Earlier in 2018 I had the pleasure of working with a friend of a friend who wanted to style out an ethical themed wedding shoot. I had just been proposed to, so the timing couldn’t have been better! A shoot that would be organized all around sustainability and ethical style from the food we ate to the location of venue and jewelry, everything was thought out to show brides an idea of how to do their wedding with a little more thought about the environment. Weddings are one of the most special times of anyones lives but they can be incredibly wasteful. Years going into planning for that one special day that’s over before you know it and sometimes you’re left with a ton of plastic waste, uneaten food, a dress made of plastic you’ll only wear once or jewels that weren't exactly sourced with the environment in mind. From this shoot, I was introduced to Kata Banko Couture, an eco friendly wedding accessories line that graciously lent us pieces to style our shoot from incredibly unique head pieces to statement necklaces and chokers. I decided to keep in touch and find out a little bit more about this company. Check out what Colleen, founder of the company has to say in regards to how they make their pieces, how they stay ethical, and plans for the company as they grow…!
1) Tell me a bit about how Kata Banko Couture came about? Where did everyone in the company come from and how did you all transition into the sustainable/ethical world?
Kata Banko Couture came about in 2002. The name belongs to my Grandmother, Kata. I started my business in evening and RTW couture, designing gowns for galas and such. During that time I was raising two young boys as a single mother and took a break from designing to go into Nursing. In 2009 a friend of mine opened a bridal salon and asked me to help her out with alterations and custom design. We started seeing a great need for bridal accessories, especially custom, so I gave it a go and created a bridal accessory line. After the first couple of years in business I got to see how un- sustainable the industry really was, and not to mention unethical. So once again, I changed it up, totally educated myself and launched a new line that fit my vision for the world rather than the industry. I found a special little group of “sustainable minded” suppliers as well as ethically minded people. I have always used sustainable fabrics, but I needed to do more. We use recycled metals, no kill dead stock leathers, peace silks and recycled and dead stock fabrics occasionally. We are working to also make our products wearable beyond bridal and offering more everyday wear. Currently I have my magic maker of beautiful things, Breanna, myself, and we are introducing a new team member co designer this year, Lexi. And I have to say, I have one of the best, if not the best, PR Company, Perry Rose Media, specifically Alex, she is the force behind alot of what goes on in the brand, and also she's my girl!
2) Sustainability in bridal wear is definitely a newer topic, however, brides are starting to realize that a lot of waste goes into one day and feel it’s important to make a positive change. Why did you guys decide to tap into the bridal market specifically?
Agreed! The bridal market fell into my lap quite honestly! I am planning to keep a curated bridal collection, but we are moving into what feels right to us, which is lifestyle. I want our brides to be able to continue wearing our products beyond that day. No waste.
3) How is each Kata Banko product created from conception to production?
It all starts with some good music and good vibes and a sketch. From there it goes through several different design phases until it feels right. Everything is hand crafted, start to finish using artisan techniques.
4) What materials are you using for your jewelry and how do you choose each one?
We use Swarovski vintage and current pearls and stones, hand crushed quartz crystals ( the first to apply this technique in the industry) and semi precious stones, hand crafted bases and recycled hand plated metals and findings. I dont change these staple components often, I really want to keep it cohesive and sustainable by avoiding waste.
5) In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What is Kata Banko Couture doing to combat this?
Oh boy, where to start! I could write a novel! Aside from major waste and pollution, I would say the chemically laced unnatural fabrics. Also the need to keep creating collections, so much waste there! If it’s good, it will keep selling. As you can see we really haven't changed our components in years, this cuts down on waste and it is a sustainable way to create heirloom signature items. We are definitely hyper aware of what's going on in the industry and always try to elevate awareness by talking about honestly. The brand will always continue to be as sustainable as we can and will always no matter what be ethical. You will alot more conversation and education coming out of Kata Banko Couture this year, in fashion and in bridal. We've got some magic up our sleeves.
What about ethically?
That is a subject that needs to be talked about more! So many unethical practices in the industry and bridal is off the charts with unethical practices. People need to be a focus in this, it is very ugly! I work with Fair Trade Certified CO-OPS only when I’m producing garments. Being in the fashion industry for 20+ years, in many roles, I’ve seen the backside of this industry and while there are some great brands out there who are ethical and sustainable, there are too many who are not and its all about the money no matter what the cost. It’s very unsettling. I am very lucky to have a small team and partnering with Fair Trade production for gowns and garments is a stellar thing! Basically, I could tell you who produced your gown or your accessory, their life, interests and how long we've been connected. It’s not all about how much you can make, it’s about loving it and treating it with heart, we are a family, we value what we do with each other, we all have real life conversations, its very personal. There's value in that, it’s called connection. Unethical companies don't care about any of that.
6) What are some of your own personal sustainable habits you live by? Do you have any goals for 2019 to live a little cleaner?
I don’t buy a lot of stuff! Especially plastics and clothing. I still am wearing clothes Ive had for 20 years. We live in a buy more, have more stuff mentality, it’s not working for our planet!
7) What’s the best way you ensure your workers are treated well?
We are a family! What is mine, is theirs, always. When we are working, it’s a good time, kind of like hanging out with your bffs eating, laughing , listening to some good music and getting our work done. I am very fortunate to have amazing people in my life and in my business. We keep it “light”, and any conversation is always welcome, we share in the process, my main photographers are my sons, we pull friends into shoots, even sometimes one of us, it’s gotta be fun. When it’s not working as a whole, it doesn't work, to think, at one time it was me doing everything myself. I love how this has grown, so very organically.
8) What are the next steps for Kata Banko Couture? How do you see yourselves evolving in the next five to ten years?
Well, there's a lot going on behind scenes, so we will see:)
I had the pleasure of designing the first new collection of bridal wear for Celia Grace last year, which was a dream, being that Celia Grace is Fair Trade, Sustainable and Ethical. So we definitely has some exciting stuff happening behind the scenes with that. For Kata Banko, we are doing us! 100%! It’s all about the lifestyle, we have stayed in the “lines” and it hasn't really fed our souls, so look out for a fresh, real approach. So excited about it!
In 5 to 10 years, we will be not only a full on lifestyle brand, we will be a movement!
9) What’s something different (or special) about Kata Banko Couture from other companies you’ve worked at in the past?
It’s real life, no gimmicks and really for the future. We have always been about, ethical and sustainable practices and what makes us special is that we continue to talk about it, be about it and bring about change in the industry. There is no planet B , we all have a responsibility to care for the earth and each other.
10) For someone new to the sustainable world, what are some key small steps they can look out for when shopping to ensure they’re investing in a good company?
Do your research! How is that company impacting the earth and the people producing it. Reach out and ask questions, if the company is legit, they will be happy to talk to you about their products. Email me anytime! I’d love to educate you on what I stand for in my business!