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Kate Spade Accelerates Its Investment in Mental Health Initiatives

The brand, whose eponymous cofounder died of suicide in 2018, has invested $32 million in mental health and empowerment initiatives globally with nonprofit partners in North America, Japan, the U.K. and East Africa.

Kate Spade Accelerates Its Investment in Mental Health Initiatives

Liz Fraser, CEO of Kate Spade New York

Kate Spade, which has worked in women’s mental health and empowerment for more than 10 years, has accelerated this work in recent years.

While mental health continues to gain attention, women’s mental health remains underfunded, and access to culturally competent care is limited for many women and girls.

To date, Kate Spade, whose eponymous cofounder died of suicide in 2018, has invested $32 million in mental health and empowerment initiatives globally with nonprofit partners in North America, Japan, the U.K. and East Africa. In addition, the brand continues to innovate, educate and advocate on this critical issue for women and girls.

Asked why mental health is so important to Kate Spade, Liz Fraser, chief executive officer of Kate Spade, said, “It’s been a journey we’ve been on for 11 years. It started with our desire to push harder into women’s empowerment. We started doing our first women’s cooperative in Rwanda, with the idea of bringing empowerment to women in rural communities.”

She said Kate Spade put a lot of work into the women’s physical health, literacy and nutrition and what they discovered partially because Rwanda has a history of genocide, was there were a lot of mental health issues. “When we added women’s mental facilities into the work, their empowerment scores skyrocketed. We discovered you can not be an empowered woman without addressing mental health,” Fraser said.

Further, she explained that the Kate Spade brand is multidimensional. “It’s not just about happiness. It’s actually something more resonant. That has led us on this path. Obviously, Kate’s tragic passing was another moment in time. It obviously had such a dramatic impact on her family, our customers, the industry at large and certainly our employees. We really began to do a lot from a grassroots effort.” They did a $1 million donation at that time for women’s mental health and that accelerated the work.

Another big factor in mental health issues has been COVID-19, which opened the door and everyone could see the degree to which mental health was an enormous issue, Fraser said.

Asked how she gets her employees on board to these mental health programs, Fraser said, “One of the things is, culturally, it’s really embedded in the organization and the people who are drawn to work at Kate Spade. It’s a very caring community.” One of the things that came out of Kate Spade’s death, is an inside grassroots effort called Mine, Body, Soul where they do yoga, meditation and offer all kinds of events to help people. They also have a Joy Jar that holds all the events for people’s mental health. Kate Spade also started mental health first-aid training.

Taryn Bird, executive director of social impact at Kate Spade, said the mental health first-aid training is a six-hour course where one learns the signs of mental illness. It’s led by National Council for Mental Wellbeing, a longstanding partner of the brand. Kate Spade will launch Mental Health First Aid at Work training with the the mental well-being organization for all 900-plus of its store leaders across North America.

In addition, Kate Spade has also changed sick days to “wellness days,” so if employees are stressed out, they can take days off, no questions asked. The company also tries to create unstructured time within people’s calendars. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., there are no structured meetings. “We try to be really mindful,” she said. They also started flex Fridays where they officially close the office at 1 p.m., which has been adapted throughout parent firm Tapestry Inc.

On Thursday, Kate Spade is tapping actress and social impact council member, Sofia Wiley to launch its 2023 Social Impact Report for the external community. Kate Spade achieved its goal of reaching 100,000 women and girls with direct access to mental health resources and support by 2025, a full year early.

Kate Spade has more than 20 global philanthropic partners in the mental health space, including Taraji P. Henson’s Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Black Girls Smile, Trevor Project, Isooko Community Development (Rwanda) and Full Stop (Australia).

Throughout the month, Kate Spade is holding various mental health events. On May 1, the company hosted an event in partnership with the company’s Social Impact Council member, Latham Thomas of Mama Glow, honoring Maternal Mental Health Advocates. The event brought together 40 leaders in maternal mental health, and these conversations will be spotlighted on Kate Spade social channels in the coming days.

On May 31, Kate Spade will sponsor the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation’s “Can We Talk,” Symposium and will participate in a panel conversation with Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jade Jenkins around the topic of: “Reversing the Tide: BIPOC Organizations and the Vanishing Support for Economic Empowerment.” The plan is to dive into a critical roundtable discussion examining the concerning decline in funding and support for BIPOC companies amidst shifting priorities in the realms of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Women’s Mental Health will be a topic that will be woven through many of the main stage conversations.

Kate Spade has also launched a product capsule (a necklace and T-shirt) with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation and the reveal of the third She Care Wellness Pod, which they are rolling out together across HBCU campuses.

In addition, the company said Reshma Saujani is the newest member of its Social Impact Council.

“Social impact is such an important part of our overall work. I think our customers see it, and they like it. We are kind of walking the talk. In my time here, this idea has just gotten bigger and bigger and we want to get even louder,” she said.

May 16 is Mental Health Action Day. In the fall, Kate Spade will be hosting its third annual summit on mental health. It is the women’s health event during the U.N. General Assembly Weeks in New York, “And it’s an important moment for us to really shine light on the topic,” Bird said.

Turning to current business, Fraser said, “In North America and China, which are big markets, there are headwinds in terms of consumer sentiment. We are really excited about the new initiatives that we have. Everybody is figuring out. The more that you can lead with your authentic storytelling and product that is special, the better.”

What’s particularly newsworthy going forward is the product. “There’s a lot of new product in the pipeline that I’m really excited about,” Fraser said. “We are relaunching the Spade flower jacquard logo, and we have a lot of pop-ups that are going to be devoted to that around the world. There’s some significant storytelling around that.”