Cinderella …proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life
When I joined the wonderful world of Instagram a mere few months ago, I quickly came to discover it as a goldmine from which to unearth the unique talents of designers, many of whom keep their handmade businesses in careful balance with their roles as Mum. One such creative individual to cross my virtual path was Kate Corleison, baby bootie-maker extraordinaire and owner of PAPERKRANE, whose stylish vision and flair for the unexpected instantly peaked my excitement.
This left-handed design-dynamo heralds from the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand, but it was her time spent in South Korea which set her on the path to PaperKrane. Immersed in Korean culture, where footwear is strictly divided between indoor and outdoor, Kate began to see a seed of an idea forming that lay somewhere between her comfortably soft elasticated indoor slippers and the rainbow Adidas slip-on’s she wore as outdoor shoes. The South-East Asian influence didn’t end there, from design inspiration to marketability, Kate’s newfound passion for origami saw the mobiles she crafted as decorations at her own wedding fly out the door with baby-toting friends. “That was kind of where I went from as a starting point for PaperKrane. The ease and shape and bright colours,” says Kate. “I thought about taking those things I could do and making a brand for babies.”
Wanting to utilise her background in art and design upon leaving Korea and laying down new roots in Melbourne, Kate’s business began to take shape. “I was thinking about dream jobs, as you do when your mind wanders… which may have included dreaming of shoes, high tops in particular,” she says. “I’m the first to admit, booties are not a new concept… but what I set out to do was to create something that would visually appeal to myself, first and foremost, and other parents who were looking to be a part of a community, a brand, that continuously shows them something fresh and new in the world of baby footwear.” Harbouring a desire to create functional footwear for children, Kate designed and made all of the patterns for PaperKrane herself and undoubtedly, the design aesthetic stands out from other baby footwear brands on the market. Kate attributes her success and individuality to the bold colours and prints she uses and her unwavering attention to detail and quality. “Prior to PaperKrane there was no such thing as that PK style high top. So I take pride in knowing that I have created something original that is now inspiring others to create.”
Inspire she does, with a fanbase that stretches worldwide and sale restocks that reduce grown women to a quivering jittery mess as they desperately try to secure the latest PK design for their little fashionista. “Nerves, pure nerves!” is how Kate describes her feelings around restock time and subsequent sadness for those of the PaperKrane community who regretfully miss out. “I just always hope that they can get the pair they want but until I am able to meet demand, that is not always the case.” My first experience of this shopping mania came courtesy of Kate’s epic Christmas restock where I was immensely lucky enough to snag a pair of the coveted Bowie Boots for my little man. The urgency with which I manoeuvred the PaperKrane site and Paypal surprised even me and Kate’s analogy sums the feeling up perfectly: “It’s like sitting an exam, but you only have 2 minutes to get all the questions answered!”
Excitedly receiving my much-anticipated package I was delighted to see how even more spectacular these famous PKs looked in real life. With no formal training behind her, I was intrigued to understand more about Kate’s process for design. “The PK design process happens a few different ways,” she says. “I make notes of ideas, I sketch, and sometimes it’s just me grabbing fabric from shelves and cutting as an idea strikes! If I’m having trouble with working out a pattern there’ll be a lot of sketching. Sometimes it’s just down to trying something to see if it looks awesome, or fugly! I do have a background in design, but I majored in advertising, with a little graphic design thrown in there.”
Having worked with distressed denim a la All Duked Up, hand-painted fabric courtesy of Chuck & Taz and most recently the Ink and Spindle ‘Pebble’ creations concocted in collaboration with Melbourne-based children’s milliner Sheree, of Little Noggi, Kate asserts that “there’s definitely room for more local, organic, ethically-made and sourced fabric.” And, she adds that she’d love to add leather to her fabric roster in the near future. Music to her loyal following’s ears no doubt.
On the subject of collaborations, there have been a number to date including Project You and Me, Sienna + Me, Home is Here and Ellie Whittaker, designer of the famed Aussie Creams print. “When I do a collaboration, I look for people who have designed a print themselves,” Kate explains. “So I think going forward, I’d really like to work with more print designers, possibly to create an exclusive design that could only be used by me…” She lets on that there are a few names in the hat, including Ellie from who Kate just ordered a new print for some new PK magic!
As for inspirations, you are liable to expect anything from this self-professed un-PC wonder woman, who expertly balances the demands of pattern and colour combinations with raising her almost two year old daughter, Wren. From one working Mum to another, I’m fascinated to learn how Kate manages her two passions. She says: “I have my own space, it’s the second living room, but I’ve got a couple of walls of shelves and some big desks, and a billion and one tubs of things! I share the space with Wren’s toys. She doesn’t currently go to daycare so I wanted to have a space where she could play and I could work… But that usually never happens and I work once she’s in bed! One can dream, right?” Absolutely, I’m typing this from my dining room table while my 10 month old sleeps. I hear you Kate!
