Kae Katz wins Mayor's Entrepreneur 2021
Kae Katz from MA Fashion Futures has been crowned the winner of the Mayor Entrepreneur Prize 2021, earning £20,000 towards her business, along with guidance from expert mentors within City Hall. Kae’s ‘Fibre Lab’ concept ultimately triumphed over 508 other candidates, with the judges impressed with the focus on providing small and medium-sized enterprises resources to improve their sustainability footprints. Judges also felt that Fibre Lab had the potential to support the Fashion industry with its aims to become more circular.
Kae found initial success through LCF's Collaborative Challenge, where her project Fibre Lab was initially brought to life. The Collaborative Challenge (previously the Collaborative Unit) is a unique opportunity for LCF postgraduate students to collaborate across disciplines to address challenges, provocations and concepts affecting the fashion landscape by engaging with current research and technologies, industry partners, alumnus and academic partners. Following her success on the challenge, Kae went on to apply for the Mayors Entrepreneur Prize 2021. Kae is now due to return to Collaborative Challenge again with a brief for this year's participants.
LCF Stories spoke to Kae the day after her fantastic achievement, discussing her plans for the prize money, the ideas behind the Fibre Lab launch and the positive impact of in-house LCF competitions.
How did you initially feel when you received the news?
Completely overwhelmed! It was such an incredible moment. I had been working on developing this idea since my MA in 2019 and to have it all come together and be recognised by such a prestigious panel left me truly speechless. I even shed a few tears before pulling it together and thanking everyone!
What was the inspiration behind the concept?
The inspiration came from curiosity and research. Throughout my MA, I was asking “can fashion ever truly be sustainable? Can fashion be used as a tool to regenerate our environment?” I found that the answer is yes, and there were already some really inspiring initiatives. Rebecca Burgess’s ‘Fibreshed’, is a network of farmers and makers who rear wool-bearing sheep to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. It seemed like the perfect solution, except most of us don’t have farms. So the question then became, “how can we build local and regenerative fashion systems in condensed urban areas?” The answer became what is now ‘Fibre Lab’
You were involved in the Collaborate Challenge, how was your experience?
The Collaborative Challenge was an invaluable experience, although daunting at first, I ended up pitching my own brief and selecting a team to help me accomplish the brief. It was a great experience, that allowed me to connect and really get to know students from other disciplines. The challenge presented me with a real-world experience of leading a team and overcoming obstacles. Specifically, Covid-19, which first arose during that term. Our group had planned to do an in-person event but due to the unforeseen lockdown, we ended up doing a completely digital project which was a great success and pushed us all outside of our comfort zones.
How has the Collaborative Challenge influenced your current practice?
The Collaborative Challenge had a direct influence on my current practice, most significantly, it gave me the experience I needed to feel confident in leading a team, managing a real-life project and collaborating with other professional creatives. The project itself helped to build the foundations of what is now a start-up business that has gone on to win awards.
How do you plan to invest your prize money into 'Fibre Lab', and what are some of your future plans for the business?
I dream big but I also try to be realistic, so I will definitely be thinking carefully about what to invest it in. For now, the main costs are upgrading to a larger, more commercial shredding machine and finding a better-suited studio space. In the longer term, I imagine there would be a few Fibre Lab studios set up across the UK - possibly 2 in London and 1 in the midlands, where there is a real need for textile recycling solutions. I’m also eager to get as many people involved in the community as possible through upcoming events, workshops, volunteer activities and collaborations. I’m definitely looking for students who want to get involved!
You were also a semi-finalist in the LCF Enterprise Challenge prior to the Mayor’s Entrepreneur competition. Did working with Graduate Futures act as a form of preparation before going through this competition process?
Yes, definitely. Graduate Futures and specifically Frances Odell were crucial in supporting and preparing me for the Mayor’s Entrepreneur competition. Prior to the LCF Enterprise Challenge, I had spent quite a lot of time preparing to apply for the Start-Up Visa as well, and both of those experiences were really helpful in outlining all the details of the business plan. As someone who is trained as a designer, it’s been really important for me to put myself in these challenging and sometimes uncomfortable situations to grow. It’s only recently that I started to really identify as an entrepreneur, and the one thing I would say to all my fellow students is that it’s really just about showing up and giving it your all!
Is there anybody that you’d like to thank, upon accepting the award?
There are so many people who have given their time, support and encouragement but specifically: The Graduate Futures team, Frances Odell and Mirela de Lacerda Barbosa, my tutors, Francesco Mazzarella, Katelyn Toth-Fejel and Julia Crew, my colleagues at CSF, Lou Budd and Nina Stevenson and all my family, friends and peers who were absolutely essential.
The key aims are to provide live challenges/provocations that reflect what’s happening in the world of fashion. Students engage with live research, academics and industry partners in an 8-week project that allows them to pitch back on how they wish to address the challenge. The students have the wonderful opportunity to work in a cross course, cross school manor, realising their work with others through shared experience and ambitions. It’s a wonderful opportunity to expand their practice and go above course specialism, thinking outside the box and choosing a brief that speaks to them.
The students draw their skills together in a multidisciplinary team, working through the project collaboratively and developing soft skills that are crucial to be successful in industry such as teamworking, collaborative practice, negotiation and conflict management.