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Hannah Kate Featured in Glenn Beck's 'The Marketplace by Markdown.com' Newsletter
click here or the image above to view a larger version of the newsletter (pdf)
The following article appeared in The Birmingham News on August 26th.
Designs by mother
Thursday, August 26, 2004
News staff writer
Andrea Brown swears she can't sew a stitch.
She also denies there's a creative bone in her body.
Yet the tall, slender 35-year-old mom of three has created a children's clothing design business that has grown from one $5,000 trunk show four years ago to more than $650,000 in sales this year.
"It's been amazing," says the vivacious, blond entrepreneur, glancing around the 3,000-square-foot office and warehouse in Homewood that houses Hannah Kate: A Nostalgic Line of Children's Clothing. "I didn't expect this."
These days, two manufacturing plants, one in southwest Alabama and one in New Orleans, put together some 11,000 pieces of clothing per season for about 1,600 customers - including singer Amy Grant and Shelley Breen of the Christian pop group Point of Grace - in 14 states.
"It's just grown by word of mouth," Brown says.
She describes her line of 100-percent cotton clothing as "timeless, classic, with a unique, fun twist." And although she sells it in some decidedly non-Southern states, such as Arizona, Illinois and Pennsylvania, Brown, along with her business manager Emily Neel, attribute much of their success to Southern style.
"Southern women, in particular, put a lot of time and thought into what their kids wear," Neel says. "You walk down the street in Homewood and you're going to see a children's fashion show."
In July and August of this year, Brown's fall selling season, she's showcased her clothing line at about 50 trunk shows. Her spring show period is January and February, and she also sees customers by appointment when they can't get to trunk shows.
Her customers choose from more than 75 fabrics and dozens of styles - 10 to 12 for boys, 20 to 25 for girls - in prices that range from $12 to $60.
Her boys line, for newborns through size 8, includes classic styles such as overalls, two-button pants and "John-John shorts," with embellishments and fabrics depicting cowboys, fishing gear, tools and trains.
"I don't like frou-frou things on little boys," she says.
Her line for girls - newborns through size 14 - includes baby-doll dresses, capris, sundresses, coveralls and ruffle-hem pants. Fabrics range from soft pink and cloud blue to "Dick and Jane" and '60s-mod prints, with embellishments such as ribbons, tiny pompon trim and leather fringe.
"Once they get to the 6, 7, 8-year-old range, that's when she has the more funky fabric," Neel says.
Customers have input:
Brown's perfectly willing to let her customers in on the designs, too.
"You can choose all the way down to your thread color," says Laura Easter of Nashville, who's hosted Hannah Kate shows for five seasons. "There's endless choices."
Ann Holman of Crestline, who has hosted shows for six seasons, says she's drawn to the line because "you can make the clothes to match your children's personalities."
Brown also encourages clients to bring their children to the shows so they can help pick out clothes - a practice that could lessen I-don't-want-to-wear-that battles, she says.
The quest for appropriate, quality clothing for Brown's daughters, 8-year-old Hannah and 6-year-old Kathryn, inspired her business, she says.
"I was just frustrated," she says. "They didn't want to look babyish, and I didn't want them to look like Britney Spears."
About that time, Brown, a former elementary school teacher, asked herself a momentous question. "I just started thinking, `What would I do if I could do anything?'"
Despite the fact that she had no experience in designing clothes, children's or otherwise, her answer quickly developed into Hannah Kate.
"I love picking out fabrics and patterns," she says. "I just need somebody else to put them together."
Until January of this year, Brown and Neel worked out of Brown's Altadena home. In January, they moved into a small office and warehouse space on U. S. 280. In June, they moved again to more spacious digs in a Homewood business district.
"Coming here is like coming to a palace," she says.
In the beginning, Brown and Neel worked 16-to-18-hour days, seven-days-a-week, to fill customer orders, they say.
"There were times when we'd look at each other and go, `What are we doing?'" Neel says.
These days, Brown shoots for an 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. "pick up my kids" schedule. She's able to do that because she hired eight more employees this year.
"Now that we have more people, it frees me up to do the designing," she says.
Brown has sold her clothes at a couple of stores, and more have come calling, she says, but she's decided against the retail route. She plans to explore more on her Web site, and possibly catalog sales, but the major emphasis will remain home shows, Brown says.
And though she says "the sky's the limit" for Hannah Kate's growth, she plans to take it slow enough to avoid the growing pains she endured when she started the company.
"I couldn't go back and do that again," she says. Hannah Kate's Web site is www.hannahkateonline.com
Hannah Kate, -- HANNAH KATE
Mom's designs build trunk business