Kate Swanson is a lawyer, and in her more recent history, an entrepreneur, as the Founder and CEO of ENSEMBL, a design-forward, modern housewares brand that has disrupted its category and received accolades from the likes of Architectural Digest. With her strong business acumen and background in corporate law, Kate literally bootstrapped ENSEMBL from concept to launch.
Before launching her own company, Kate worked as legal counsel and head of policy at FAIR Canada, an organization dedicated to protecting minority investor rights and addressing corporate governance matters of public interest; she also worked for a leading global law firm. Kate’s legal experience advising on both transactional and governance matters helped prepare her for her jump to entrepreneurship. The Brand is Female’s Eva Hartling spoke to Kate about her journey from advocacy, to entrepreneurship, and how she merges the experiences for ‘conscious creativity’.
Let’s take a step back in time for a moment. When you were growing up, what did you think you’d be doing as a career later in life?
Oh my gosh, that’s such a fun question to start out with. I did not think that I would be running a luxury home goods company! When I was really young, I think my first kind of dream job that I had was that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I used to love watching Jeanne Becker and Fashion Television, and so for a long time that was my dream. I think as I got a little bit older, my dreams became a bit more practical and I wanted to be a lawyer, which is ultimately what I ended up pursuing in terms of school.
You started a career in law, and I can see the connection between wanting to be a fashion designer and what you’re doing today. There is a very creative element that’s involved in your brand, so that’s not completely disconnected. So tell me about that first chapter in your career where you were working in law.
What was the inspiration behind starting ENSEMBL six years ago?
When I was starting out I definitely didn’t have a moment where I sat down and thought ‘I think I wanna start my own business’. I had a moment where I had come home from a really long day at work and wanted to make myself dinner and I went to open my cupboard and all of the lids came crashing down, and it was just like a really awful moment after a really long day where I thought this is not what I want to be dealing with while trying to take one pot out. And I thought, products shouldn’t be designed this way, and I sat there in my kitchen looking at it, looking at the way that all of my pots were stacked, looking at my cupboard and going, this is a, this is a design problem that we’re faced with here. These are products that are made for people that live in large suburban homes, people that have tons of storage space, and I’m living in a condo in the middle of the city and I don’t have that much additional space.
At the outset, the start of ENSEMBL was really just me trying to solve my own problem, which was how could I create cookware that could fit into my cupboard? Something that could be, you know, beautiful, sleek, and multifunctional.