What was the inspiration to start Kordal Studio? How did you first get started?
I officially launched the Kordal brand in the fall of 2012 after a year of teaching myself how to use a home knitting machine. Many YouTube videos later I organized a successful Kickstarter campaign to design and produce our first collection. The inspiration for starting the company was mostly due to my disillusionment with the fashion industry. Even though I was just twenty-four at the time, my experience in the industry had been filled with high stress, long hours, and little to no consideration for people or the environment. I needed to believe there could be another way, so I went for it!
I have always been drawn to knitwear. I guess it first started with hand knitting and crochet, I loved the meditative and tactile process. At my first design job out of college I was given the opportunity to design the knits for a collection. It was my first time working with local yarn vendors and machine knitters and I really liked the process. It seems like anyone that works with textiles or knitwear seems to have a warmer, more down-to-earth personality. I never felt like I fit into the "fashion" mold and they seemed to be my people.
I think what sets us apart from other brands is our commitment to sustainability. Each season we work hard to expand upon our knowledge of the supply chain and work with our mills and artisans to create innovative ways to achieve unique pieces while staying true to our ethos. Visually our clothing is easy-to-wear and textural with subtle but unique characteristics. Living in New York has had a big influence on our designs: we want to be comfortable and able to move easily throughout the day, but also value quality and individuality.
I think that Kordal Studio is an example of a brand that is “a good fit” for working with overseas artisan suppliers. I say this because you seem to have a bit more control when it comes to your collection launches, so you can plan how quickly you need to scale. Would you agree? Can you tell us a bit about your experience working with artisans?
I would say yes and no. We do have some more flexibility with our direct-to-customer business, but the pieces on our website are also sold wholesale to boutiques so we have to make sure everything delivers on time. Because of that we do operate more or less on a traditional fashion calendar. The great thing is that we are building out our online store so that we can offer more special, one-of-a-kind pieces that do require a bit more time.
Our experience working with artisans to create unique pieces for our collections has been incredible. They are professional, reliable, and a super important part of our team. We place a lot of value on building long-lasting relationships and providing consistent work for our artisans year after year. Because of this strong relationship I can trust that all of the work we create with them will be made with care and quality.
Of course, there have been production headaches. No matter how organized you are or how large a team you have it's always going to happen! But after you've dealt with it once you learn that stressing out isn't going to solve anything. I get very Zen about production disasters because the only thing you can do is move forward. Luckily, because we work with great people, we're able to problem solve and figure out a solution.
What is your approach to product development?
We navigate our sourcing and product development through a few different lenses, the first being how impactful is this fabric, process, dye, etc. on the environment? Second, is it a beautiful quality, something textural that we love? Third, can we make order minimums? That’s a huge component for a small company like ours. We use these questions to guide us when meeting with vendors and manufacturers.
What advice do you have for brands that want to work with artisans?
Do your homework. Make sure you are pursuing a good partnership. Nothing is worse than working with an artisan group because their skill set is trending at the moment then leaving the next season. I would also suggest trying to visit their workshop in person if you can. It makes such a difference when you have that real human connection. I would also suggest researching the logistical factors. For example, there are no import duties between the US and Peru, that savings is a huge help for us as a small company.
How many vendors are you currently working with? When you think about new collections, do you think about how you can work with your existing vendors or do you often meet new vendors and get inspired by the materials/ techniques that they specialize in?
We currently work with six different vendor: two knitwear groups in Peru, LA Workshop/The New Denim Project in Guatemala, FPS an NYC local factory, Lucci a handloom knit factory in NYC, and Sew Valley a small factory that just started up in Cincinnati OH.
We work with all of our vendors pretty consistently. The knitwear groups have more work for Fall/Winter, for example, but we do make sure to keep it as consistent as possible. For new collections we develop new fabrications, stitches, and colors to keep things fresh and new. Occasionally we'll work with someone new. For this next season we are starting a new hand-woven project which I'm really excited about. I'm looking forward to working on many more projects with them!
What big steps did you take within your business which were terrifying yet led to the greatest growth? What surprised you most after taking that leap?
Oh, I love this question! This past year I hired my first full time employee - it was terrifying to be responsible for someone's salary! But it's incredible how once you take that leap you figure out how to make it work. I've been so pleasantly surprised by how much our business has grown since she's been on board. We also moved into a larger studio space which was a huge rent increase but it's so beautiful and calming. It's amazing the difference it makes to work in a good environment with sunshine and windows!
What is your strategy for selling product across different channels? What is working best among your online, wholesale, brand partnership, and pop-up event business?
For us having a mix of everything has been really effective. Our wholesale partners are super important because they are our brand ambassadors. We love all the shops we work with and it's great to have a physical space for people to discover us.
We've done a couple of partnerships, but only when it's a perfect fit. For example, we did a collaboration with Elizabeth Suzann. She didn't offer knits in her collection and we really love their ethos and aesthetic, so it was a perfect match. Plus, they are the sweetest gals ever.
Online has been an area we're putting more of our time and effort in now than in previous years. It's great to have a direct connection with people who love the collection and are interested in hearing more about our process.
Pop-ups are probably at the bottom of our priority list, mainly because we're a small team and setting up those events is exhausting. We do a few events over the holidays which are great, but we try to make sure the event is worth the extra work! We all love our lazy weekends too much!
What’s a typical day like for you?
Each day varies, but I'll share a typical Tuesday because they're my favorite! I wake up around 8:30am - that's early for me as I'm not a morning person! My husband and I make coffee, feed our two kitties and pup, and then get ready for the day. I bring my dog Bailey with me and we walk the 20 minutes to the studio.
On Tuesdays Jia Yee (new employee!) and I meet at a coffee shop next to the studio for our weekly brainstorming session. We discuss upcoming events, production logistics, design work, etc. We update our calendar and talk through new ideas for marketing and design. It's such a great start to the day! Then we head back to the office and I typically take an hour catching up on emails. All of our online orders get processed, I update our QuickBooks, and then begin to tackle other things on the day’s list.
At some point we break for our group lunch - our studio is shared with another fashion design company which makes four of us in the office. It's great because each of us brings lunch for all four people one day a week, meaning you only have to cook one night a week and you get to try out other people's recipes. After lunch, projects can range from updating our website, packing wholesale orders, working on copy for our emails, designing the next collection, prepping for sales, etc. Right now, we are in the midst of designing the next collection, so sketching and tech packs are on deck.
When you feel in a rut, where do you go for inspiration?
I love watching films. My husband is a film editor and we both really love watching old movies. I'll also go to the library and look through textile books, check out an art exhibit or dance performance. I love BAM's dance programs and find a lot of inspiration at the Brooklyn Museum. Sometimes just going on a long walk or hike is also a good way for me to clear my head and feel inspired.
For business inspiration I'll go to a panel or conference discussing closed loop design methods, sustainability, or really anything highlighting ways to make a positive impact on our planet. I also just recently read, "Let My People Go Surfing" this summer, it was a truly inspiring read as a small business owner.
What’s up ahead for Kordal?
We're really excited to be moving forward with more pieces at La Workshop using The New Denim Project fabric! The New Denim project is a mill based in Guatemala that recycles denim scraps and cotton into a new fiber, spins it into yarn and weaves fabric from these up-cycled materials. It's been an exciting new venture for us! This Fall we made reversible quilted jackets using their up-cycled fabric and instead of using common polyester fillers for our quilting, we created a custom filler made from recycled cotton scraps. We can't wait to do more work with both incredible companies.
For more info, please visit www.kordalstudio.com