Retailer of the Week
12 Oct. 2011
RONNIE FIEG, KITH, BROOKLYNOpened to the public less than two weeks ago, Kith is the highly anticipated first retail venture of footwear insider, tastemaker and designer Ronnie Fieg. Fieg began his career in the industry at the age of 15 by working as stockboy at the retail chain David Z where he eventually was promoted to buyer. In 2005 he embarked on his first collaboration for David Z, with Timberland, and quickly discovered his true passion. Since then, he has worked on more than 100 collaborative footwear models with brands such as Asics, Converse, Red Wing and Ralph Lauren, among others. His new multibrand men’s-only store in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn opened on September 30 with the launch of his limited edition “Salmon Toe” sneaker model with Asics. The launch drew devote sneakerheads from as far as Virginia, some of whom camped out hours before to ensure they could score a pair. Here, Fieg discusses the joys and challenges of finally having his own shop and the season’s key footwear trends. Interview by Christopher Blomquist
Describe the Kith store concept. What are you bringing to footwear customers that other stores don't?
I think the biggest difference with Kith and other spots is that I am going to incorporate the best of lifestyle sneakers, brown shoes and boots. It’s really hard to find an intimate shop that you can find any one of three. We will also be the one spot that you can find Ronnie Fieg collaborative collections and pieces.
Who designed the store decor and how does it help display your wares?
I’ve had a vision for my shop for a long time and I’ve been fortunate enough to have good people inside and outside of the company to help make this vision become a reality. The aesthetic of the store is very special. We try to go with a very natural feel without losing functionality. We used recycled woods and metals from the surrounding area. It really came out beautifully and I am very excited about it.
What brands and models do you stock?
Kith will hold a large range of footwear options. I will have many Kith exclusives, Ronnie Fieg designs with Asics, Quoddy, Sebago, Chippewa, Caminando and many more. I will also be carrying the top-tier sneakers from Asics, New Balance, Adidas, Puma by Alexander McQueen, Clae and Supra. In the brown shoe department I will carry Dr. Martens, Timberland, Red Wing, Ralph Lauren, J Shoes and plenty of other great brands.
What do you expect your bestselling brands and/or models to be?
I think the exclusive Kith product will sell very well. The collaborations I previously spoke on will do well; I am trying to create something fresh and new and I think that people really appreciate that. I did a lot of boots for this fall that I am very excited to see the reaction because I feel it’s some of my best work to date. Other than that, I think some boot companies like Red Wing and Timberland are staples for winter, so I expect them to be big sellers as well.
You stock both boots and sneakers. Is one category necessarily more popular than the other? And what do you think will be the key design trends for both categories?
With the current weather at this time of year boots tend to sell better; however, sneakers are always necessary and are always sellers. As far as trends go, I’m always a fan of quality leathers and nice oily nubuck but I think a big trend right now are prints. I’ve always been a fan of different prints, especially animal prints. I really think those will do very well in these upcoming seasons.
Who is your typical customer?
Anybody that wants to be educated about footwear and is interested in getting more than what they’re paying for. I have a great staff that is very educated on footwear and I think it will be great for customers to come and interact with them. It will be a shop for both the footwear enthusiast and the occasional shoe shopper that wants somebody to help them get a quality pair of shoes.
What do customers look for in shoes today? Quality? One-of-a-kind looks? Price?
I think all of those play an important part in what people purchase and what people look for. There is always a hype factor behind shoes that are limited and not easily accessible. But the most important thing is with prices rising in footwear, people want to get a shoe that is worth the price. That has always been my goal to give the customer more than what they’ve paid for.
Although you've had much experience in retail, this is the first time you’ve had your own store. Are you nervous about that and what have your biggest challenges been thus far as a store owner?
I was a little nervous at first and then as time progressed then everything really fell into place. Having a great team behind me makes it a lot easier to make everything run smoothly. After being there [David Z] for so many years, this was the obvious next move for me. The biggest challenges have been the build out of the store and just ironing out all the details. People don’t realize how much it really takes to open up a store in NYC.
The shop is next door to the brand new Atrium Brooklyn store and you will be opening a Kith shop-in-shop at Atrium’s Manhattan location in the coming months. How did that partnership come about and what has working with Atrium owner Sam Ben-Avraham taught you?
Sam told me he’d been following my work for quite some time and I’ve always loved the Atrium and I’ve always shopped at Atrium for as long as I could afford to–our mutual respect for one another brought us together when Sam thought of opening an Atrium store [in Brooklyn]. The space was big enough for two shops and he wanted to include a footwear shop there. After a few dinners we decided that it would be something we could embark on together. Sam is one of the most laid-back people I know. He has really helped me manage different personalities and helped me learn how to go about managing a business. He’s been very successful and I admire that.
How important will special events be at Kith?
Special events will play a big role in our shop. If you’ve been keeping track, you saw how big of an event the Asics “Salmon Toe” release was; it was like a big party. We want our releases to be fun for everyone participating and we want to outdo ourselves each time.
Do you think you will ever add women's styles?
Due to my mother and sister constantly pressuring me, I did a women’s line with Sebago, which did surprisingly well. I’m not going to say I’ll never do a women’s line but at this time I want to stay focused on my passion, which is men’s footwear. I’ve also started designing some men’s clothing so this is how I am stepping out of my comfort zone for now. Who knows what the future holds though?
What are your long-term plans for the Kith brand?
With the opening of two Kith locations in addition to the online shop it’s very difficult for me to think about anything else at this point. However, I want to continue making the best product I can and I would love to expand to make it more readily available to the people that want it. Ultimately I’d like to have several shops across the US and who knows? Maybe even overseas.
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