By Laura McAlister
Andrea Brown may not know how to sew one stitch, but if you take one look at the mother of three, it’s obvious she does know fashion.
Seeing her dressed in skinny jeans paired with a long, sleeveless cardigan and platform sandals recently, it’s not surprising her clothing line and business is gaining national attention.
The Vestavia Hills mom is owner and founder of the children’s clothing line Hannah Kate. Out of her Homewood warehouse, she sifts through vintage fabrics designing fun and unique looks for babies and children.
The clothing is mainly sold online and through trunk shows, but soon it will be found in flagship Belk department stores, including the ones at The Summit and the Galleria.
Andrea was one of 15 winners of Belk’s Southern Designer Showcase. As part of winning the contest, she will be creating a new line of children’s clothing for Belk.
“We’ll be making about 14,000 different pieces for Belk,” Andrea said. “I’m just about finished with the design, and then we’ll fly back to Charlotte (to Belk headquarters).”
The Belk order is no small task, but Andrea and her team of about 15 are excited about the challenge. The line is set to hit select Belk stores in spring 2013.
While the Belk award was definitely a compliment to Andrea’s designs and style, business manager Emily Neel, who is also a seamstress with the company, said the company was also recognized for its business practices earlier this year.
All the products produced by Hannah Kate are made in the U.S., and all the appliques are hand-stitched by Hannah Kate employees. Those facts got the company recognized by another big name – not so much for fashion, though.
Hannah Kate was one in the set of the first 50 small businesses featured in political analyst Glenn Beck’s The Marketplace, a website promoting unique small businesses and their owners who are “living their version of the American dream,” the site reads.
The Belk award “was really a compliment to our style,” Emily said. “This was all about small business. Everything we make is made in the USA.”
In addition to having her company featured on the site, Andrea was one of only a handful of business owners invited to Dallas to appear on Beck’s online show, “GBTV.”
When they applied to be featured on Glenn Beck’s Marketplace, Emily said, they had to share Andrea’s story and how Hannah Kate got started.
They wanted something compelling, and though Andrea had never really thought so, she said now she sees what a blessing the company has been for her and her family as well as her employees.
She started her business in 2000 in the basement of her home. When it came to choosing a company name, she was inspired by her two daughters, Hannah and Kathryn. She told her husband Pat about the idea for the clothing line, and then she began preparing for her first trunk show.
“My first show, I sold about $5,000,” she said. “Then it just started to grow through word of mouth. Now we have about 120 shows a season each year nationwide.”
A year after Andrea started the company, her sister Carolyn Bradford connected her with Emily. Carolyn is owner of Mountain Brook’s Mulberry Heights, and all three women attended Briarwood Christian School.
Emily had a skill that Andrea is quick to admit she lacks: Emily can sew.
“I was actually approaching Andrea’s sister to see if she might need any sewing at her shop,” Emily said. “She told me to call Andrea. Now I’m manager by day and sewing at night. It’s just been a great ride. It’s never been boring.”
Andrea and Emily travel to Los Angeles twice a year in search of vintage, organic fabrics. Back in her Homewood office, she creates the designs. The line is for girls ages 6 months-14 and boys ages 6 months-8.
Andrea describes her creations as “fun and nostalgic.” Girls’ pieces include ruffle-bottom pants paired with T-shirts with custom appliques as well as dresses and tunics paired with leggings. For boys, she offers the T-shirts with appliques more suited to boys paired with classic pants and jumpers for the younger ones.
“I think my inspiration comes from just about everywhere,” she said. “I notice design in everything. Women’s fashion, too, just really inspires me.”
While her son Will, 19, was never too interested in fashion, her daughters and the company’s namesakes still love checking out their mom’s line — though now, at 16 and 14, they’ve pretty much grown out of it.
“The whole family really has been so sweet and supportive,” Andrea said. “And the girls, they just love it. They love looking at things and putting things together.”
Andrea said she’s not sure what’s in store for the future, but she and Emily hope their relationship with Belk will be a lasting one. In addition to their line being featured at select stores, Hannah Kate also will be featured in Belk’s 125th anniversary promotions.
Andrea said she also hopes to grow their new wholesale line of Hannah Kate, Nain and Joe, named after her grandparents.
For more information on Hannah Kate, visit www.hannahkateonline.com.