By: Nick Devor
One noteworthy piece of news coming from the business side of high fashion has been the slow collapse of luxury retailer Barneys New York. The company filed for bankruptcy in early August after the rent on their Madison Avenue flagship store nearly doubled to $30 million.
Barneys has prided itself on having the most discerning selection of the world’s top designers since it first opened its doors in 1923. But now they are in advanced talks with a group of potential buyers, led by Sam Ben-Avraham, co-founder of the multifunctional lifestyle brand and progressive retail establishment Kith.
You may be thinking, “What kind of a name is ‘Keith?’ for a progressive retail establishment? And what’s a progressive retail establishment anyway?”
Let me explain.
This edition of Fashion Brand Crash Course focuses on Kith and its other co-founder, Ronnie Fieg.
Before we get to Kith, let’s talk about the man behind the curtain, Ronnie Fieg. Born and raised in Jamaica, New York City, Fieg was thrown headfirst into the street culture of the ‘90s when he started working in his cousin’s shoe store at the age of 13. Selling sneakers to the likes of Nas, Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan put Fieg’s finger on the pulse of what was the hottest in the city and gave him an almost inhuman understanding of what will trend and sell.
By the time he was 25-years-old, Fieg was the general-buyer and manager of his cousin’s shoe store and was put in charge of SMUs (Special Make-Up), which is a product collaboration between the store and another brand.
Fieg designed three different color-ways, the technical term for a range of color combinations that a shoe is available in, of the Asics Gel-Lyte III. The kicks landed on the cover of “The Wall Street Journal” and promptly sold out in under 24 hours.
Since then, Fieg has designed over 50 collaborations with other shoe brands like Nike, New Balance, and Timberland.
In 2011, Fieg was ready for the next thing. Partnering with Ben-Avraham, Fieg launched Kith. The name was derived from the Scottish term “kith and kin,” loosely translating to “friends and family.”
Fieg always felt like his friends were his family, so he dropped the latter half. The first Kith location was located in the back of Ben-Avraham’s Soho boutique, Atrium. The lines to get into Kith stretched around the block on the release days of exclusive shoe collaborations of Fieg’s own design.
Once Kith got its own flagships, Fieg carefully curated streetwear brands like Moncler, Fear of God, Yeezy, and Stone Island to stock the shelves, as well as oddities and accessories from brands like Comme des Garçon and Bearbrick, and even some vintage Louis Vuitton handbags.
In 2012, Kith launched an in-house apparel line, and in 2016, Kith had its first runway show.
Fieg has continued his propensity for collaboration with this apparel line, working with brands like Levi’s, Nike, and Converse, high fashion brands like Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, and Bergdorf Goodman, all the way to random giants of culture like Nobu, Coca-Cola, and Barbie. Kith even launched its very own ice cream store, Kith Treats, in 2015, where the soft serve is blended with your favorite cereal and the menu is inspired by celebrities like Lebron James, Virgil Abloh, and Action Bronson.
In many ways, Kith is filling the space Barneys New York once held. It is a young, hip, and ever-evolving brand that includes diverse and luxurious brands. Ben-Avraham seems to have an eye for this sort of thing. With him poised to buy up Barneys, one can only wonder what the future of this brand that challenges the traditional retail experience will be.
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