Creator Spotlight with Fashion Designer Kate Pankoke

Fashion Designer Kate Pankoke designing a wedding dress

Photo Credit: Leah Judson

This week we’d like to introduce you to Project Runway All Star and award-winning designer, Kate Pankoke. Kate is the current owner of Elaya Vaughn by Kate Pankoke, a designer driver luxury bridal, evening wear, and accessories line. 

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?   

I believe that I was born a creator. I have always loved making things. I started with drawings and paintings and then began designing clothing when I became old enough to buy my own. I was always shopping for something super specific (like a white eyelet lace bikini) and could never find it, so eventually, I just ended up making it. I used to think that finishing the garment was my favorite part of making, but I realized recently that what I enjoy most is sharing my creations with the world. I love hearing how they make other people feel and what they think about them.

Can you talk through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?  

I start with an idea, they come to me randomly. If my brain is super passionate about an idea it will keep bugging me until I sketch it out. Once it’s sketched, there’s no turning back. My brain will take it apart and put it together over and over again until I make it. Another thing that I do that helps is I name all of my gowns, this helps me create a psychological profile for them. When I’m stuck, or don’t understand why something’s not working, I ask myself ‘why doesn’t [insert gown name here] like this?’ Usually, the answer is super clear. Each season, I can usually predict the gowns that will be the best sellers, simply based on what is trending in the market. Then, I allow myself one gown in each collection that I don’t have a budget for and it doesn’t need to be practical or sellable, it just needs to epitomize the feel of the collection as a whole. Those gowns are usually my favorite! And while they don’t sell the most, they do actually sell and those brides hold a special place in my heart. Those gowns are also the ones that get photographed the most, so while their direct sales may not be the highest, who knows how many sales they are responsible for indirectly through their market reach. 

Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially? 

I have had a big box retailer request to view a sample of mine, decide against purchasing it, then turn around and work with another designer to create an almost identical gown with the same name. Needless to say, I was very upset, especially because I had been working on selling to this particular retailer since before they even launched. I was shocked when, the following season, I received another request from them to see the dress. I called them and explained that I was aware that they copied my gown already and I wouldn’t be making it easier for them to do that again. The knock-off gown was made a few shades pinker than my gown (which I had meticulously layered with fabric to create a beautiful color that we call Rosé. It seems like the color of the knock off dress is the reason that it didn’t sell and they wanted to get the color right. I explained that the only way they were seeing my sample again was if I brought it in person and took it with me when I left. They apologized for the “misunderstanding” and insisted that it wouldn’t happen again. They did end up purchasing the gown and it did very well for them. The entire incident made me stronger and more aware of the possibility of infringement.

What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time, and money into?

It’s a very frustrating experience, and I usually handle it the way that I did with the big box retailer, as I try to protect my work and not make it easy for someone to infringe.

What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?   

The advice I have is not to work with people you don’t trust, no matter how exciting of an opportunity it may seem to be. Even if they haven’t infringed you yet, if they do it to other creatives, they’ll do it to you too, it is only a matter of time. I wish that these larger corporations could realize that they could partner with creatives and we would be happy to have them do the manufacturing while we consult on the designs. My other advice is to protect your works by registering them for copyright. 

Are you one of our Individual Creator Members? Participate in our Creator Spotlight series! Please email us at And if you aren’t already a member of the Alliance, you can join today by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form!

get blog updates