Kate Honey’s advice to aspiring textile designers: have a passion for the work, and approach with professionalism and a strong sense of accountability.
Honey is the creative director of Din + Bloom, an Australian-based multidisciplinary print house that specializes in trend-driven textiles. Her interest in textiles was piqued while designing costumes as a theater student, which eventually led Honey to complete a degree in textile design from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and later establish her own design studio.
Honey founded Din + Bloom in 2012 and leads all creative direction for the company. Here, Honey talks with WWD about her career path, challenges, sources of inspiration and the importance of collaboration.
WWD: What ignited your interest in textiles as a young student?
Kate Honey: I’ve always loved color, art and fashion — in my spare time I would sit and sketch outfits, patterns and color combinations — and the Eighties and Nineties gave me a lot of avant-garde glamour inspiration. At school I initially studied art history, classics and then theater design.
I was actually studying theater when I discovered textiles through the costumes I was designing, inspired by the female textile artists of the Bauhaus. Textile design was this magical combination of everything I loved and it all just clicked. It combines history, art, color, fashion, futurism, tactility, handwork and then later connecting [and] working with others [in the] business. I’m grateful to have found a career in something I’m so passionate about, even now, years later, working with some of the best designers, artists and brands in the world.
WWD: How has your career evolved over the years? What challenges have you faced?
K.H.: My first full-time job was in a corporate business environment, which gave me a fantastic grounding in the business skills I’d need later.
After a few years I went back to university and completed my textile design degree, majoring in surface design. I started as a junior designer before being head-hunted as a result of my final-year show. I was really adamant that I wanted the experience working in big business, as the idea of applying design concepts to the mass market would be a great way to learn about the practicalities of working in the industry. Over a few years I worked my way up to being a design director for one of the southern hemisphere’s largest wholesalers and ended up developing trends and designs for multiple brands worldwide.
Stepping away from that role to create my own business was a huge risk, but one I’ve never regretted. The first couple of years were challenging because my “small business” skills weren’t quite as practiced or as sure as my “big business” skills. Having said that, it’s been a great adventure as I’m always happy to be learning about business, design and textiles and I think this constant curiosity helps resolve new challenges that emerge.
WWD: Have you had any mentors throughout your career? If so, how have they helped you?
K.H.: I’ve had a number of people who have enthusiastically supported and believed in me, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor in the traditional sense. The way we work at Din + Bloom is truly as a collaboration, and I’m lucky enough to have a team of people who are smart, resourceful and committed to progressing the studio alongside me as we’ve grown so rapidly. There’s my business partner Matt and our studio manager Luisa who are like my brains for the day-to-day strategy of moving the studio forward.
It’s about building a group of people around you who you trust and who you can work with wholeheartedly and honestly. I think that’s something that’s happening more in newer businesses, and the traditional mentor role isn’t as important as working together collectively.
The awesome Din + Bloom team has made me raise my game and skill set, because I have to match their expectations as we grow. It’s an incredible task…and I’m lucky enough to be learning from our team, designers and clients each and every day.
WWD: Why did you create Din + Bloom? What was your main source of inspiration?
K.H.: I just can’t think small. I wanted to build something great and create an environment that was collaborative, joyous and progressive. I wanted to give people the opportunity to do great work and work together in a team in a truly positive community of designers and artists. And I wanted to bring beautiful artwork from Australia to the world. I think we have a unique perspective on color, fashion and trend.
Print studios have a tendency to be traditional, so I wanted to be more artisan and trend-driven to really give clients a point of difference to buy into. We work hard to provide a balance of more conceptual trends [and] artwork alongside commercial trends and that’s how we make sure every print is exclusive. I still get an absolute thrill finding exactly the right designs to further our clients’ range developments.
Also, when I dealt with print houses as a design director, most textiles weren’t provided with the right specifications, or even in repeat. So I saw an opportunity to provide beautiful artwork and textiles that still had a strong technical application. We pride ourselves on our hand-painted artisan artwork, but also that we provide accurate production-ready technical repeats. In the end we’re making commercial textiles and that’s how they should be supplied to our clients.
WWD: What advice would you impart to emerging textile designers or anyone contemplating a career in the industry?
K.H.: The first thing I would say is, you have to love it. I work 24/7 on developing all levels of our business and it very rarely feels like a chore. Collaboration is imperative. Don’t be precious about the work you create or scared about sharing your ideas. Working with others will always create the greatest results. The more you create and share, the more you will learn and the more goodness that will come.
It’s really important to be kind, and I mean genuinely so. Life is short and at the end of the day, you want to be able to sleep at night. It’s a small industry and you never know where the industry is going to take you or who you’ll end up working with.
Be professional. Be accountable. Don’t take credit for other people’s ideas and please don’t copy — it’s derivative and straight up lazy. Work harder to find your own unique perspective.
And finally, make sure your technical skills match your creative skills. Know your fabrications. Know your programs. Know your customers. Know how to supply a file in repeat. I am a straight-up textile nerd and huge advocate for paying attention in textile technology class. If you can combine accurate technical textile knowledge with your own unique handwriting and perspective, you will be an asset to any design team.
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