APIECE APART WOMAN
Kate Huling is the designer of leather handbag line Marlow Goods, a mother of four, and a founding partner with her husband Andrew Tarlow of many beloved Brooklyn restaurants and businesses, including Marlow & Sons, the Wythe Hotel, Roman’s, Diner, Marlow & Daughters butcher shop, and She Wolf Bakery. And amid all of Kate’s success, we’re most inspired by not just what she does, but how she does it, with a presence that’s at once down to Earth, incredibly focused, and forward-thinking. While her plate is certainly full, Kate’s perspective on prioritizing what’s best for her family, her work, her community, and herself is truly refreshing. We visited her at home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to discuss navigating the moment, building a business, and keeping it simple.
Please share more about your upbringing and childhood: where did you grow up, what were you into as an adolescent, and what’s led you to where you are today?
I grew up in a tiny, picturesque town in Vermont, surrounded by woods, mountains, and trees. However, I always longed to be in the city, so I moved to DC, and then LA, France, and NYC as a teenager. My family and I were raw foodists and environmentalists - so I really have not changed much at all since then! I still strive to do work that has a beneficial impact on my physical environment as well as my community, and I have been inspired by all of the places that I have lived in and enjoyed.
How did you get into working with leather and come to start Marlow Goods?
In school I studied comparative literature, international relations, and three languages…I think I imagined I’d have a totally different life than what it turned out to be. I met my husband Andrew when I was 20, who was just opening a restaurant, and suddenly I had no interest in moving overseas — I had a huge transition and got completely involved in the restaurants.
Around the same time, I had a friend who was making custom sandals and we started taking a class together working with leather at FIT — we did some small collaborations, which I loved, and then I got pregnant with our first son. I was 21 — and navigating all of those things was too much for the moment, so the leather goods went on the back burner until ten years later, in 2008. By that time, our restaurants were working regularly with our local farmers, and we were establishing a meat program…it was a completely serendipitous thing, to understand that we could make the leather goods part of that flow, part of the same supply chain. We have been doing that now for seven years, and are still learning. It’s very challenging and costly and all of those things, but I love it — the diversity of working with a farmer one day and laying out bag designs the next.
Can you share more about what it means to you to have a self-made career and to work independently?
For me, it was about having a company that’s doing ethical work but also being able to be totally available to my kids for everything. I’m not trying to build my brand to some level where that balance would change. Running your own company is really an uphill battle, but I try to balance the challenges and mindset by not allowing myself to be a slave to it. It’s so important to me to be there for my kids, but also as a woman to still do the creative, productive work I do for myself, and to build something I love that’s nurturing to me and others.
I think that it is exhilarating to create something that I feel such a connection to at every step of the process. Because I have built my company from dirt to customer, I have hand-picked every person that I work with. I doubt what I am doing all of the time, just like most people, I think.
"It’s so important to me to be there for my kids, but also as a woman to still do the creative, productive work I do for myself, and to build something I love that’s nurturing to me and others."
What have been some of the biggest turning points in your career?
Opening and operating a shop at the Wythe Hotel for a year and a half. I learned so much about my business from the perspective of the retailer that I hope will make me a better partner to the retailers who are representing me in stores around the country.
Do you have a hard time turning off your work?
I don't. I meet all of my kids after school and we make dinner or go out to dinner together. Once that happens, I leave my phone plugged in and don't look at it again until I am at work the following day.
When do you do your best thinking?
I do a lot of design work in the subway, when watching how men and women are using their bags, wallets, and totes.
Describe a personal ritual.
The way that I eat is so vitally important to how I am successful in my day, as a one-woman show at work, as a mother of four, and as a partner to my husband running restaurants, a hotel, a butcher shop, and a bakery. I mainly eat superfoods: microalgea, leafy greens, raw eggs, and grassfed meat.
What do you make for dinner alone? What do you make when you entertain?
I haven't eaten dinner alone in 15 years! I always love making marinated grilled lamb kebabs and salads. But we throw parties for 25-35 every month, we love making huge festive meals (that you can read about this fall in the cookbook that we have been working on!)
Is there anything you fear?
I fear not being able to make a positive impact outside of our Brooklyn community. The scope of mine and Andrew's work is suddenly feeling so small, and I can't exactly see how it can grow and evolve without sacrificing what we love so much about our tiny Brooklyn microcosm.
What is next for you?
Immediately what is next for me is trying to solidify my business, which is still very precarious…it depends on a very perishable, challenging, and vulnerable material that you’re trying to sell to a market that expects perfection. I am working my hardest at finding a customer who appreciates how unique each product is, and is intrigued by each nick and spot.
What are the biggest things you’ve learned?
I think that the most important thing that I have learned is that if I don't believe in what I do, and believe that I can build a successful company, that no one will. It is so much easier to doubt myself than to take a risk and put myself out into the world - it is an incredible challenge.
Photography by TIM HOUT | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON