If you see a dog sporting a leather collar adorned with crystals, cameos and studs, it is highly likely it is a Kathryn Payne original.
The view from Kathryn Payne’s Mount Pleasant workroom is rather spectacular. The Christchurch estuary melds with the light in different ways throughout the day. But today the Christchurch fashion and accessories designer may not see it as much. She has a very busy day ahead with a large list of orders for her bespoke dog collars. She has just done the dash from her Lyttelton home to drop off two-year-old Ottó to preschool and then to her mum’s house at Mt Pleasant where she occupies three rooms on the top floor of the house and part of the garage.
Kathryn has seemingly done it all in fashion, from garments to homewares and now designer dog collars. Her popular collars are injected with signature flair in the form of crystals, cameos and studs, but are made to be incredibly robust, with premium quality saddlery leathers and rust-free hardware.
Her design journey started when she was a child and was fascinated by a sewing machine and all it could produce. Fashion was also in her blood, she says, as her grandfather was a master pattern cutter and tailor, while her mother was a keen sewer. Kathryn went from high school into an advanced diploma in fashion technology and design at Christchurch Polytech (today’s Ara Institute of Canterbury). It was there she became fascinated with leather.
“I wanted to make a leather jacket and one of the tutors there had some knowledge about working with it. I’ve actually still got that jacket. It is a pretty beautiful; I did a good job with it for my first piece of leatherwork,” she says with a laugh.
She began making a leather accessories range. It included leather belts and chokers twisted in unique 3D patterns and was sold to places like Workshop under her Kathryn Leah Payne label. At age 25, London beckoned and it was there that she worked for fashion houses like Caroline Charles and Bolongaro Trevor. When she returned to Christchurch in 2008, she resumed her clothing and accessories line and found success.
Kathryn was chosen to show at New Zealand Fashion Week 2010, but didn’t quite have a fairytale journey to the catwalk. The September 4, 2010 earthquake hit and her Cathedral Square workroom was “trashed”. Her garments, fortunately, were not damaged and she was still able to make it to the catwalk on time.
But afterwards, Kathryn felt it was time to change gears and concentrate on small goods like accessories and homewares.
“The fashion world in New Zealand is quite a competitive environment and you need to invest a lot of money upfront to really get your brand out there,” she says. “I was just a one-woman band.”
And one thing Kathryn refuses to compromise on is quality.
“I only use good quality materials and hardware because longevity is really important to me. I source the very best raw materials and my pieces ended up being quite expensive by the time they reached the customer, especially if I sold through a shop,” she says.
Enter the MoWoof Collar Co and a dog called Bo. When Kathryn got Bo, she was more than a little perturbed at the lack of quality dog collars on the market.
“They were made with really cheap leather that has a fake coating that cracks and peels, and hardware rusts. I could see straight away, what was available was just not going to cut it.
“I set myself on a path of learning saddlery techniques and sourcing saddlery leathers to make the best quality dog collars,” she says.
And happy dogs are apparently the best marketing tool. Soon her friends wanted designer dog collars and word of mouth quickly spread and continues to do so today.
She works closely with her clientele, suggesting items that would go well with the colour of their dog’s fur and selects from the leather hide the perfect piece to make the collar.
It has been an interesting journey, Kathryn says.
“Sometimes you end up on the path you weren’t necessarily intending to end up on, but things work out that way,” she says.
“You can’t just stop at the first ‘no’ you get. You have to really believe in your product and push through until you find the people who get what you are doing. That gives you more and more confidence.”
And that path for Kathryn right now, has her happily working away on the top storey of her mum’s house, creating beautiful designer leather collars for our furry friends.