As she closes her eyes, smiling at the childhood memory, you can tell she’s there in her mind: back at the garment fabric store Mr. Kaplan owned in downtown Columbia, South Carolina, with the fog of cigar smoke in the air and opera music playing in the background.
“You’d ask him about some fabric, and he’d go and pull a bolt out way up on the top,” says Kathy Harris, founder and designer of Greenville-based clothing line, köttkömm. “I have sewn since I was seven years old. My mother and I made all my clothes growing up. Oh, she could make something out of nothing. She was amazing. She’d come home with just some weird fabric she got cheap and turn it into something just wonderful. My mom said I would just sit there by the sewing machine saying, ‘Mama, when you going to be finished?’ I couldn’t wait for her to get that dress finished!”
After a few seasons in different careers (voice and data communications and real estate, respectively), Harris—who packed her sewing machine during the business-travel heyday of the 1980s—is launching her atelier at 1201 Pendleton Street in the Village of West Greenville to showcase her collection of what she describes as a “classic mod mix.” From the menswear necktie fabric used on the Peter Pan collars to the unexpected Sunbrella outdoor fabric washed repeatedly and crafted into a beautiful (and durable!) perfect-for-a-summer-soirée maxi dress, these are definitely not fast-fashion pieces. They are thoughtfully and purposefully made dresses and shirts, and a hybrid of both she refers to as a “drop” for “dress top.”
Without looking the least bit contrived, the pieces bring to mind the iconic Mary Quant (one of Harris’s influences) and the swinging ’60s styles that invoked freedom and fun for a whole new schematic of femininity. Harris takes the menswear-inspired shirtdress up a notch with a collared neckline and pocket made out of white leather. Her picks for customers are the same things she wanted to wear herself but couldn’t find anywhere, so she decided to just start making them. (Everything is produced and manufactured in South Carolina.)
After years of toying with the name, she had the garment labels made up before she even had a pattern maker on board. The name, with the umlauts? She just likes how it looks—isn’t that what fashion is about anyway?
For more about Kathy Harris and her designs, visit kottkomm.com.
Photograph by Will Crooks