When you happily receive an electric sewing machine at age 6 you can most likely predict a career in fashion. It's not surprising then that designer, Fiona Kempton, started her own handbag line after a long history of sewing and stitching. Fiona grew up in rural England and moved to New York City in the year 2000 at 21 years of age."I had been reading my guide book on New York and it said to 'Hold on to your bags.' I took the subway from JFK with my portfolio and bag and I arrived to a deli where my key was being held. I walked up to this dingy apartment that smelled of cat pee and asked myself, 'Do people really live like this?' I mean, there was no kitchen or bathroom sink. We had to do all the dishes in the bath tub!"Although shocked at first, Fiona grew to adore her tin roof, brick wall, "shabby chic" apartment. The place belonged to a woman who had gotten ahold of Fiona's resume and suggested Fiona search for jobs in NYC, a place more receptive to London graduates than London itself. After all, Fiona had just graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Fashion Design and was ready to start her career.Her first job came by way of a headhunter. Originally working for Anne Taylor, Fiona moved to the Gap where she designed children's and baby's denim. After working for Gap Fiona left to join a small company that went quickly downhill. It was a blessing in disguise, however, as this seemingly bad move from corporation to start-up would lead her to start her own company."There was a time I was traveling a lot for work. I was in Hong Kong and knew a very talented shoemaker there. I was so frustrated by having to carry around both a laptop case and purse with me everywhere [and at the time laptops were much larger than present day]. So I sketched a version of a bag that included a section for a laptop and would allow for one carry on. The shoemaker made the sample for me. This was a big stepping stone in what would become Kempton & Co."After 10 years working for others in New York, Fiona decided to create her own brand. "Initially i worked with a factory locally to produce but it became really frustrating to buy expensive leather that the sample makers would ruin. I ended up hiring my own sample maker who used to make bags for Coach. He is an amazing artisan."Her childhood heavily influences her design edge. "My grandmother was a court dress maker and was always stitching and knitting. My dad was also a craftsman who was into horse racing. He was a horse trainer and would make saddlery. He'd also make his own fishing bags by replicating what he saw in a magazines. We used to take our boat to sea and I would be there, 6 years old, with my generator making make-up bags. I must've been the youngest kid with an electric sewing machine."Fast forward to Fiona as a 12 year old and she was still crafting away. She would make and sell pencil pouches and bags to teachers at her boarding school. She would use old zippers she and her mom had gotten off clothes from charity stores."My familial background definitely influences my current design aesthetic. The bags are English heritage inspired. They are even named after horses my dad trained, the names of grand national winners, or names of English counties. I use wax canvas, broken used leather, and old saddlery brass fittings. Some bags are made from vintage textiles that are 100 years old and monogrammed with the original farmers initials. I am inspired by old fishing bags and brands like Filson. I like the idea of taking that model and making it feminine and useful. The inspiration translates into the modern world--I put a laptop section in every bag to account for the urban lifestyle."And while an urban lifestyle is one she has led for a while, Fiona makes sure she gets her fix of the more natural environment she loves. She lived in Manhattan for a while before her current residency in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where she now lives with her husband."I'm not really a city girl but I'm in the city...I have to have contrast in my life. I have this thing: I have to look at water. I grew up basically living on a boat so if I'm not near the water I get uncomfortable. In 2006 I got really into kiteboarding starting with a trip to the Dominican Republic. Now I will kite board on summer weekends in the Hampton's. It's this total medication that I am absolutely addicted to. While learning how to kite board, I concentrated so hard I forgot about everything else but being one with nature. Now I get the ultimate feeling and I will be out in the ocean singing at the top of my lungs."
Aside from having an awesome (and useful) family history, an affinity for kite boarding, an amazing waterfront view apartment in Red Hook, and a cool New Yorker/surfer vibe, Fiona is an incredibly nice and down to earth designer. She might take the main stage while singing at the top of her lungs on a wave, but she has me lip syncing in admiration of her meaningful and overall cool line of bags. Go get 'em Fiona!