Kathy Harris is a Greenville-based designer whose focus on quality fabrics and local production weaves together her professional history with her lifelong dream to design. In June 2020, she began accepting personal styling appointments in her studio at 1201 Pendleton St.
“My mom was a seamstress. She made everything my sister and I wore. I picked all of it up and loved it. I kept it up for years and years. I made clothes for friends in college. I designed my own party dresses for parties,” recalls Harris, who continues to wears her own designs even today.
Harris majored in textile design at Winthrop University. “Only two of us majored in it, because of the intensity of the program. There was organic chemistry and computer stuff that nobody knew anything about back then. We learned the FORTRAN language, which is just arcane. We did punch cards and we wrote programs. We toured textile mills. We visited dye centers. All of that was right here in South Carolina.”
However, the timing wasn’t right for Harris when she finished her textiles degree. “I graduated in 1972, and that was when textiles went offshore. It was real bad timing for that career. Interestingly enough, my degree translated well into voice and data communications, because organic chemistry is a puzzle.”
She made the necessary switch to an IT-focused career, but it continued to shape her design influences. “I was in the corporate world in the 80s, when women had to look like a soldier at work,” says Harris. “You should have seen my closet. It was nothing but a bunch of navy blue and black suits. We had to look corporate. We had to look like what men wear. That timeless menswear look has remained an influence in my design. The fabrics never go out of style, and they always look classy.”
“I was continuing to sew a little bit and design a little bit, but life got in the way,” says Harris, who continued to work in the voice and data communications industry for 20 years before her husband died in the early 2000s.
“After John died, I would just drive around and see new things because I had time on my hands. I remember the first time driving down in West Greenville. I saw the old textile mill, and the street that at one time was a little town just minutes out of downtown Greenville. I was drawn to this place,” says Harris, who eventually ended up buying property in the Village, where her atelier (workshop) is located at 1201 Pendleton St.
The small runs of her locally-designed and -produced clothing are a hallmark of her brand, köttkömm. She works closely with APADs, a full-service manufacturer based in Pelzer, which means her pattern maker, marker, grader, and manufacturer are all in South Carolina. Harris also works with Greenville-based myPRlabs as her media representatives.
“It’s been somewhat of a slow process getting here and getting inventory and building the team,” says Harris, who began the process toward being an independent designer 10 years ago.
Her line is currently featured in local boutiques such as the Coleman Collection on North Main Street in Greenville, and in 2018 she won Greenville Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer award. She began accepting personal styling appointments at her studio in the West Village this summer.
“I see these women and I’m like, ‘I just wanna mess you up,’” laughs Harris, who enjoys “deconstructing a woman’s style and putting her in clothing or silhouettes that she’s never tried for herself.”
She describes her style as a ’60s mod-classic “mix,” “because the line can be mixed into a wardrobe. Anybody can take these looks and put them into their closet.”
However, her background in textiles gave her a penchant for quality pieces. She says, “Fashion is fickle, and people want that throwaway garment, but I want my garments to be something that can hang in your closet for a long, long time and still work. With durable fabrics, you can wear it and wash it. It’s not going to wrinkle or go out of style. This is something that has suited you, quite literally,” she jokes regarding her menswear-influenced designs.
“You know when you see a woman that looks like she just stepped out of the ’80s and still looks that way? People say, ‘I think that was a happy time for her,’ because she hasn’t moved on. I do think the’60s were good times for me. But it’s about mixing it and moving on,” says Harris, who has managed to do exactly that in her personal and professional life in addition to her designs.