Sourcing and curating eco-responsible, craftsman produced, and ethically manufactured luxury lifestyle goods, Kindred Black is a new retail studio launched by New York-based friends Alice and Jennifer.
After working for several years in the fashion industry, the two young founders sought a way to give fashion aficionados more options to make socially and environmentally conscious decisions about what they buy. Here they share their journey as new founders and their vision on what modern retail should be.
Alice and Jennifer what did you do before launching Kindred Black?
We both have backgrounds in the fashion industry – Jen in production, design and operations, and Alice in creative and branding. We met working for and eventually running a women’s accessory company in New York. Before that we had various jobs and projects. Jen had a merchandise company for touring bands and Alice founded and ran a collaborative gallery and event space in the Lower East Side. Those are the highlights actually, we’ve both worn quite a few hats, but fashion was the one that stuck.
How did you come up with the idea for Kindred Black?
We were getting pretty fed up with some of the realities of working in fashion – chemical covered fabrics, going to factories in China and seeing the devastating pollution of the surrounding areas, the thousands and thousands of plastic bags used on everything…it started to feel really soulless. After a couple of years of talking about it and planning and saving, we had to just take the plunge. At that point we had a lot of experience building and growing retail and ecommerce, so that felt like a natural way to begin.
We felt like there aren’t enough options for people that are into fashion and design but also consider themselves environmentalists. We wanted a store that we would be excited to shop at – a curated collection of designers that you know you can buy and feel good about without doing tons of research. Also, we wanted to include some vintage because that’s always been part of our personal style. That word tends to make people think of rockabilly get-ups and Jackie O pillbox hats but in reality so many beautiful, well-made things already exist and you can be completely up-to-date fashion-wise and still wear vintage or incorporate pre-owned pieces into the design of your home.
How long did it take to launch the company from the moment you had the idea?
For years we talked about doing something together. We came up with a very loose idea and name a little over a year ago, and officially formed the company in January 2015. We had a name and a license to operate, but what we were going to do with it was still pretty abstract. We were both working really intense jobs and just didn’t have the brain space to commit. A few months later we left our positions and went for it. By June we were working on Kindred Black around the clock.
“We had our mission, knew where we were going, but sitting down and putting pen to paper, really looking at the industry, our competition, and our budget…was a crucial exercise”
We paused in mid-Summer and decided to do a business plan and thank god we did. We had our mission, knew where we were going, but sitting down and putting pen to paper, really looking at the industry, our competition, and our budget…was a crucial exercise. Everything instantly became a little easier and more pointed. That was August, and it was pedal to the metal after that. We began scheduling photoshoots, working on the website, ordering packaging supplies. The week before we went live four of us sat around a table until 5am every morning working on the site, retouching photos, writing product descriptions – switching from coffee to beer then back again. It felt a little like college…a whirlwind 6 months.
How big is Kindred Black team at the moment?
The two of us do most of it – Jen covers a lot of the business side, Alice the visual side, and then there is a sizable overlap. We have a close collaborator who we work with on all things technology related. And we have an amazing group of rotating freelancers, and have not been shy to call in favors from friends.
What is 1% For The Planet ?
1% is the incredible brainchild of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies. They’re passionate environmentalists and business owners and wanted to do more than just donate part of their own profits to environmental causes. The idea is so simple – if you can get many thousands of businesses to donate just 1% of their profits to something, the amount of pooled money can become staggering. Patagonia is actually a huge inspiration for us, so when we were looking for a partner to give back to in some way, we jumped at it as soon as we found out the organization existed. Now we try to spread the word so maybe more businesses will sign up – 1% is just so easy to give and so far 1% For The Planet has given more than $130 million to various environmental and sustainability nonprofits.
“The idea is so simple – if you can get many thousands of businesses to donate just 1% of their profits to something, the amount of pooled money can become staggering”
Money wise, how was your company founded?
