You’ve heard of Tory Burch, Judith Lieber and Vera Wang.
Now, welcome to the world of Kate Chan.
A Coronado resident since 1987, Kate Chan was born in the Philippines and is returning to her roots with a soon-to-be-released fashion accessories business — jewelry, purses, wraps and more — made by women artisans in her homeland. All embody her unmistakable and heartfelt design inspirations.
Her brand is about to be unleashed on the world.
Coronadans have been privy to Chan’s line of “affordable luxury” products at her Kate Chan Boutique & Showroom on Park Place. The building has served as her headquarters for the past three years as she slowly, methodically and meticulously works on the business and marketing of her product lines.
While locals and tourists can shop at the her boutique, its major function is as a showroom for buyers and clients. Chan has ambitious plans to market to resorts, casinos, cruise lines and specialty boutiques. She has independent product representatives and has also participated in trunk shows and, in a new trend of retail development, “pop-up” boutiques, including one at Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar. She has plans for additional pop-ups in San Francisco and New York. Chan is also looking for websites with a vision of compassionate entrepreneurship or social responsibility such as the established Tom’s Shoes marketplace.
Her products are a remarkable collection of unique fashion accessories — purses with an Asian flair, necklaces incorporating unusual and, as it turns out, recyclable, sustainable materials, and exquisite, intricately designed jewelry. And all of it has been designed by Kate Chan herself, as she enters what she calls her “second act.”
Many locals remember Kate Chan from her 26 years in real estate and finance. Beginning in the early 1990s, she was in management positions with some of the world’s largest financial institutions.
To some, it may seem that the move from finance to fashion was quite a departure, but Chan says it really wasn’t to those who know her well. “Fashion is another passion of mine, imbedded in my sensibilities. There are a lot of common denominators in the two fields, from being creative, to attention to detail and being of service to others. But overall, it’s being a part of a dream.”
The dream in real estate that she helped facilitate was home ownership. Now her dream is to use fashion to help elevate style that comes from deep within and, at the same time, empower others and make a difference in people’s lives.
Chan refers to herself as one of the last few survivors after the financial restructuring “and one of the few who knew what they were doing. I felt a sense of responsibility to help my clients during that crisis,” she said.
But the collapse of the housing industry took a toll, and it was while taking a sabbatical in 2010 that Chan had an epiphany. “It was a time-out for me,” she said. “I traveled all over Asia, exploring. I wanted to retrace my roots and to rediscover my homeland.”
On a visit to the Philippines that year, Chan discovered native artisan pieces unlike any she had seen before. “They were unique and magical; there was a soul and a heart,” she said. “I would wear them and give them as gifts to family and friends, and the comment I’d always receive was, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful, where did you get that?’ You feel so good wearing them that it elevates you.”
That’s when Chan sat down and wrote out a business plan. While she recognized she was entering the competitive and admittedly oversaturated world of fashion, she believed she could break through a niche market of accessories that were a blend of playfulness and luxury, as well as meaningful and versatile provocative and sensuous. Her mission statement is, “To elevate style, inspire and empower others, create opportunities, give back and make a difference in people’s lives in the cycle of giving by way of fashion.”
After attending eight fashion jewelry accessory shows — what she calls the “best of the best of world international trade shows” — Chan began making connections. “I went as a potential buyer and student; I learned design and all the aspects. I learned craftsmanship, sourcing, embellishments, fashion, components, supply chain logistics, manufacturers…”
“One thing led to another,” she said of her networking, and soon she was in touch with some of the world’s foremost branding consultants and advisors. Her website is nearing completion, she has just completed five photo shoots, held several trunk shows and is about to unveil an international public relations plan.
Her Kate Chan Brand Identity Guide serves as the guide for all vendors and creative teams. It contains logos, marks, fonts (which were all custom designed and patented) and direction of color choices.
Chan has assembled teams of artisans in the Philippines and Eastern Asia to bring her design visions to life. “For instance, I have a team in the Philippines who make eco-chic resort pieces — clutches and handbags — that are woven and made lovingly by hand.
“That’s what I want to do … help marginalized women enjoy an income stream through making products that come from their heart,” Chan said
In December, Chan traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, with a number of prototypes for apparel. “Yes, I’m looking to get into apparel, as well; it’s evolving into a life of its own,” she said of her product lines.
Along the way, Chan admits she made some mistakes. “I had to edit my first team, step back and regroup,” she said. But to be an entrepreneur, she advises that “You have to really trust your gut; take risks and not be afraid of making mistakes. Just stay focused and true.”
Still, international marketing is no easy task, she freely advised. “What people don’t realize and understand is there’s so much behind-the-scenes work. It takes both creative thinking and business savvy.
“I’m certainly operating both the right and left sides of my brain,” she said, with an obviously joyful spirit.
Kate Chan continues smiling as she enjoys the thrill of a global ride.