For Kith founder Ronnie Fieg, the 1990s was the golden era for retail.
That’s when as a 13-year-old from Queens he began working for his second cousin, the owner of footwear retailer David Z on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Starting as a stockist and eventually ending up as head buyer, Fieg dressed the feet of a coterie of stars including Mase, Nas and Missy Elliot.
“I was around before the internet era,” he told a packed room of streetwear enthusiasts at BR99, a pop up collaboration between his brand and online sports publisher, Bleacher Report in New York Tuesday, where he’s also releasing a 4th of July Capsule, exclusively in the pop-up store. “I remember back then people would come in, they didn’t know what they wanted, they weren’t hunting for product they already knew about, they walked up to a wall and shopped.”
In 2011, Fieg launched Kith, a streetwear retailer that’s been lauded for a smart mix of streetwear and activewear. Through collaborations with brands including Asics, New Balance, Puma and Adidas, the brand has grown a reputation in the streetwear world for its discreet branding. The retailer now has two stores, an e-commerce presence, and a cereal bar, but Fieg wouldn’t share revenue numbers.
Even though Kith first launched an e-commerce shop and has built a large social media footprint (615,000 Instagram followers), Fieg hasn’t warmed to the idea that social and digital media has changed consumers shopping habits. He still prefers an in-store experience.
When asked about the future, Fieg told Tuesday’s BR99 crowd that, among other things, he’ll be opening a Kith space inside one of the biggest global fashion institutions.
Glossy caught up with Fieg about his street fashion brand — don’t call it “streetwear,” he said — the role social media plays for the brand, and how he’s trying to bring back the golden era of shopping.
You don’t call Kith streetwear, and prefer street-fashion. What’s the difference?
Fashion is a form of self expression, based on concepts and design. When you think of a streetwear brand I think of a printable brand, strictly t-shirts and prints, but we have cut and sell factories that work on different collections around the year, which falls more into fashion than streetwear.
How are you trying to bring back the 90s ‘golden era’ of shopping?
By giving consumers a unique in store experience. Our stores are not so product in your face driven, it’s more of an experiential experience where you walk in and the flow of the space is beautiful to look at, not solely focused on product.
Why do you think the brand is so appealing?
I try to concentrate on product that isn’t currently available in the marketplace and bring something that I know people will want that they don’t necessarily know that they want yet. It’s from being a buyer for many years, I gained knowledge of what they want.
Give me an example.
The pant we started with was a huge movement in fashion in 2012 and 2013 in a cotton twill, not cotton people were used to in sweat pants. That became a huge trend. Our fabric development is really complex and our design in general is for our niche consumer: anyone who wants to be different.
Both Kith and your personal Instagram have large followings (615,000 and 431,000, respectively) do you have a specific strategy for the platform?
I have two staff members behind KITH’s Instagram, and I curate mine. In today’s world they’re intertwined and one feeds off of the other. People need to feel personable to the brand so there needs to be a face and someone they can relate to. I’m synonymous with the brand so people have a level of trust.
You specifically limit production, why?
We never want to reach demand. It’s on a case by case basis as to how many we make of what, but the point is to never cross a certain amount of percentage of the demand. That way you keep people wanting to buy into goods that will make them look special, one of a few that have a product.
You’ve collaborated with Bleacher Report for BR99, what’s next?
We know what’s coming for the next year, but we like to keep people surprised.