When life throws the unexpected your way, found your own clothing brand! That’s exactly what Sarah Mae, the fashion designer behind MAE’d in NYC did when the pandemic caused her to make some changes in her career. MAE is a slow fashion brand that focuses on all things colorful, sparkly, and feminine. The brand was born out of Sarah’s need to make her own impact on the fashion industry, and her pieces were created to be classic, timeless, and memorable.
In this interview, Sarah shares about how her time designing for Kate Spade impacted her as a person and as a designer, how she shifted her focus to slow fashion, and a sneak peek at the new collection arriving later this year.
When did you first become interested in fashion design?
Honestly for as long as I can remember! I was really into making jewelry as a kid and used to sell pieces in local stores and craft fairs when I was around 10. I really switched gears around 14 though when my mom taught me to sew. My high school had a charity fashion show every year that I oversaw and designed for called PUNCH. We donated all the proceeds to Suited for Change, a non-profit that provides professional attire, coaching, and skills training to women in need seeking employment, where I also volunteered. I knew by my sophomore year of high school that I wanted to attend art school and then eventually start my own line.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Kate Spade?
The culture and people for sure. When you create a product with the purpose of bringing people joy, the environment around you is joyful. Even during crazy periods (and believe me there were lots!), the people I worked with were some of the most supportive, caring, and talented individuals I’ve ever met!
How did your time there inspire you to found your own brand where you could express your love of ‘all things feminine and sparkly’?
Working for a company that champions women the way that Kate does is incredibly empowering. While I was sad to leave, I left feeling prepared to take on what was next. Not only did I have a plethora of industry knowledge and technical know-how, but also a hunger to design for myself instead of a larger company. Not to mention I learned how to tie the *perfect* bow so that definitely comes in handy!
Was your focus on slow fashion and creating pieces using ethical business practices something you set out to do from the very beginning?
To be honest, no. Ethical fashion wasn’t even on my radar when I first became interested in fashion or when I started at Kate. However, my time in the industry showed me just how much overproduction and overconsumption were happening and I became really interested in sustainability and ethicality. I did tons of research before I started MAE to really understand the impact of what starting a collection meant – I didn’t want to just be ‘another brand’ adding to the industry’s environmental degradation. By championing made-to-order production, we eliminate the possibility of excess inventory (i.e. no landfills for us!) and help our customers to understand the importance of choosing pieces that are made to last.
The spring collection features 3 coats in two styles (Jamie and Sophia), 3 dresses in three styles. What did you enjoy the most about designing the collection?
It was the first time in many years I could design for myself. When you work in corporate fashion it is rare that something you design ends up looking exactly as you intended – pieces go through rounds of approvals, costing, merchandising, etc. When I sketched the first MAE collection, it was the first time in 5 years I felt like “oh wow, I actually love this and now I just get to make it.” Of course, I have an approval process of my own (I tend to pick very expensive fabrics, oops!), but for the most part I really get to just make what I love designing.
Where did you source some of the fabrics for the collection?
For the first collection, I sourced from a few different places, including right here in the NYC garment center! I also had a few contacts from my days at Kate that I was able to rely on for help. The mills I work with are primarily out of Italy and France and have been incredibly supportive of the collection. I especially love working with Clerici Tessuto, a family-owned Italian mill that has been around since the 1920s.
What is your favorite piece (or pieces) from the spring collection and how do you like to style them?
My absolute favorite piece is the Jamie coat – it was inspired by a 60s vintage coat and named after my old boss from Kate Spade, who is my mentor and one of my closest friends. I wear her all the time paired back to the matching Alice Dress, but also with a few other vintage dresses I own. I have a small glitter-shoe obsession (as you might expect), so I love wearing her with my favorite sparkly mary-janes!
Now that there is a light and the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, what are some of the spots that you look forward to visiting the most?
Yes, thank goodness!! My fiancé and I are planning to spend our honeymoon in Iceland this fall so I’m super excited about that! I also have friends in California and London I’m looking forward to visiting. Locally, I’m eager to get back to some of my favorite NYC spots, especially the MET and Whitney museums.
Do you plan on releasing another collection this year?
Yes! Our second collection will drop this September! I’m so excited – you can expect lots of bows, sparkles, and polka dots. Additionally, I am working with an extremely talented artist, Leslie Randall, who hand-painted the seasonal floral print. We were coworkers and friends at Kate Spade until she branched out on her own too – you can find her on Instagram @theluxuryshrink – she’s incredible! Make sure to follow us on Instagram (@maedinnyc) for sneak peeks of the fall collection leading up to the release!
What are your words of advice to young women who dream of creating their own brand?
Patience and perseverance are the name of the game. It is NOT an easy road and a lot of people told me I was crazy to do it, especially during a pandemic. Second, if you can, get a few years of experience in the industry under your belt. What I learned working at Kate for all those years is invaluable and I use the knowledge every single day. Lastly, expect to wear a lot of different hats – when I started MAE I didn’t realize that I’d be a CEO, CFO, CCO (and more!) all in the same day! But ultimately, just remember that it’s worth it and that you can do anything you set your mind to.