Well, we can tell you it wasn’t from our personal trust funds…we wish! We spent years saving our salaries, have taken whatever small loans we can get from family, opened (and maxed) credit cards, and drained our 401Ks. It’s all scary, but we feel so strongly about what we’re doing and that we can make it work that we’ve just had to close our eyes and jump. We’re lucky that between the two of us we have experience in so many aspects of running a business, things that most companies have to hire for or farm out we can do ourselves (and just not ever sleep).
How do you find and choose the products you sell?
We look for things we love and things we haven’t really seen before. It’s fairly rare these days to see something totally new or truly unusual – it’s super exciting to find something like that. Many of the items in the shop have some form of personal connection. Our wooden spurtles are from a craftsman near Jen’s family home. The Hangover Terminator has been Alice’s family secret for years.
We travel as much as we can to find unusual things that maybe can’t be found through just an internet search. We’re also just naturally curious people and love history, so often we’re researching something and the next thing you know we’re off on a tangent about something like the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and this amazing clay that people have been using as a facial cleanser for hundreds of years. Most of our really special product ideas come from “oooh what if we could get someone to make a natural version of this or that and package it in something recycled or that can be easily recycled?”. We can’t always get what we want, but as we get bigger the possibilities are going to become so amazing and fun.
Our vintage and pre-owned items are chosen less for their label than their beauty. We’ve gotten to a place where we trust ourselves and if it resonates with us, and we think the quality and condition is good, we go for it.
We basically stick to our business plan – if we love it and it fits with the mission we set forth, it makes the cut.
What would your advice be for entrepreneurs looking to create ethical, eco-friendly products? What are the main difficulties and mistakes to avoid?
Don’t compromise. If you’re committing to being environmentally responsible, everything you do should align with that mission – which is definitely easier said than done. We’ve found so many amazing beauty companies creating natural, organic products, but package it in plastic. Or designers creating incredible collections of sustainable materials, but slip in one not so green material because it suits the garment. We’ll be the first to admit we’re not perfect, but with everything we do, every decision we make, we try to run it by the rules so to speak.
If you’re committing to being environmentally responsible, everything you do should align with that mission – which is definitely easier said than done.”
What other ethical entrepreneur inspire you and why?
Again, Patagonia is a big inspiration to us. 1% For The Planet, traceable down, sending an email to their entire community on Black Friday telling them that if they don’t need something, don’t shop. It just seems like they choose their personal code over profits.
We’re also longtime admirers of Reformation who make really cool, desirable clothes with environmentally friendly and sometimes recycled fabrics. They’re such a strong voice for environmental fashion and really seem to live it – we’ve read that everything down to the paper and pens in their office are made from 100% recycled materials. It’s a lifestyle for them, not just lip service to make a buck off of a trend.
Robert Jungmann, the founder of Jungmaven, a T-shirt company that we sell on the site, has been involved with hemp textiles and natural dyes since 1993, when almost no one in fashion was pushing sustainability. Also Jaclyn Hodes of Awaveawake makes all her dresses with ethically sourced natural materials colored with plant-based dyes. Thankfully there are more and more cropping up every day and we’re inspired by every single company that spends more to sometimes make less because they think it’s the right thing to do.
What are the future projects of Kindred Black? How do you see yourself and the company in 5 years?
Right now we’re working very much in the moment. We plan to continue to grow our divisions – more ready-to-wear, more beauty, more of everything. It’s an exciting time because so many brands and designers are starting to take an interest in ethical and sustainable manufacturing. We’re working on several great collaborations for next year and the long-term plan has always been for Kindred Black to be a brand, not just a retailer, with its own environmentally sound product line. We have a lot of ideas for that so that’s where we see the company in 5 years for sure.
“The long-term plan has always been for Kindred Black to be a brand, not just a retailer, with its own environmentally sound product line”
What was the best business advice you were ever given ?
We touched on this already but we were told to write a business plan and refer back to it with every decision we make. It’s been pretty key for us. Every time we’re deciding if something is right for us and it’s not clear which way to go, we think “does this fit with the mission we stated for ourselves?”. It’s surprising how much easier things are when you have a clear code of conduct. You’re much less likely to compromise and lose your way.
Kindred Black Website
All images courtesy of Alice and Jennifer