Kate Mensah wanted to be in fashion before she even realized it. One day, a family member sent her a childhood photo. She was strutting down the hallway of her old home, creating a makeshift fashion show.
“I said, ‘oh my god, it was already in my blood, I know it,’” Mensah said. “I love fashion. It was always there.”
Mensah is a Seattle-based designer creating elegant and edgy bags. Ranging from petite clutches to large tote bags, Mensah’s designs are all made with her signature soft leather. Rather than relying on color to make her bags interesting, Mensah uses embossment to create her eye-catching designs.
Fashion has been a part of Mensah’s life since she was young. Born in Paris, she has always been surrounded by the arts, but didn’t feel confident enough to start her career in France. She said her confidence increased after she had her son.
“Something shifted in me at that time,” Mensah said. “I felt more strong and more powerful”
Mensah moved to the pacific Northwest in 2000. After seeing her designs, a friend of hers urged her to go into fashion. Mensah joined the New York Fashion Academy — since renamed the Seattle Fashion Academy — in 2008.
Mensah won Best Evening and Cocktail design in the Seamless in Seattle competition in 2011, for her collection of elegant looks primarily made with silk fabrics. In 2012, she launched a collection with Seattle’s Metropolitan Fashion Week, where she was nominated as one of the best designers. Following this, she sold her designs in boutiques across the globe.
“The message was going through about empowering mostly women, which is very important for me,” Mensah said. “When I was young, I was raised by my mom ...she was doing everything on her own. The strength of being independent and able to build myself up, I think I get this kind of strength from her.”
In 2013, Mensah discovered boxing, which helped her blow off steam and feel powerful. She took a break from her work in fashion and turned her focus to the fitness industry, becoming a fitness coach and yoga instructor.
Mensah then ventured into designing bags in 2015. She had been doing a few custom made works for her clients when one of them complimented her on a bag she’d made for herself. The client then asked to order four more of her bags.
Mensah designs with women's empowerment in mind. She says the fabric she uses reminds her of women — soft, but tough. Each of Mensah’s bags is named after a woman in her life, she said.
“I give them the names to show how I help them and support them, and see them in a different way than they see themselves” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on Mensah’s work. She relies on pop-up shops to connect with her clients so they can “know who the designer and the story” is behind her products. However, she has made strides to continue to showcase her work. Mensah took part in The Bellevue Collection’s Independent Designer Showcase for fashion week in September.
In the future, Mensah hopes to combine her love of fitness and fashion. She wants to show the importance of connecting inner health and outer beauty with her styling and designs, she says.
“I think for me it's just about combining both together and understanding who is the client, what they want, what they like, what they feel and what is their day to day life,” Mensah says. “This is my future … connecting those three elements, fitness, fashion styling and design, to connect deeply with the customer.”
Are you an artist, musician or designer based in Seattle? We want to hear your story. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us about yourself.