Ronnie Fieg on Building the Kith Community – WWD

It all started when Ronnie Fieg set out to create “New York’s best shoe store,” a place people would feel comfortable hanging out. At the time, most other trendy shoe retailers were arrogant, so he felt there was an opening and a great opportunity for a store that would be more welcoming.

So, with the owner’s blessing, he arranged a 580 square foot space in the Atrium store in Brooklyn and opened Kith. He launched with an Asics collaboration and brought other sneakers from New Balance, Gourmet, Pro-Keds and Nike alongside Florsheim wing tips, Red Wing boots and casual shoes from Clarks.

Over the next 10 years, Kith “grew organically until he is today,” he said in a conversation with WWD Style Director Alex Badia, who is a vibrant retailer with eight flagships and three in-store boutiques around the world, an eponymous clothing brand, and even Kith Treats, a concept that sells cereals, ice cream and other snacks.

At first, he said, his ambitions were simply to be a shoe store, but it wasn’t long before he started dabbling in clothing. His first move was the Mercer Pant, a camouflage military pant that he modified with an elastic cuff at the hem. It was a hit with the community that he had already started to create and quickly led to college jackets, six panel hats and other pieces.

“I had an evolving vision that kept changing as we started to do different things,” he said.

The Kith Treats concept, which is now six years old, is a case in point. “The goal was to expand the concept and give people the option to consume the brand for seven dollars – and make them smile. He said he believed shoe fans and sneaker fans loved cereal too, which led to the “crazy idea” of opening a cereal bar in Brooklyn. “It really took off,” he said. “People lined up and it indicated what we should be building in the future.”

Kith’s main theme is New York, Fieg’s hometown. The 29-year-old was born in Queens and raised within the confines of the Five Boroughs. He recalled how he was able to “see and absorb different cultures” on his way to work in Greenwich Village. “It really gave me the inspiration I needed to work on clothes and footwear” that would appeal to a wide range of clients.

“New York City has always been the pole star for me,” he said, adding that his collection and philosophy are “as true to the city as I can get”.

He also had some real favorites growing up – Bergdorf Goodman, BMW, Coca-Cola – brands he would eventually collaborate with at Kith. “As you grow up, what you love between 13 and 19, you will love for the rest of your life,” he said. These are brands he has an “incredible passion for” and his goal was to “expand what they are known for and scale what they do”.

He was introduced to Bergdorf by his mother, who took him to the store to browse when he was a child. “She was inspired by Bergdorf Goodman but couldn’t afford to buy anything,” he recalls. But that experience left a mark and her collaboration with the store in 2016 was the ultimate gift for her mom.

To this day, he considers Bergdorf to be “the Rolls-Royce of retail,” and when the store allowed him to put his logo on pieces like hoodies and baseball caps – and gave him a boutique on the third floor of the men’s store – it became a real turning point for his business, and a highlight in his life. A dinner hosted by the store for the launch, where Fieg was able to bring his mother, was “a big moment for me,” he said.

It was also proof that Fieg’s guts were right. “I felt people wanted to see this logo on an item of clothing and it could expand what people know them for,” he said. For Kith, this has brought ‘global exposure’ to her business and ‘set us on a path to being taken seriously as a clothing brand’. It also exposed its brand to a whole new group of customers.

Fieg attributes his success to developing a community of “like-minded people who are passionate about the same things.” It’s a family.

Upon launch in 2011, Fieg said its fledgling shoe store “has become a place of community for locals. It’s so easy for them to talk to each other, they are there for the same purpose. And they didn’t need to buy anything, they were welcome to hang out, chat with other buyers, and check out the shoes.

It was also there that he first realized that this community “wanted retail to become a brand. They dictated the roadmap, ”he said. “This type of experience is magical. You can’t create it, you have to let people guide you.

What his community has helped him develop are two Manhattan stores on Lafayette Street and Bleecker Street, as well as locations on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; West Hollywood; Miami Beach; Hawaii; Tokyo and Paris. In addition to the Bergdorf store, there are boutiques inside Hirshleifers in New York, as well as in Selfridges in London.

“Every market we enter the world has been a building block of the business,” he said.

For its 10th anniversary, Fieg created a book that chronicles the rise of the company. He worked there with former GQ Creative Director Jim Moore and stylist Eugene Tong. He said the book was “one of the greatest projects” he has ever done and credited them with helping him execute something that typically takes a year but is successful in a month.

The book is a visual documentation of his accomplishments and gave him the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what he has done and look to the future.

The book looks back on each collection and collaboration and shows the evolution of the brand. But it also shows how well its original aesthetic has remained. “You can always watch [something] and know that this is a piece of Kith, ”he said. “A college pants and jacket started,” but what came out was a natural progression.

The book also features a timeline of the company and the ‘steps in our growth’, which include a collaboration with LeBron James, the car he created with BMW, the Coke logo he created in Kith Font and the original prints of Gianni Versace which he was able to reuse.

“We sold 150 cars in 11 minutes,” he said of the special edition BMW M4 he created last fall, which was selling for $ 150,000 and up. “It shocked me, but it shows that people are ready to take you seriously in all lifestyle categories, not just shoes and clothing.”

Kith has also been accepted outside of his home market. The Parisian store, where he opened a Sadelle’s restaurant serving quintessential New York fare like lox and minced salmon bagels, was “packed every day,” he said. Hawaii’s new store was also a success, despite it opening during the pandemic.

With all of its stores, Fieg ensures that the space is designed specifically for each market. He works with local businesses and studies local culture to “build a space for the locals”. But if his New York roots are never hidden, Fieg never forgets that “we are visitors to every city”.

With his track record established and 10 years under his belt, what’s next for Fieg and Kith?

“We will continue to grow organically,” he said, and spread the energy for which his brand has become known. “The next book will go from 300 pages to 600 or 1,000,” he predicted. “But we will be creating at the same pace and with the same passion that we are doing now. We will be working on things that we love.

He recognized that his team was the key to his success. “The team helped us get here, and I’m very proud of it. So I hope to continue to inspire and be inspired by the team to continue to grow.

About Walter J. Leslie

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