When Katie Kime moved to a new town at age 9, neighbors met her before they met her mother. She had already gone door to door selling something she made.
During her senior year at Duke University, she hosted her first design show in the home of the daughter of the legendary basketball coach.
In her 20s, she left her native North Carolina to move to Atlanta to study its design scene, then she picked up roots again to head to Austin to be part of a new group of 20- and 30-something female entrepreneurs changing the design scene.
Now, at 34, she’s a lifestyle brand designer who’s taking on designing the runway for the 1oth Austin Fashion Week, now Fashion X Austin, while also finishing her own clothing collection to show during the event.
Kime has moved from starting an online brand of prints on items such as wallpaper and clothing to opening up a retail store to turning an East Austin home into a design center and showroom.
“My mom would say she was always trying to bend my spirit without breaking my spirit,” Kime says. “That same thing is why I kept going.”
Kime thinks of her style as definitely informed by her North Carolina roots. It’s full of color as well as natural elements. It’s a bit preppy, reflecting her time at Duke, where boys wore bow ties. She grew up on the look of Lilly Pulitzer. She’s known for prints in florals and leaves, but that doesn’t rule out geometric patterns or animals or fruits in her prints.
Katie Kime the company has grown from just being Kime in her room at college to eight full-time employees and seven part-time employees or interns.
When Kime headed to Duke, she double-majored in visual arts and religion. She grew up in a conservative Christian family, she says, but she wanted to study all the other religions. You can see that reflected in works such as “Goddess.”
In visual arts, she worked in 10 different mediums. “I know enough about a lot of things to be dangerous,” she jokes. She loved bookmaking, drawing and painting but could have done without screen printing. “I didn’t like the technical side,” she says. “I do love working with my hands.”
Her senior year, when she was babysitting for Debbie Savarino, the eldest daughter of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, Savarino asked her what she really wanted to do and offered to let her do a show in her home. Kime got a dresser at a thrift store and repainted it. She made stationery sets featuring her designs. “I had literally no idea,” she says. “I was not looking to start a lifestyle brand.”
The show succeeded, and Kime found a path for her life.
That path’s next curve took her to Atlanta, where she found connections working for other people. After a short time, she started doing a cost-benefit analysis, she says, and Atlanta wasn’t worth it. It had the connections, but it didn’t feed her creative soul. A friend from college grew up in Austin and had brought her with her for a visit. She felt drawn to this place.
The benefit of Austin, she says, is that it attracts a lot of attention.
“The buzz about Austin is so big,” she says. “We’ve gotten on the map nationally,” she says, which might not have happened if she hadn’t moved here.
The challenge about Austin is the resources and smaller amounts of venture capital, she says. What it does have is an entrepreneur culture, and here Kime found people willing to have coffee with her to teach her about growing her brand. It has a culture of young creative women building their own lifestyle brands. Kime looks to examples like style and entertainment guru Camille Styles, design showroom Supply from Callie Jenschke, Kim West and Kristin Gish; and fashion and lifestyle website Rank & Style from Jamie Chandlee, Dalton Young and Beth Newill.
It also had examples like jewelry designer Kendra Scott, who built her brand over the course of 15 years and is a lesson in retaining control of the brand and not letting it grow too big too fast, Kime says. In Kime’s mind, she has a level of revenue she would need to take a bigger leap with more retail stores and national partnerships.
But first is Fashion X Austin and the runway she’s creating, as well as the runway show for her own fashions. She’s most nervous about the runway. “I want it to make everyone’s work look more amazing,” she says. “I’m trying to figure out how to do that.”
She’ll use a black and white and green leaf print and also will add real florals to give it dimension. “It won’t be so Katie Kime,” she says, “but clearly we’ll be name-branding.”
In many of her prints, Kime plays in florals and leaves. She loves working with banana leaves in her prints to give that West Palm Beach look. She loves the look of bright green and white and black. Or a geometrical pattern of white on dark blue to give it sharp contrast. She’d pick hot pink over pastel pink any day.
Her favorite leaf in real life is the magnolia, but a certain design influencer from Waco cornered the market on that highly recognizable leaf and flower. She does have some things in magnolia, but she also plays a lot in banana leaves, palms and medallion leaves.
More and more, she’s branching out from leaves. At her design center, you’ll find wallpaper of camels with colorful tassels hand-glued to the wall. She’s in an insect phase in her prints with designs of dragonflies, scarabs, bees and more. Animal prints like cheetah and spots show up as well as stripes. And then there’s the whole fruit line with pineapples and “The World is Your Oyster,” which is a pattern that alternates oysters and lemons. That’s one that has Kime scratching her head about why it’s taken off while other prints haven’t.
For her own show, she’ll feature some of the newest prints, including in a bathing suit and yoga leggings as well as a caftan and dresses.
“We’ll be showing all of the prints for real humans,” Kime says.
While you can see the influences of North Carolina, religion and some Austin in her prints and style, Kime says she’s also been influenced by her trips to Africa. There she worked with a nonprofit organization to help local women in Rwanda have opportunities working with textiles. Through that work she met her husband, Austin real estate developer Greg Henry. With him came his three children, who are now 12, 10 and 7.
“We’re a super close family,” she says. “I was not expecting to be a full-time mom when we started dating, but they’ve been with me for so much of their lives.”
Children also have reminded her that sometimes design can lose its practicality if you’re not careful. One of their daughter’s rooms is beautiful to look at and made sense of a difficult space, but then one day Kime realized she had nowhere to put her stuff. “You probably need more drawers,” she remembers saying. Yep, that would be good.
Kime never feels like any space is ever done, especially her own spaces. She jokes that her family and her team can attest to that. “The most incredible spaces are layered over the years of adding and taking away things,” she says. “It’s all the tchotchkes you need to add that make a room.”
When it comes to her own prints, Kime says, she can tire of them quickly. “I’m just ready to move on,” she says, and she doesn’t always wear her own stuff. “I need a break from myself.”
Kime is constantly coming up with new prints, new designs, new looks.
“I never love anything I do,” she says. “It’s the curse of an artist.”
Fashion X Austin
Austin Fashion Week celebrates 10 years with these events:
Fashion X Live! Help KLRU plus kick off fashion week with looks from Jhoanna Alba and mommy-and-me brand Arie and Avie. 7 p.m. March 29. KLRU’s studio 6A, where “Austin City Limits” was originally taped, 2504 Whitis Ave. $35-$150
Austin Fashion Week Soirees. Find trunk shows, mini runway events, designer showcases and more throughout Austin. March 30-April 4. Find the list at austin.fashionx.co/schedule/soirees.
Bernina Fashion Fund Showcase. New designers will compete for a $40,000 prize from Bernina and other sponsors. Judges include Camille Styles, Gail Chovan, Lance Avery Morgan and more. Tickets are $25-$195. 6:30 p.m. April 5, Vault Space, 2214 Braker Lane.
Runways and Gallery. See new looks from local and national designers, plus shop the gallery. 6:30 p.m. April 6-7. Vault Space, 2214 Braker Lane. $35-$250
On April 6, the show honors Kirstin Ross and benefits Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. See looks from Gunnar Deatherage, League of Rebels, Chavon Shree, Katie Kime and Jimmy Burner.
On April 7, the show honors Venus Strawn and benefits the Rise School of Austin. You’ll see works from Amanda Valentine, Creed Voyles, Austin School of Fashion Design, Lindenmayer Couture, Fox in Gown and Brittany Nicole.
Buy tickets and get more information at austin.fashionx.co.