Katharine Hable Sweeney and Susan Hable Smith are the sisterly duo behind a brand that we, along with countless others, are huge fans of: Hable Construction. For 15 years, Hable Construction has produced high-quality, made-in-America traditional screen-printed fabrics filled with whimsy and energy. Their functional bags for everyday living are coveted. The collection now includes floor coverings, fine art and custom work. With Texas roots, Kate and Susan started their company in Brooklyn, NY. And the name? Hable Construction is anchored in family history, as it is named after their Texan great-grandfather’s 20th-century road construction business. We are thrilled to have Kate and Susan as our April FACES of the South!
How did two sisters from Texas end up with a business in Brooklyn?
Kate: We both went to college in the South, but after a few years we both escaped to large cities (New York and San Francisco, respectively). We started our business when I was pregnant with my third child and living briefly in Chicago. By the time I was back in NYC in Fall 1999, Susan was ready for a move. I talked her into coming back to NYC. We always had a foot in Brooklyn, either an office, a printer or a shipping space, and we loved a different vibe than Manhattan. It was a nice community for us.
Susan: We knew we would have a business together one day, we just didn’t know what. Intuitively, we just knew we would work together. Katharine landed in NYC to work with Ralph Lauren, and I was in San Francisco when I decided to move back to New York to make it happen.
Was there a product that really got the Hable Construction name on the map?
Kate: We have done so many things! But I think we got our first real recognition from our holiday stockings. We had wonderful exposure at Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Garnet Hill, and we did a special collection for each of them, as well as for our website. It was a niche, but a good one.
Susan: It wasn’t a specific product as much as it was the pattern and color we released. We got a lot of recognition for our energy.
Did you have any mentors for business?
Kate: Cynthia O’Connor (COC and Co.) taught me everything about wholesale and tricky distribution and how to have a thick skin, which was hard for this Southern softy. Andy Spade (of Kate Spade) taught me to be true to our brand, regardless of what anyone else says. He made me think outside of the box and was always incredibly encouraging, even today. Charles Fagan (of Polo) was such an inspirational leader when I was a wee manager at Polo. It’s hard to put into words, but listening to him talk about customer service and product and the love of what we do made me love it even more and work harder to do the best I could do.
Susan: We’ve had great people in our lives, but we certainly didn’t make it happen the easy way.
What is the one thing you are most proud of about Hable Construction?
Kate: I am proud that we continue to produce our core collection in the United States and work with lots of family-owned businesses.
Susan: That we’ve been in business for 15 years and we continue to love what we do.
What is one aspect of being raised in the South that has benefited you in NYC?
Kate: I always say that because my accent is still pretty strong, people tend to think I am really sweet. It’s easier to have a tough conversation with a sugar-coated twang. You have to keep your manners, no matter what.
Susan: Southern charm is true and genuine! We’re nice.
What is the biggest challenge about having your sister as your business partner?
Kate: For a long time it was all work and no sister time. I missed just spending time with her. We both lived here, so it was 24/7 work. Now that we live apart, we are more time-efficient with work conversations. We FaceTime, and then when we have work trips we make time to just have fun. We have a more mature working relationship than the beginning … we are way less sensitive!
Susan: Katharine is in our Brooklyn office and isn’t a part of the design studio, so our enthusiasm, trials and tribulations are separate.
What is the best part about having your sister as your business partner?
Kate: She makes me laugh until I am sick, and I am inspired by her incredible talent. I am very lucky to do what I love with someone that I love as much as her.
Susan: Katharine is in our Brooklyn office and isn’t a part of the design studio (ha ha!)!
Kate, what is one thing about Susan that people would be surprised to know?
Kate: Susan hates her name. All forms of it. I keep waiting for her to announce that she has changed it to something tricky, sort of like Prince did, or P. Diddy.
Susan, what is one thing about Kate that people would be surprised to know?
Susan: Her cheerleading squad in high school won a national championship! She’s a national champion!
What is a piece of advice that you have leaned on through the years?
Kate: “This, too, shall pass.” When you go through rough patches, you have to just pick your chin up and plow through. It always passes, and it always gives you something to put in your back pocket — experience.
Susan: It’s pretty basic, but staying flexible is my mantra for business. And if you want something, just dream that that is what you are. Our dad always said, “Keep it in the road.” That’s Texas slang for not getting off track or driving in the ditch. Keep moving.
Have there been any challenges being a female-run business?
Susan: Oh, yes, all the time. Being taken seriously is often a challenge, and, I hate to say it, but the juggle of family and business is very challenging. I’m just grateful for my energy.
Favorite vacation spot in the U.S.?
Kate: Seaside, FL, or South Beach.
Favorite vacation spot out of the U.S.?
Last great meal?
Kate: Actually I had amazing straccetti (filet mignon) with arugula and Parmesan cheese at Verde on Smith in Brooklyn — a small spot, but really great food.
Susan: We cook at the studio for lunch, and we all take turns with new ideas. My favorite was last week: chicken sausage, rainbow chard, chives, red peppers, yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and red pepper — all scrambled together. Mmm.
What are you most looking forward to before summer starts?
Kate: I am super excited for High Point Market, the launch of a hand-knotted rug collection with Capel, new fabrics at Hickory Chair and days with my sister. Besides work, I am ready for some warm weather (it’s been brutal) and watching lots of Brooklyn Bulldogs baseball games. That’s the team that my son plays on; there’s nothing better.
Susan: The way my garden looks in the spring! All my plantings bloom, some of them for the first time, and I love looking at how the colors work together.
What are you reading?
Kate: I am reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. It is sickly hilarious, and I read a little bit every day because it’s going too fast. It’s laugh-out-loud funny because of the train wreck it is.
Susan: I have a stack of books that I got for Christmas that I’m looking forward to getting to. Right now my time reading is spent with my 6-year-old who is just starting to read. So we read a lot of Biscuit and other early reading books.
List three things that you can’t live without, with the exception of family, friends and faith.
Kate: My dumb phone (lifeline for kids and work), hair color, a great pair of boyfriend jeans
Susan: India ink, dark chocolate, and Beyonce
Thank you, Kate and Susan! We are huge fans! For more on Hable Construction, see: hableconstruction.com
Note: all photos courtesy of Hable Construction.