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Sneaker King Ronnie Fieg Explains Kith’s Move Into Womenswear

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If you're familiar with the world of sneakers, you know Ronnie Fieg. But if you don't give a damn about hype shoes, you should still know Fieg. He's the cunning mind behind Kith, mecca for rare and limited-edition footwear and apparel from streetwear-leaning brands with rabid followings (think Nike and Y-3, but also Helmut Lang and Public School), and he's mastered the art of the in-store experience.

Today Fieg adds a women's store to Kith's roster, timed with the launch of the brand's debut womenswear collection. The narrow shop in Manhattan's Noho neighborhood is directly across Bleecker Street from the flagship store, opened in 2011 and renovated in 2014 to triple its footprint. A second location in Brooklyn was reopened in August, complete with a cereal bar.

A quick aside to dissect Kith Treats, as it's called, because even thought it has nothing to do with sneakers — the product category he's most associated with — its the perfect summary of what makes Fieg a savvy businessman. The menu is curated by people like The New York Giants's Victor Cruz and Off-White designer (and Kanye West creative director) Virgil Abloh, the cereal is served in meticulously-designed packaging, and prices start around $5 —a boutique price for cereal, but still accessible enough that anyone can get a literal taste. Orders are served in shoebox-inspired packaging that change every six weeks, adding a "now" hook for serious fans, along with a proof of purchase ticket. Four of those tickets will earn customers a prize. The man made a rewards program cool.

When I heard Kith Women's was on its way I was curious to what the Fieg take on women's-specific retail would be. Womenswear is crowded. Activewear is booming. Shoppers are moving, increasingly, online. Yet, across the street, a dozen or so stylish guys are lined up outside the flagship store in the rain, presumably for some drop. Kith's appeal is strong and kids want to be a part of it, whether that's a $5 cereal sundae or a $180 pair of Asics in a Fieg-designed colorway.

The Kith team welcomed Racked to its latest store in advance of the December 18th opening to check out the space and pick Fieg's mind on selling to women. Read on for his thoughts on brand continuity, lifestyle retailing, and the challenges of designing a women's collection. (Just don't call it streetwear.)

kith-womens_2015_12

Why now for womenswear, for Kith as a business?

I was seeing smaller sizes of [Kith's] men's apparel selling out very quickly. A lot of women started posting themselves wearing the mens stuff on Instagram; I saw that and thought it was time to dedicate a line to women.

It took a while for me to grow in terms of personnel. The only times I make big, strategic moves is when I have the right people in place to get it done. I've been working on this for a year.

So you've noticed an appetite from women for streetwear?

To be honest, when you look at the apparel, I don't really consider it streetwear.

"I wanted to elevate what I do for men further for women. Aesthetics are one thing, fit is a different challenge."


What do you consider it?

Well, there's the title of "athleisure," but the problem with athleisure is that it's marked with big logos. [Our collection] is stuff that can be worn during the day that you can also be worn at night. It's like dressed-up athleisure, which I don't think really has a category right now. I think we're filling a void that doesn't really exist at the moment. Quality of the fabrics is important to me. You touch this and you feel that it's better than any athleisure brand on the market now. And I mean any athleisure brand.

Who else in the athleisure space for women do you have respect for?

I love what [Alexander] Wang does. Wang is super inspirational to me. And I love what Sacai does.

kith-womens-shorts_2015_12

What was it like designing women's clothes compared to men's?

It was very different. Women need softer fabrics, women have different fit needs. Fitting this collection was difficult; it took four rounds of fit tests.

I have a separate women's team. I set the mood [for the collection], but my women's team put this together.

What kind of background or qualifications were you looking for when hiring women's designers?

I was looking for experience in high fashion design. I wanted to elevate what I do for men further for women. The look and the aesthetics are one thing, but to get the fit right, that's a different challenge. And the fabrics — these are Italian and Japanese fabrics. The construction is super tight. If you flip the garment inside out you'll see they're sewn to 100% spec, which is great.

Why did women's need its own store?

Intimacy. It gives the opportunity for [shoppers] to be very personable with my staff and have my staff really understand their body, and spend time on fit. When people are trying things on, they'll get more attention [here] — not the craze that's in my store across the street. The traffic in [that] store has become crazy. Although my team does a great job, I didn't want to throw another category on to their existing job description.

In this world of streetwear, you're very high up —

I don't like calling it streetwear.

What do you like, what's your term?

I don't like any term. It's not because I think we're bigger or better than streetwear, I just don't think it's right to categorize a brand because when I get into suiting, are people going to call that streetwear? When I'm getting into skiwear [referencing a recent collaboration with Columbia], is that considered streetwear? Is streetwear what you wear in the street — what is streetwear?

We're not graphic-driving, we're cut and sew-driving. That takes a lot of work. I don't want to be categorized as anything: not menswear, or streetwear, or activewear, or athleisure. What we do is special and is crosses over categories. That's the brand.

The way we approach is to push everything forward, push culture forward. We have tunnel vision at the brand. We don't look to others to see what others are doing. It's the ambition everyone at [Kith] wakes up with every day that motives us to do what we do.

"I don't want to be categorized as anything: not menswear, or streetwear, or activewear, or athleisure."


You got this amazing proximity to the original Kith store, right across the street.

That's another part of "why now." I was waiting for this space to become available and when it did I snatched it.

When it came to designing the store, what kind of mood did you want to set?

The space is small compared to my other stores, so first it was about brightening up the space and making it look larger. But I think the space is really the perfect size.

As for design, we used the same materials in our other stores: Corian, marble, mirror, and stainless. We have a larger fitting room here.

Which other retailers do you look at for brick and mortar inspiration?

Colette, Dover Street, United Arrows.

There are a couple of stationery stores I like in Tokyo, those have been inspiring to me; the way things are displayed neatly.

If you look at the wall right now, you'll notice all the shoes line up. Those Jordan 3s up top are ceramic, nine pound casts that look like real shoes. The store across the street has Jordan 1s, the Brooklyn store got the Jordan 2s, so we're going in numerical order.

There's more here than just shoes and clothes. What were some of the other items you brought in?

Every girl needs her accessories. Most of the jewelry is Miansai, and we have Illesteva sunglasses. We teamed up with Vianel for these lizard skin pocket chargers and sunglass cases. We have our own branded pocket mirror, mugs, a USB drive, and some pins made especially for the women's store. There are Marshall speakers, Polaroid cameras, and a Native Union Apple Watch charger. We have RGB nail polish, which is the best nail polish.

Five free; non-toxic.

There you go. That's important these days.

What's the importance of having the lifestyle element; selling more than just footwear and apparel?

It's very important. Kith is a spot where you go to check out multiple types of goods. It's important for the [Kith] brand not to be categorized, or put in a box. It's a rounded identity.

You're known for collaborations and exclusives. Which women's brands would you love to work with?

I don't have any.

What about men's brands you'd like to do a women's collection for?

You're going to see that soon, but I can't tell you.

We're headed down this path of a category that doesn't exist yet. It's hard to pick a brand [to collaborate with] that fits with what we're doing.

I heard a rumor that you're going to add childrenswear to the Kith lineup, too. Any updates?

Very soon.

Why children's?

We want to cover both genders, and all ages. That would be the missing element of our age range.

What's the five year vision? It's 2020, Kanye West is president; what does the Kith empire look like?

We'll look the best we can possibly look. What that is now, I can't tell you; I'm a project-to-project guy. Right now I'm working on a project for Miami, after that I'm working on a project for the end of next year.

It's all about how much we can handle. Everything has to be done very tastefully. As long as things are executed on a high level we can continue to move forward. It's one opportunity at a time.


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