Free Enterprise Staff  | October 6, 2015

Spotlight on Women Leaders: Kate Spade & Company SVP Sydney Price

Beginning yesterday and continuing through tomorrow, October 7th, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Corporate Citizenship Conference highlights some of the world’s leading global companies, and shows how they’re solving some of the world’s biggest problems—starting at the local level. To spotlight the event, we’re running some of the interviews we conducted at last year’s conference, including this sit down we had with Kate Spade SVP Sydney Price.

When Sydney Price was young, she rarely lived in one city for more than a few years. Her father was a pilot in the Navy, which meant relocating the family each time he was assigned to a new post—and new schools for Sydney.

“Growing up, I traveled around and moved a lot,” Price says. “I was an outsider a lot, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the outsider and for anyone who is on the outskirts. I absolutely believe my background has made me a more compassionate person in terms of understanding others who are on the outskirts of life.”

While difficult at the time, her nomadic upbringing has had a profound impact on her professional career, says Price, a senior vice president at Kate Spade & Company. Since joining the New York City-based fashion house in 2009, Price has shifted her focus from merchandising toward corporate social responsibility, a division she now oversees.

Heading corporate social responsibility initiatives for a major international brand—one with net sales of more than $1.2 billion in 2013—hasn’t come without its challenges. But Price credits the company’s leadership with fostering a corporate spirit that has helped make the transition a smooth one.

“What I found with Kate Spade & Company is that it’s an incredibly entrepreneurial organization,” she says. “The leadership really encourages us to push our boundaries and think big, and that’s really how the On Purpose trade model was born.”

In the following clip, Price talks about Kate Spade’s “intrapreneurial” culture and how it’s facilitated her own professional development.

Kate Spade’s corporate ethos helped drive Price to start On Purpose, an innovative new trade model that is altogether different from the paradigmatic one followed by the majority of businesses. Through the for-profit initiative, Kate Spade works directly with 150 local women artisans in Rwanda who function as valuable suppliers for the three brands that comprise Kate Spade & Company.

On Purpose differs from many existing trade models, Price says, because it is not funded by charitable donations and it provides an array of training programs for the Rwandans who participate in it. The program’s objective is to give these workers the tools they’ll need to create viable businesses that Kate Spade can then directly partner with. In the following clip, Price explains how On Purpose enjoys a singular position among corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The products that Kate Spade receives from its Rwandan partners, Price says, are all handmade and crafted to fit seamlessly within its existing lineup of product offerings. They began appearing on store shelves earlier this year, adds Price, whose own travels influenced the program’s direction and strategy.

“I’ve been a luxury merchant my whole life, and I’ve been so blessed to be able to travel to so many developing countries and many undeveloped countries and post-conflict countries,” she says. “What I have observed firsthand is that women have not always been included in the conversation of how to really create change within their country. I really wanted to help women have a voice, and give voice to women who did not have one.”

Because On Purpose was specifically designed to be a self-sufficient initiative, it is easily replicable, Price says. It’s with that in mind that the company is closely monitoring its progress in the hopes of expanding it elsewhere, both in Africa and across the world.