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Major: Accounting Current residence: Saratoga Springs, N.Y,
Owner/designer of Kathleen Maeve women’s clothing line
This time of year, Kathleen Rourke, like many people in her upstate community, wears light party dresses to the racetrack, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and the restaurants along Broadway. But she also occasionally spots someone wearing something she imagined, designed, marketed, distributed, and sold:
“So far, I haven’t said anything to them, but I think it’s great,” says Rourke, 31, who launched Kathleen Maeve, her women’s “attainable luxury” brand, in 2022.
After working in finance, starting a family, and wondering what was next, Rourke decided on a career that combined her interests in business and fashion. Out of the gate (to use racetrack parlance,) Kathleen Maeve (named for herself and her daughter) is thriving and projecting strong sales in the coming year. Here, Rourke discusses her style, work, and her Saint Rose education:
You have always loved the same romantic, classic, and preppy styles you create today. But when you were growing up, you had to use your imagination to dress up your look, right?
I went to St. Pius X and then The Academy of the Holy Names in Albany for high school.
I had a wonderful experience at both schools. I’ve always loved fashion. We would accessorize the school uniform with headbands, bows, or different tote bags. If five-year-old me could see the dresses I create now, I would have loved them. In college, I used to watch the New York City Fashion Week shows from my dorm room. I have always been very girly, and my personal style has remained true for my entire life.
Why did you choose Saint Rose?
Growing up in Albany, I had no idea that Saint Rose had a campus as nice as it was. I did the campus tour and was pretty much sold right away. I loved having a campus and college experience but having my family close by.
Discuss the impact of your Saint Rose accounting education.
The accounting program and the school of business have been extremely beneficial to running a business today. There are tons of highly talented and creative people in the world, but you have to have equal strength in bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, legalities, and budgeting to be able to create a real business. A lot of my job entails spreadsheets, forecasting, and percentages. There is no doubt that my education and work experience helps with these skills.
What did you enjoy about Saint Rose?
There are so many things I loved. First, the professors: the class sizes are small enough that the professors really know and care about you. I still think about a lot of my professors often, what I learned from them, and wonder what they are doing now. I was a cheerleader for my first and second years and made so many friends I still have to this day. Every day on campus was just so fun, and I look back on those years with such joy.
How did you start Kathleen Maeve?
After college, I worked in the finance department of The Business Council of New York State for four years. When I had my son in 2019, I chose to become a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always said I wanted to be a business owner but just didn’t know what the business would be. It was a culmination of thinking this my entire life, my career being on pause, and new-found confidence after becoming a mother that led me to actually pull the trigger and start something.
Getting your designs into the world takes a lot more than picking the color, cut, and fabric, right?
So much more goes into it than you would think. From concept to first sale takes around six months. I start with the fabric. I either hire an artist to draw my vision or negotiate licensing terms with an artist to use their pre-existing artwork on my dresses. I have a good eye for scaling the fabric (i.e., how big or small the flower on the dress should be) and also the print placement (i.e., would this print look better on a long dress or short dress?) The fabric is digitally printed using a special machine, washed, pre-shrunk, cut and hand-smocked, and sewn into the dresses you see on my website. While they are being made, I have a sample of each one to conduct a photo shoot to use for marketing materials.
Once the bulk order is on its way to me, I set a launch date and start building hype on social media, mostly Instagram. Social media doesn’t come as naturally to me. I don’t love talking on camera, but I do it because it’s what part of owning a business requires. The power of social media is insane. It still blows my mind how people across the country are viewing my website and converting into customers.
More than a few people have bought your dresses, right?
I have broken six-figure sales in my first year of business. I signed with two sales representatives in Atlanta and Dallas to help grow the wholesale side of my business. I am in around 25 stores across the country, and this number should grow a lot with their help next year. We have already started selling for 2024 and are off to a good start.
I have a ton of new designs coming, as well as re-stocking some pieces that we already have. We have sold out of almost everything this summer.
Finally, how do you think college students can follow their dream and make a living?
If you find yourself in a job after college that you don’t love, that’s totally ok. If you also don’t know what job will make you happy, that’s also ok! It takes time and happens at a different time for everyone. Never stop investing and believing in yourself. You absolutely don’t have to choose between them.