What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion accessory design?
I was always intrigued by the transformative effect fashion had on people and how it could make people happy. Designing accessories was a way for me to create an object of desire that was ageless and size-less because with a handbag or a clutch, one size fits most.
What was your previous work experience before launching your brand?
I had worked for a clothing company for several years before I had the gumption to start my own business. Working in the garment center in New York taught me so much.
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
I worked in retail while I was still in school. It gave me a great insight into what women were looking for and the psyche behind so many buying decisions.
If you had to interview for a new job what would you wear today?
I would wear something that evoked confidence, style and a hint of color and pattern.
What was the toughest circumstance you overcame when just starting out your business?
When you’re starting out, everything is an opportunity and it’s difficult to prioritize which to do first and what to invest your money in. Making sure you have enough cash flow is the biggest challenge.
"I always look for an open personality with an innate sense of style and someone who has a ‘can do’ attitude."
How is working in the fashion industry different today than from when you started out?
When I started, I had no other option than to go with a wholesale model. We did all the trade shows in New York and some in Europe. You were at the mercy of buyers and editors; their whims and decisions. Now, with the advent of having my own e-commerce platform I am able to promote and sell my collection directly to the consumer. I still sell to a few select wholesale accounts because you need to have a diversified source of income.
How important is social media to your brand?
Social media has been a game changer. Now you can communicate directly with your customer. She can tell me almost immediately if she loves something and even better, she can buy directly with just a few taps.
What is one thing you look for when interviewing a potential candidate for your company?
I always look for an open personality with an innate sense of style and someone who has a ‘can do’ attitude. In a small company you have to wear different hats simultaneously. Some people welcome the juggle and some people do not. A lot of talent is a plus too.
How would you describe your personal style?
I have been nicknamed ‘Prints Charming’ because I love wearing prints all year round -from vintage tropical in the summer to muted paisley in the winter.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Confidence and insecurity. Some days I am so sure of myself and some days I have nothing but doubt. It keeps life interesting and wheels turning.
"Someone once said to me that wearing a Rafe bag made her happy. Isn’t that the ultimate compliment?"
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I love the whole process from coming up with ideas, sketching them and putting together a collection, seeing the samples and marketing them, and ultimately seeing someone wear your design. That’s when it all comes together for me.
How do you want your customer to feel when wearing your accessories?
I design accessories that should make a woman smile. Someone once said to me that wearing a Rafe bag made her happy. Isn’t that the ultimate compliment?
Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?
Inspiration is everywhere. I have so many sources; a memory, an art piece, a movie, someone I just met or somewhere I’ve been. Nothing escapes my eye and it all gets stored away in my visual memory bank.
What other designers/brands inspire you? Why?
I have always admired visionaries who marched to the beat of their own drum. Dries Van Noten, Rei Kawakubo, Azzedine Alaia, Martin Margiela, Phoebe Philo and Miuccia Prada. Each and every one of them followed their point of view and led by doing not following.
Do you see your brand ever expanding into a different avenue? Why or why not?
I would love to be able to extend my brand into other lifestyle categories like home accessories. The materials I work with all naturally translate to items for the home. I think it would be an obvious evolution.
"Know what makes you different. Don’t be afraid to fail."
Are you passionate about something other than fashion?
I have recently discovered the joys of gardening and I am hooked. I have been watching gardening shows nonstop and have become a regular at the local nursery.
There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. How do you personally try to achieve this?
I have learned over the years to follow my instincts, go with flow and not succumb too much to the pressure. My customers know what they’re going to get when they come see my collection. I aim to surprise them with newness without walking away from what they love me for.
What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
Know what makes you different. Know your target audience. Make sure your manufacturing and sourcing is reliable. Secure your financing. Don’t be afraid to fail.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
I think my biggest accomplishment is that I remain enthusiastic and passionate about designing accessories after over 25 years in business. I truly enjoy it and that is something I am thankful for.
How would you define the Rafe customer?
The Rafe customer is sophisticated and eclectic, adventurous and open-minded. She’s not afraid of standing out from the crowd. She’s confident with her sense of style and isn’t beholden to only wearing major brands. She enjoys mixing high street with high fashion.