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Brentwood, Montecito, West Hollywood, Hamptons
Short Business Description:
A curated assortment of apparel, accessories and home goods by designer Jenni Kayne. Visit their lifestyle publication Rip & Tan for daily inspiration.
We have always admired Jenni Kayne’s style. She has a way of designing clothing, curating products and hosting events that make us want to steal every detail of her vision and somehow make it our own. Jenni was born to be a designer and entrepreneur, launching her eponymous fashion line at the young age of 19, before doubt and fear had a chance to deter her. Over the years, she has perfected her California-cool, refined luxury style, and evolved her clothing line into a full-blown lifestyle brand that she lives, breathes and luckily for us, shares on her blog Rip & Tan. Her attention to detail is apparent in every corner of her home and her stores, which she graciously invited us into for this photo shoot. During that time we witnessed this female founder in action – she balanced her work, her family and herself, even managing to prioritize a trip to the stables to horseback ride later that afternoon. It is safe to say that Jenni Kayne is our generation’s Martha Stewart – designing a life we all want to lead, and building an empire on the back of that brand. Read on to find out more about how Jenni built her beautiful business, and some advice she has for fellow entrepreneurs.
What is Jenni Kayne, the brand?
The Jenni Kayne brand is a collection of women’s apparel and footwear, focusing on wardrobe classics that span both age and seasons. We have five retail stores in California that carry the Jenni Kayne collection, as well as an assortment of my favorite home goods as well as apparel and accessories from brands I love. We also have a lifestyle blog called Rip & Tan (named after my children) that covers everything from fashion and entertaining to wellness.
Before starting Jenni Kayne, what did you do?
I started my business when I was 19. I had just left art school and was working as a buyer and designer for a small store in Los Angeles.
Did you have any formal business training before launching?
Everything I know I learned through working and getting hands on experience. I’ve had some very seasoned, talented mentors over the years who I was lucky enough to learn closely from.
What was your biggest fear before launching Jenni Kayne?
I was so young when I started the brand so I was totally fearless. I guess I was lucky in that way!
YOUR GLASS CEILING TURNING POINT
What inspired you to start the line?
I always wanted to be a fashion designer, from the time I was a little girl. I went to a went to a Chanel show with my mom when I was 6 or 7 and was so inspired by what I saw. From then on, designing was a passion of mine.
How did you find the courage to do so?
I was young so I had tons of energy, drive, and inspiration—and nothing holding me back. I started my brand before I started my family, so I had nothing to lose.
When did it become a full-time business?
The moment I started. I fully dedicated myself to the brand then, and continue to spend almost every day working on it now, thirteen years later.
Is there anyone in particular who influenced your journey or is a mentor? If so, how did you meet that person?
My best friend’s mom had a leather clothing line in the ‘70s that was amazing. She was super creative and talented and she taught me how to sew when I was really young. She was always a mentor and inspiration to me.
THE BUSINESS OF YOUR BUSINESS
How did you finance your business?
I am very fortunate that my father was able to be my partner throughout this journey. He is a businessman and has always believed in my ability.
What were the first 5 steps you took to launch?
I hired a consultant who helped me find the right team and get set up. Together we found a pattern-maker and factories in Italy. From there I started sourcing fabrics, going to trade shows in Paris, and found a showroom to sell my clothes. I had my first fashion show during L.A.’s first Fashion Week. I remember Lily Aldridge modeled in my show—it was her first too! She must have been a baby.
Would you do those same 5 things first, knowing what you know now?
Yes. Having the guidance of a consultant was helpful because I was so young and we set the brand off on the right foot by focusing on the quality and integrity of the clothes from the get-go.
What was the first iteration of the business and is it now what you initially set out for it to be?
I had always envisioned it as a lifestyle brand but it started as more of a straightforward fashion brand, delivering seasonally and seeding to other retailers. It has evolved into something bigger than that. I am more focused on my own retail stores now; we carry my line along with a variety of other brands in a range of categories. We also believe in our e-commerce business and blog, and dedicate plenty of resources to make sure those pieces are a really beautiful reflection of the brand.
When and why did you decide start carrying other designers?
