Nestled away in Chicago’s South Loop community I believe to be one of the greatest designers from the Windy City. The self-taught fashion designer with over 25 years under her custom-made leather belt, Barbara Bates jump-started her career taking measurements of fellow co-workers in the bathroom during lunch.

Unaware that this was the start of a new beginning, Bates’ custom designs quickly became the must-have trends from the streets to household names, including Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey, R. Kelly, and the late greats; Whitney Houston and Bernie Mack – to name a few.

Bates’ success has definitely created other avenues for her as well as her company, in 1999 Bates founded the Barbara Bates Foundation, donating over 500 prom dresses and 200 suits to ‘inner-city high school students who excel academically despite their financial background.’

She’s the ‘leathersmith’ who designs for local tastemakers and high-profile celebrities, gives back to the community in style and for the past few years has been an avid philanthropist in the education and awareness of Breast Cancer by creating an annual event through The Barbara Bates Foundation as the “Knocking Out Breast Cancer” event.

RowASeat1: What’s your key to having longevity?

Barbara Bates: I have no secret key (laughs) I just make sure I keep producing a good product. You have to love what you do, and I love what I do! It’s important for me to listen and cater to the needs of my customers.B Bates Design 2

RowASeat1: The Rise of Leather.

Barbara Bates: I’m loving it! I’m having the best time and it feels like I started Barbara Bates, the label, for the first time again, and I’m new on the scene … It’s refreshing! Since leather has become so popular my sales have tripled, and with social media, I’m able to reach more people and really get my designs out there.

RowASeat1: Most Popular Pieces from Barbara Bates Design.

Barbara Bates: All of my leather pieces are in high demand right now, from my printed leather pieces to my studded novelty pieces, the peplum tops, coats, and the fitted dresses are doing great!

RowASeat1: Any Leather Sweat Pants? You know they’re a hot commodity, right now.

B Bates 1Barbara Bates: (laughs) I have on a pair today, leather quilted, but I also have some that aren’t quilted. I love them, very comfortable and the fabric is great! They range from $800-$1600 a pair.

RowASeat1: What/Who gives you inspiration for that newest piece of collection?

Barbara Bates: I always get inspiration from fabric and/or leather first. Then I do what we all do, thumb through magazines, usually high fashion magazine because I’ve always loved high-end pieces. I’m inspired by vintage pieces, and when I say vintage I mean the 1940s, not 1980s (laughs). I love handwork, thrift stores, people on the streets … I get inspiration from everywhere.

RowASeat1: Advice for Breakthrough Designers.

Barbara Bates: I always open up my doors for internships. I’m not against the school at all; school teaches you the fundamentals of the business, but being a designer means being active. And, you don’t always have to be whimsical with your designs sometimes simplicity speaks volumes when you’re creating. Internships and networking are so important, and having hands-on experience is priceless!

RowASeat1: Latest Designs for Barbara Bates Spring/Summer Collection?

Barbara Bates: Everything I touch is trendy or whimsical like the 1950s inspired bodice dresses with a big bottom, and my leather/lace fitted dresses are great statement pieces for the season. And I love tunics, sexy tunics with a lace/leather twist. I have to be comfortable, but still, keep a great sense of style!

Barbara Bates DesignsTo find out more about Barbara Bates Designs check her out here and be sure to follow her latest pieces and events on IG: Barbara_Bates, or stop by the studio of Barbara Bates Designs at 2031 S. Indiana St, Chicago, IL 60616.