From Izumi Miyakazi in Tokyo to Louise Cehofski in Copenhagen to Michael Renaldi in Montreal to Fish Zhang in Beijing: Kara is the cult bag brand with the global community, supporting and connecting with artists, visionaries, and storytellers. Having started eight years ago in New York City by Sarah Law, Kara has gained an ardent following from her super sleek designs, her easily recognisable aesthetic (her signature chain strap makes a super satisfying crunch when it hits the floor, of which it did at many fashion week shows, worn by editors and writers alike), and her dedication to community – inspired by her own international background.
Born and raised in Hong Kong before being reared in America, Sarah lived her youth in a constant identity flux, finding the perception of identity being interpreted as one nationality or the other – her peers struggling to grasp the concept that you can be both. “I think for me, a really big aspect of the brand from the beginning, the story of Kara is really tied to my own background. I grew up in Hong Kong, half American and half Chinese, and I grew up with this experience of my Chinese family always reminding me that I wasn’t Chinese, that I was white. Then I would always go visit my mums family in the states, and they would tell me I was Chinese. I would play with kids in my mum’s neighbourhood and the kids would tell me ‘you’re from China’, not really understanding that you could be both.”
“A big part of my experience growing up and finding my own voice in my brand has been talking about the creation of my own identity,” she continues. “I am not one stereotype or another, but at the end of the day, my personality is shaped off my own experiences.” Why did she choose a fashion brand as her medium to communicate this personal search? “I grew up with an extremely talented mum who taught me how to sew, taught me how to cook, to bake. My dad was super entrepreneurial, dropping out of school when he was 14 and has really built his career out of finding his own way – I think growing up with these two forms of inspiration I was always interested in having a business, and very interested about being very creative. I think, without being fully conscious of why I was setting up a brand, there was always this message of identity coming through.”
The name Kara comes Karaoke, and which means anti-orchestra in Japanese, “I loved this idea of an anti-orchestra where you perform the music however you want. It’s really not about how well you sing, but about giving something a try. I think it was a few years into the brand that I really grasped that the point of the brand was this sense of identity for myself. I started the brand at 25 with a backpack design, and we sold a tonne of them – they went everywhere!” Admittedly, at the beginning of her career, Law was rather unfamiliar with the business side which came to spearheading a brand. It took three years after Kara was born for Law to establish what the brand stood for with the You Be Youcampaign. “The message of the brand also felt like it was bigger than who I was, and I wanted to tell a story that encapsulated a lot of people. That is how I came up with the whole campaign. It has been such a rewarding process that we chose to keep doing it, the people get more and more interesting.”
Through You Be You, Law invites various artists from around the world to interpret how they see Kara. The result? An incredible slew of talent that perfectly encapsulates Kara’s quest to define her global mission: “I find that a lot of brands have one look and they have one focus – you really feel like an outsider if you don’t want to look that way.” With Kara, Law is encouraging wearers to discover their own style and show a sense of appreciation for their own identity. “I love this idea about creating a brand that was not really one look. Sometimes our Instagram feed can be a bit chaotic, in terms of our content, but that’s really intentional because I am really trying to show all these different points of view, together,” she says.
The global pandemic has given Law time to design, think and slow things down a little. “I have been running Kara for eight years and this is the first time I have had a pace this slow. I have been trying to understand why this has happened, as I have had so much time to focus on design now, which is really important to me.” This is matched with further reinforcement of the personal sense of humanity that laid the foundation of Kara. “On the larger scale, one thing I have realised is that my brand has always been a very personal endeavour, done with a lot of heart and a lot of personal interest, and I feel now more than ever people are really looking for something that feels human.” If there ever was a moment to support brands that carry purpose, creativity and authenticity at their core, the time is now. As we all learn to carve our ‘new normal’, we need to ensure we carry the values of creativity with authentic intent at the core. And what better way to carry these values than in a Kara bag.
by Isabella Davey