I opened my fist store in West Hollywood almost ten years ago. I wanted to have a little of everything, so if there were things I wasn’t already doing myself—like jeans, T-shirts, and handbags—I would find whoever I thought was doing it the best and ask them to be part of the store. There are so many amazing small brands in California, and I source a lot of items from them.
Where did you find your first customers?
I think they found me! I’ve always tried to make beautiful clothes that feel effortless and elegant, while still working for everyday life. Luckily, I have a lot of loyal customers because of that.
What outside contractors have you hired to help build your business?
Too many to name. I’ve always relied on a mix of in-house talent and contracted experts, depending on what our needs are and who crosses my path.
What kind of growing pains have you experienced?
Constantly building and refining the infrastructure needed to support growth is a process that takes time and energy. In 2008, the economy crashed right around the time I had my first child. I was balancing being a new mom with running a business during very uncertain times. But we got through it. There have been other trying moments too, but I always try to keep things in perspective and take the ebbs and flows in stride.
What obstacles have you faced that you were most surprised by?
I think I was surprised by, in general, how difficult the fashion business is and how competitive it can be. You have to have thick skin to make it in this industry.
Where do you want Jenni Kayne to be in 5 years?
Everywhere! I want to open more boutiques and hopefully some outside of California. I want more woman to know and love and wear the clothes. I want to inspire woman to learn about craftsmanship, design, wellness, food, and other meaningful arenas through Rip & Tan.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere but mostly through art, travel, and nature.
Do you have any business role models?
My dad is a big role model for me and a great resource. In terms of other brands or people, I’ve always admired Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few.
How has branding played a role in your business?
I’ve learned that having a clear brand message is so important. With so many different elements of my business, it has been a huge focus for me and my team to define our message and make sure that we are communicating it clearly through all of our channels. It’s a pursuit that informs every decision we make, so it’s something we are constantly working on.
How do you find and develop relationships with strategic partners?
It mostly happens organically. I love being a part of a big creative network in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Those connections often lead to meeting likeminded partners for my business.
Are you part of any professional networks?
Not formally, but I am surrounded by many successful entrepreneurs who I constantly touch base with and get advice from. Some are even my close friends!
What challenges do you think you face specifically as a female founder, and how do you overcome them?
Luckily, the fashion industry is made up of a lot of women so I’ve always felt supported in that sense. I think having to juggle being a mother, homemaker, and wife, all while running my own company is a challenge and a privilege at the same time. I want to succeed in all of those roles. They are all an important part of my happiness and satisfaction in life, so I work really hard at all of them.
Has being married and having a family changed how you run your business?
Yes, balance is key. Having a great team at home and at work is the only way it works. I am so fortunate to have amazing support on both sides to help me. I think as we grow and as my family grows focusing my energy on where I am really valuable at home and at work, and not trying to do too much or micro-manage is the only way it works.
How do you draw boundaries, or not draw boundaries, between work and personal life?
Practice. Although I am always working in some capacity, I try to leave work at the office when I am with my kids, and especially on weekends. It’s important to have boundaries as a creative person too. Taking time off and making time for yourself is an important part of staying inspired and being authentic.
What is the best thing about running your own business? The most difficult?
Creating beautiful things that I believe in and sharing them with others is, by far, the best thing. Dealing with all the stress that goes along with that is the hardest part.
Do you have advice on whether or not to have a cofounder?
I think it depends on the brand. While I don’t have a cofounder, I’ve tried to support talent on our team and allow people to move into key leadership roles. It’s important not to try to do everything yourself, and to let other capable people help you accomplish your goals.
What are you most proud of?
There have been a lot of little victories along the way. A few that stick out to me are crafting with Martha Stewart and being on the cover of Domino. Mostly, I feel proud every time I see someone wearing my clothes.
At what point did you think, “I made it”?
Meeting Anna Wintour was a big moment for me!
What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in business?
In terms of the fashion industry I would tell them that while it’s immensely rewarding, it’s also very challenging. I would advise them to make sure that this is want they really want before they start, and to surround themselves with partners and people with more experience who can serve as mentors.
Photography by: Katrina Dickson