Besides her upbringing and childhood movie viewing, Kato also cites Magdalen Veen, aka Eliza Guager of the band Abney Park, as one of her major influences. Kato considers Magdalen to be the "original Steampunk girl."
For those familiar with Steampunk, but not yet familiar with Steampunk Couture, it's a brand that has seen a good deal of evolution through the years. "It started off covered in buckles and straps and was very dark—heavily influenced by my love of Gothic fashion—and over the years has been leaning more toward traditional Victorian designs and basics for people to add their own flair to. I've always felt that the Do-It-Yourself creative energy was at the heart of the Steampunk culture, so I want to encourage people to customize their outfits to suit their own identity and for them to aim to be as original as possible as the Steampunk populous grows."
And as the Steampunk populous grows, so does the Steampunk Couture brand and its team. Three years ago, Kato began hiring interns, and last year she hired her first full-time assistant. As of this year, Kato also works alongside a second assistant, a head seamstress, and a part-time seamstress.
With all of the hard work from the Steampunk team, Kato released an extensive new line, which coincided with both a new website and a new product division for the brand, Kato's Closet. In Kato's Closet you'll find, not only clothing and accessories, but also an array of vintage treasures such as pipes, jailer's keys, and teapots.
"Oregon boasts an enormous collection of antique stores, so when I'm not creating clothing here at home, you'll likely find me rummaging, elbow-deep through bins of vintage lace and trinkets." However, as Kato explains, she's not one to just pick up an item and pass it on to the next buyer. "I don't do many re-sells, as I prefer to customize an item with my own personal style before putting it up for sale. It means the customer is buying a more special and unique item." And as for the clothes you'll find in Kato's Closet, they head in a new direction for the brand as well. As opposed to the main Steampunk line, Kato's Closet includes primarily lighter, shabby-chic style clothing. Kato explains it as "really pretty things that appeal to a wider audience than just my fellow Steampunks."
Kato's willingness to work directly with her customers, taking into account their interests, is definitely one of the big factors that helped Steampunk Couture grow since its inception. While custom orders are currently accepted on a very limited basis, at the start of the company, Kato was willing to take on most any commission that came her way in order to build up her name.
"Early on I took pretty much any commission that came my way, and once or twice these included something really weird like a spaceman suit, a themed wedding dress, a Steampunk drag queen ensemble, or a hiphop hedgehog outfit!" Kato explains. But as Steampunk culture began to gain popularity, business quickly expanded for the brand who, at the time, was one of the only companies providing Steampunk clothing.
With the brand now firmly established, Kato has plenty of room to experiment. She says that she would like to sell jewelry and more offer more leather work creations. Some Victorian-inspired underwear and Steampunk art dolls are another possible future endeavor, along with what Kato describes as a "giant, earth-moving top-secret side project that is going to either make or break" her. One can only guess what intricate new creations Kato could be cooking up in that Steampunk Laboratory of hers… (All photos © Steampunk Couture)