Asked which of Mummy’s designs is Wren’s favourite, the answer is an affirmative PINK! “By pink, she means the neon pink ones, with the light toe detail that I made her a while back,” says Kate, “and she’s thrashed them by riding her bike with them on!” Well-loved and well-worn are synonymous with the PaperKrane brand and each pair comes with an information card that explains the shoes are designed to fray and how the owner should preserve their PKs. Kate’s origami roots are also encapsulated in her brand packaging as she includes a little paperkrane creation with each pair of PKs too.
Dressing Wren almost exclusively in threads handmade by fellow small business brands, Kate is a great advocate of supporting small and through her styling I too have discovered many of the fabulous businesses she endorses as ‘ones to watch’. “I think for sure, Belles and Bruisers,” says Kate. “Sammy has been in the sewing game for longer than I have and is a true wizard with a machine and fabric… I can’t wait to see her brand explode!” Confessing that she could fill a few pages with names and praise, Kate acknowledges that Mooluu, Kapow Kids, Wild Rumpus Collective, Cookies and Scream, Little Noggi and Home is Here are but a handful of hers and Wren’s favourites. “I also love Two Little Ducklings, another Melbourne mum turned friend,” adds Kate. “I see even bigger things on the horizon for Jacinta than now, and she’s already up there with collaborations in 2015 with Sophie Vine (for Vines of the Wild)… I hope there’s the possibly of some collaborative print design in our future, hint hint, wink wink!”
And what of Kate’s favourites, because as a creative soul there is a great deal of personality and soul that goes into crafting the thoughts in our heads into a physical, tangible reality. “My favourite pair are definitely the Metallic Sterling Silver lace up PKs,” says Kate, “there’s something I love about the acid wash cotton, the metallic denim and the way the tongue hid a pop of colour.” But she admits that if asked about any pair she will talk lovingly about them all, “I think I fall in love with each of them as that first sample pair is created.”
From playing favourites to the pair which gives her the most satisfaction, Kate remarks that more than any one pair it is the signature high top style that wins out. “It gives the most space for a bright bold print on the toe and I think, knowing that it was designed by me, and that there was nothing like it before, really satisfies me.”
“Success is not by chance it’s by choice.” A poignant motto to live by and one that Kate personally takes to heart in her bid to grow her business, though she acknowledges that the perfectionist in her also accredits the notion that if you want something done right, do it yourself. “But I also know now that I cannot do everything myself,” she admits, “despite my best efforts… And I know I need a lot more help to keep it all cohesive and together.”
Since the brand’s inception in 2011, the PaperKrane aesthetic has come a long way from the Korean school slipper-meets-Adidas kicks, but despite developing the design from low to high top, the addition of laces and more material for the very high top, Kate has remained true to her vision of designing the shoes in such a way as to make them practical and resistant to being kicked off by busy little feet. “The patterns have evolved over time, and continue to evolve,” says Kate. “My next step is to meet with a pattern maker to refine my design even further.” It certainly sounds as though there are exciting developments ahead. “2016 is going to be all about growth…,” Kate asserts. “Well that’s the plan! Not focusing on new products, but how we can grow the current style and stock to a level that fills demand. After that, how do we grow from there!”
I for one am beyond excited to be along for the ride to witness what’s next for PaperKrane but at this moment in time, I’ll leave you with what’s happening right now which is the first restock of 2016… coming to a screen near you mid-February. Date to be announced, so keep your eyes peeled to Kate’s insta page so you don’t miss out!
ADVICE FROM KATE
To my fellow mum makers and entrepreneurs: First and foremost, be creative. Don’t take an idea or item from somebody else and call it your own. If you’re making similar items to somebody else, leggings, t-shirts, beanies, bibs, headbands, things like that. Use different prints to others you’ve seen, even dare to use your own prints! Stand out in your own way. Trust me, if you can’t make your item stand out, it will be hard to sell it in an already very saturated market. Make, create something you are interested in, if the passion is there, a bit of hard work, and the rest will follow.
I started my business about 18 months before I fell pregnant/had Wren, so I think it was valuable to my business that I had all that time to build my brand identity, and to take my products to local craft markets, meet other makers, meet customers, build my Facebook page, etc before kids… I’m not going to lie, once kids are on the scene it is pretty hard to find a way to balance it all, I don’t really believe there is such a thing as ‘a balance’ with family and a business. Something will always have to be sacrificed, time with your partner, time with your kids, your sleep. That’s if you’re looking to create a brand and a business, and if you don’t want to sacrifice those things, then your business may just need to be smaller. For me it’s taken 4 years to even get to the point where I need to look at putting Wren into care a couple of days a week as I want to gain some of those lost hours of sleep back! I can see that the long hours I’ve been working the past 2.5 years since she was born are taking their toll, and without me on top of my game, where is my business? So definitely try to look after yourself, work during a time you have to yourself. Have everything written down, what you need to do, what you want to achieve, and where you see your business heading and how fast you want it to get there. Work out the hours in the day that will allow you to do this and use those hours wisely. Make friends with other mums in business, there’s nothing like being able to bounce ideas off other creative people who are in the same boat as you. That is what made 2014-2015 so great, I had some great friends right there with me along the way!
If you’re just looking to make some extra money and sew as a hobby, again, be creative with what you make, and work out how to use the free time you have. You can achieve anything with a little bit of planning!