certain something that would see it through?
I was more excited than scared. I had tried and failed with a street wear business when I first left college – there were three guys and me and we were going to take over the world with the original Escargot Brand! After two years of a hard slog and not much to show for it we went our separate ways.
I always thought “oh its just hard because we are new to the fashion industry”, but what I realised after working for some Aussie top brands was they have the same challenges and find it just as hard, but on a much larger scale. I knew in my heart if I could stay strong and never give up, I could certainly achieve my dreams of having an international brand this time around.
Has it ever gone through a period where you were discouraged? Did you ever think of giving up? What did you do?
There have been many times where I was discouraged along the way – We celebrated with Champagne our very First Order Ever back in 2011!!….That customer has never paid to this day.
David Jones said “no” to stocking Escargot three years in a row. I flew over to launch our collection in New York and cried myself to sleep the first night from lack of orders. It is heartbreaking to have setbacks when you put in so much effort, but I never thought of giving up and truly believe the effort you put in shows up in the most interesting places.
David Jones placed an order the very next year, The Barney’s New York buyer visited our Stand at the NY trade fair the very next day, and commented how lovely the collection was, and we now have 70 amazing Aussie stores and 15 intentionally who stock our brand and always pay!
How do you make it work with your daily life?
The first few years of Escargot were fast paced working out of our share house in Redfern Sydney, our flatmates had to live with Hula Huts, fabrics and so many boxes of stock in the lounge room (escargot warehouse) we could no longer see the TV!
Then we moved to the country for a change of pace , back to where my husband and I grew up. The stress of building a kids wear empire is now offset by the beautiful fresh air and country life. While I probably work even harder now – hard work surrounded by family, bushland, border collies, and my lamb Eski (who is now a large sheep who thinks she is a dog), makes for the perfect balance.
Would you recommend this work/way of life to someone else?
I think fashion and country living give me the perfect life and I recommend it to anyone, as long as you are passionate about it. It for the most part is a hard slog mixed with glimpses of amazing things that remind you why you started. Working in a creative industry needs to be a labour of love and then it does eventually pay off!
What is the best piece of work advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of work advise is from a book I read by Poppy King – Lessons of a Lipstick Queen – she says ” Luck is just a point where preparation meets opportunity”, and this is so true. Throughout my whole career and business life I have noticed, whatever effort and preparation you put in always comes back (not always in the way you think!) and when you hit a certain point you don’t even need to look the opportunities keep coming every day. Never give up!
Vegemite or peanut butter?
Vegemite Toast for sure!
Don’t you just love that mindset? I’m getting “the effort you put in shows up in the most interesting places” embroidered on a pillow or something. It’s so true, but something I always forget. Thanks, Kate!