How I Started an Organic
Silks and Cotton Basics Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Stacy, I’m the founder and creative director of KENT. We are a radically natural basics brand made in California, currently in an exciting state of transition. We are moving away from our previous, predominantly wholesale collection (organic silk underwear, bras, and loungewear) to a 100% certified organic basics brand that is now direct to consumer.
We’re focused on simpler, cleaner, and natural things starting with your underwear. Our “daily briefs” are 100% organic, non-toxic, free of synthetics (plastics), and also completely biodegradable.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for KENT began during my MA thesis while at the London College of Fashion. Before sustainability in fashion became mainstream or even included in the course curriculum, it was a passion of mine. I focused my thesis on sustainability and luxury fashion branding.
To illustrate my research, I developed a capsule collection of organic silk, graffiti-printed underwear, and intimate apparel. This was the earliest iteration of KENT in its most raw state.
Years later, after having moved to Copenhagen to work for then noted luxury sustainable fashion brand Noir, I landed back in Toronto (my home town) for about 5 years. Working across architecture, urban design, fine wine and spirits, I realised I still had a vision for a new kind of underwear brand that I envisioned in London.
I also honed my knowledge of sustainability further through a post-grad degree at Cambridge University. Soon, I found myself in LA with a new job with a social enterprise textiles start-up. This led me to find the right connections to bring my idea for KENT off the ground.
My vision for the brand honed in even more. I wanted to create a brand addressing three key tensions I saw in the intimate apparel space:
- a hypersexualized image of women
- the overuse of synthetic fibres and materials made of petrochemical-based inputs – (not only bad for the planet but also our bodies)
- design that didn’t necessarily favour comfort.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I heard ‘no’ and ‘that can’t be done’ more times than I can count. Intimate apparel isn’t widely produced in America – the majority is made in Asia. But I knew I wanted to produce locally and be as close to the production as possible.
It took at least six months to find the right factory fit. Both in terms of product as well as our material. We started with organic silk and that is a specialized fabric to work with (super slippery!) and taken with our focus on intimates, the difficulty was even more.
We were and continue to be self-funded. And because I did not receive any external funding from anyone or have a ‘nest egg’ to source from, our product development phase took some time.
In the beginning, I was swatching as many sustainable base fabrics as possible. Both to understand the market and options as well as select those best for our vision.
Who is your target market?
Currently they are women, aged 29-40, likely in a relationship or married, may have kids, live in coastal cities, or just outside coastal cities.
While we started as a wholesale business (we sold to retailers including Selfridges, J Crew and specialized boutiques across the country), we are now focused on the individuals that wear our pieces day in and out.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
A big focus for us is engaging with and understanding our community. While we have tested paid social advertising in the past, we are looking at our relaunch as an opportunity to reset and deepen the relationship we have with our existing audiences.
Content is highly prioritized on our list. From a ‘blog and link’ point of view to drive website traffic, as well as expanding our immediate network and reach. We’re also trialing new content and messaging via social media. This has been a strong way for us to connect with new audiences in fresh ways.
Keep an eye out next month from us on more grassroots marketing campaigns that are in the works!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
From a wholesale point of view, we’ve always committed to working with our wholesale customers as closely as a single customer. We pride ourselves on requesting and truly listening to feedback from customers, and wholesale has been key in that as well.
From an e-commerce perspective, we have now been focusing on our email flows pre and post-purchase. This is the primary way we have and can build a direct relationship with our community. We are investing in each email touchpoint to make it as valuable a piece of content as possible.
We also have a genuine point of view in terms of design, natural materials innovation and a ‘less is more’ ethos that resonates. Everything about our brand is an extension of my personal experience, from composting to gardening to wearing cotton underwear when I was young. Now, of course, updated for a more modern-day approach (and also my adult self preferences :).
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We’re open, transparent and collaborative. We have an amazing advisory board that is highly active on a weekly basis. They contribute incredibly to building the future of our brand. Video conference calls are clearly a welcome social norm these days. They allow us to connect on deeper levels more often (if not in person).
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is summed up in a quote that I love – “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”. It’s so easy to compare our businesses (and our lives) to others that have seemingly exceeded or achieved beyond us. However, we never see their process. I reference this quote when I’m feeling like we’re not as far along as I think we should be.
Mistakes – there are many! By creating a business you are actually in the business of solving problems, oftentimes daily. Problems you never knew existed. This goes beyond the product you created outright for your community, to dealing with production hiccups, website development, coding and more.
We continue to see new challenges as indications of evolutions of our business. We meet them head-on and lean on others who have ‘been there before’ for guidance.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I absolutely love receiving personal notes from our customers and the community. When someone finds a piece of ours that they love, it reinforces why we do what we do. I also love helping people find what they are looking for, learning what might be missing in their lives and figuring out how we can to help.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Not enough time in the day! In reality, we are in a state of transition of growing our team which also means I cannot be involved in every single detail. This is something I am so excited for, while also being a growth opportunity for myself in giving permission to step away. This is so critical for our future, as I’m learning to embrace a new vision for what our company looks like which is different from where we were.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m returning to foundational books of the 80s and 90s, such as The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Crossing the Chasm. The former was recommended to me by my fianceé (who’s also heading up our new marketing and brand rollout) and it is fascinating in its simplicity.
I’m also diving deeper into our mission and why I began the company years ago, and being re-inspired by other books like The Soil Will Save Us or Kiss the Ground. I think we are in a time of returning to fundamentals across lifestyles, products and businesses, and am so ready to embrace a sunnier, simpler and cleaner version of life.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I would love to see a pair of KENTs in everyone’s underwear drawer across America! I see us growing our team, creating moments of joy in our customers’ daily lives.
We will thoughtfully expand our products from the current 100% organic pima cotton Daily Briefs for women, to include a variety of elevated everyday basics. I see us making a tangible positive impact on the natural world – beyond being carbon neutral, i want mother earth to benefit from us existing.