Ever since she was a girl growing up in Rye, New York, Kristen Naiman had a thing for clothes. Yet she never thought about a career in fashion until a friend suggested she become a stylist.
“I was just like ‘What’s styling? That sounds cool, sure!’ I really had no idea at all. But I did it and I loved it,” Naiman said.
Naiman, who is now svp of brand creative at Kate Spade & Company, started at Condé Nast’s now-defunct Condé Nast Sports for Women. There, she realized how clothing could be a vehicle for storytelling, building on her writing studies at The New School and ultimately leading her to the position of creative director for Isaac Mizrahi.
As the fashion industry adapts to the rise of digital and social media, Naiman is establishing what it means to be a storyteller in a technological age. Her ability to identify content that clicks with consumers and industry players alike has led to campaigns like the #missadventure holiday campaign featuring Anna Kendrick.
We spoke with Naiman about her relationship with style and how it inspires her work. The interview was edited lightly for clarity.
Why do you love fashion?
I’ve been obsessed with clothes since I was a teeny, tiny kid. I loved style and the ways people use clothes to express themselves and their individuality. It’s really the one creative act that someone has to do every single day, and I think that act is always really incredible to me.
Before you were at Kate Spade, you worked for Isaac Mizrahi. How did your experience there shape your current role?
I got hired to make a book with Isaac on style, and we instantly connected in this amazing way over our love of culture, stories and clothing. He brought me in very shortly after to be an in-house fashion director. My job there was to really connect all of the creative aesthetic dots from conception of the collection to its final visual execution, making sure that all of those dots were connecting and that the story stayed on track.
How has technology impacted the fashion industry?
It’s empowered the customer. Consumers view digital media as an expression of themselves and a way to identify trends among the networks that they inhabit. As such, they become extensions of the brands they purchase, because as soon as they buy something and take a picture and put it on their channel, they’re advocating for the brand.
How has technology democratized fashion?
The democratization of fashion happened before digital really took full hold. It really happened much more through the deep industrialization of process over the last decade. This rise of fast fashion was the final democratizer of fashion in the truest possible sense.
What’s an unpopular opinion you hold about the fashion industry?
We have a large oversupply of clothing and product in general. Digital has really done a lot to weed through some of that, but there’s going to be a backlash both to the proliferation of information digitally and proliferation of products. But it scares people because nobody knows where it’s going after that.
What about the rise of Instagram and Snapchat?
At Kate Spade, we use all of those channels. It’s a form of taking the temperature of culture at any given moment.
What would you advise someone trying to break into the fashion world right now?
You absolutely have to know what your voice is. There’s no way in the world that you’re not going to get knocked down, rejected, have doors closed, and the only thing to do is to keep going. That kind of perseverance and optimism is critical to be successful, but definitely in something like fashion, where it’s competitive and fast-moving.