At the helm of KARA since 2013, Sarah Law has designed a line of handbags whose apparent simplicity makes the way they are carried even more unique. We met her for a chat...
MONNIER Frères: Where did the idea come from to create KARA?
Sarah Law: From a really young age I knew that I wanted to work in fashion and have my own business. After studying at the Parsons School of Design in Paris, at 25 I decided to quit my job at Gap to share my story through my own brand. I am half Chinese, half American. When I was a child in Hong Kong, my dad's Chinese family would be like "You're not Chinese, you're American". And when I went to visit my mother's family in the US, I would get "You're not American, you're Chinese". So, the brand's story is really based on this duality. We're trying to capture different personalities.
M.F.: So your childhood in Hong Kong and the years you spent studying in the States were a source of inspiration...
S.L.: I think it reinforced the idea that you have to create your own identity and have self-confidence. Where you were born or raised shouldn't be the main definition of your identity.
M.F.: Kara is short for the Japanese word "Karaoke". Why did you choose this name?
S.L.: I didn't want to use my own name because the brand is based on this idea of community. So it's not my voice; it's the voice of a group that "KARA" represents. When you do karaoke, it's not really about whether you're a good singer, it's about the experience and hanging out with friends. The worst singers are often the best at karaoke. And that's kind of what I wanted with KARA. It's not about being the best. The idea is to bring your own vision. Your personal interpretation.
M.F.: Can you tell us a bit about the hashtag #KARAyouBEyou? Why is being yourself so important to you?
S.L.: The hashtag #KARAyouBEyou was created a few years ago as part of a campaign for which we asked artists and individuals around the world to document themselves interpreting KARA their own way. The idea was to embody the hashtag and show the diversity of our products. When you're constantly being told that you're not one thing or another, you start to wonder who you really are. I think it's pretty amazing to have your own idea of who you are as a person. To just be yourself.
M.F.: And in your view, what role does fashion play in this affirmation of identity?
S.L.: For me, fashion is a means of expression. Everyone has to wear clothes, and even people who say they don't care what they wear, in reality, still have preferences. Like it or not, we all have a connection to the fashion world. When you look at someone's wardrobe, you get a glimpse of their personality. When you're on the street, you sometimes come across someone and compare them to a friend by their look. So fashion plays an important role in creating identity.
M.F.: Can you describe your designs to us in just three words?
S.L.: Fluid, simple, thoughtful. Fluid because they easily adapt to everyone's style. Simple because I like minimalism and lots of my designs are very simple. But to be this simple, they require a lot of work. So they are thoughtful.
M.F.: One of the most recognisable things about your brand is the oversized chains used as straps. What's the story behind this?
S.L.: I spend my time looking at the things around me. In New York, everywhere you look you see cyclists carrying their oversized bike locks hung on their belt or bike. This is how the idea for the oversized chain came to me and it's why we call the collection “Bike Chain”.
M.F.: What's your favourite piece?
S.L.: Surprisingly, I'd say it's still the backpack. Because I use it all the time. What's funny is that it was one of the first bags I designed and they weren't really on trend. No one was regularly wearing a backpack. At the time, I was presenting KARA as a handbag brand, and I love the idea that our first “handbag” was actually a backpack. It says a lot about KARA and the brand's DNA.
M.F.: Can you give us an idea of who the KARA customer is?
S.L.: I'd define them as someone constantly looking for a way to show their identity, in a proactive way. Someone with very individual ways of thinking, and slightly more eccentric than the people around them. This can be very subtle or very pronounced.
M.F.: From when you started out to today, what major changes you have made to your brand?
S.L.: I was really young when I started my brand. I started out with the backpack and it was selling quickly almost everywhere. At the time I didn't really know how to communicate my brand message, how to present my story. So I've learned over the years to talk about this part of the story, to bring out KARA's personality. Now more than ever, it's essential to emphasise the personality and human side of a brand. Sometimes the art direction is more conceptual and fantastical, but its important to know the starting place comes from real people and real emotions.
M.F.: More generally speaking, what about New York City inspires you?
S.L.: New York is a very dynamic city. I'd say that of the many places I have visited in the world, it is one of the cities where people are free to show their individuality. In my opinion, it's defined more by the mixture of personalities than by money or traditions. Or the hierarchy. It's a place that inspires me a lot.
M.F.: Do you think your collection would be different if you lived in Paris?
S.L.: Good question. I spent a year studying in Paris and now I come here several times a year. Deep down, I suppose I hope my designs would be the same. I'm inspired by people, and there's no shortage of personalities in Paris.