Maine designer talks about her collection filia

I first stumbled upon Kate O’Toole’s designs on Etsy and immediately loved her fun prints and classic styles. When I saw she was a Mainer I could’t help reaching out to her for an interview. Take a look at my interview wit her below to see what her collection, filia, is all about and how this new mom (Congratulations!) got her start in the world of fashion design.

Katie Day: How did you get started designing?

Kate O’Toole modeling her own design. | Photo courtesy of Kate O’ Toole.

Kate O’Toole: I guess I started after I graduated from college, working my first job and looking for something to do with my spare time. I’d always sewn a bit here and there, but I found myself enjoying it more and wanting to experiment with making clothing for myself. I think you hear that from a lot of home sewers – you hit a certain proficiency and you start looking at clothing and in stores and thinking, “I could do that, with cuter fabric and for half the price”. And then eventually I wanted to create clothes I couldn’t find in stores – original designs that fit me particularly well and were a little different from what was out there.


KD: Did you have any formal design training?

KO: No. My mum taught me the basics of how to sew when I a little girl, and a lot of the rest I’ve taught myself through trial-and-error– sometimes a lot of error.


filia skirts | Photo courtesy of Kate O’ Toole.

KD: When was filia created? And where did you come up with the name?

KO: I created filia in June of 2011. Prior to that I had been designing and sewing clothes for myself and for family and friends by request, and I decided to see if there would be any demand for what I make from people who didn’t know me! I chose the name filia for my designs, well, partly because I think it sounds pretty. But also because it echoes the Greek word for family and friends, which was meaningful to me. They are completely tied up in my creative process – my mum taught me how to sew, my sister photographs my items (and occasionally models when coerced), my parents and husband help me staff craft shows, and my friends inspire my designs and give me great feedback.


KD: Have you always lived in Maine?

KO: Almost! I grew up in Saco, where my parents still live. I went to college in Boston, and after a year or two back in Maine post-graduation, ended up moving to Boston and living and working there for a little over six years. Last year, my husband, also a Mainer, and I

A coral dress from filia. | Photo from Kate O’ Toole.

decided we were ready for a change and moved to our current home in the East End neighborhood of Portland. We’re having a lot of fun being back in Maine!


KD: How would you describe your design style?

KO: It’s pretty classic and clean, feminine and comfortable. Nothing too out there. I like to make things that women feel good wearing, and can wear for a long time. I guess I design a lot of what I like to wear. And I tend to gravitate to prints and bright colors!


Chevron pouches from filia. | Photo courtesy of Kate O’Toole.

KD: I’ve noticed on Etsy that you focus mostly on skirts, dresses, and tops, is there anything else that you design?

KO: I do focus mostly on women’s apparel, but I also design and make small accessories like zipper pouches, envelope wallets, yoga mat bags and totes. I also do custom projects, which are really fun – bridesmaids dresses, christening gowns made from the mom’s wedding dress, Halloween costumes, home dec stuff like pillows and curtains. If I think I can make it, I’ll do it!


KD: Is filia a full-time job for you?

KO: It has been for the past year, but typically it’s not. My husband and I found out we were going to have a baby shortly after moving to Maine, which made finding a new job a little awkward! So I had the luxury of focusing on filia and establishing it in Maine and online while we waited for the new addition.


A top from filia collection. | Photo courtesy of Kate O’ Toole.

KD: What can we expect to see from you in the coming year? And how do you think having a baby will chance your designing?

KO: Right now I’m working on some new designs for the fall, as well as updating some of my popular items with new fabrics and colors. These should be showing up over the next few months. I did take a little break from designing and sewing for filia for the last part of my pregnancy, so right now I’m getting back in the swing of things and finishing up some custom work. It’ll be interesting to see how having a baby will affect filia. I don’t think it’ll influence my design aesthetic very much – I’m not planning on adding a kid’s clothing line any time soon! But I imagine it’ll affect how much time I have to design and sew.


KD: Where can people get your product?

filia skirt. | Photo courtesy of Kate O’ Toole.

KO: Right now you can find filia items in my online Etsy shop and at the Merchant Company at 656 Congress Street in Portland, Maine. I’ve also participated in a number of local arts and crafts show as a vendor, like The Big Thaw, Picnic, and the Portland Flea-For-All. Information on any upcoming events can be found on filia’s Facebook page. I also have a blog, which shows some behind-the-scenes looks at filia, as well as other DIY projects that I work on.