After gaining experience at such well-known brands as Nautica, menswear designer Kai D. Fan launched his eponymous small-batch locally made collection Kai D. at his own pop-up store in lower Manhattan in November 2009. He has since relocated the store to Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he continues to offer the house brand, which combines timeless artisanal looks made with high-quality imported fabrics, and a variety of clothes, accessories, and other items from outside labels that he personally chooses.
This somewhat inexplicably under-the-radar designer/retailer caught up with me at his impressive and inviting store last week where he stressed the appeal and importance of his “slow fashion” sartorial assortment – one that is definitely worth your time and money to shop.
What is the store’s product mix?
About 65 percent are our own designs which we produce in the Garment District and the other 35 percent are mostly accessories from different labels but we are starting to incorporate more and more so it is starting to become more of a multi-label store.
What are bestsellers aside from the Kai D. house brand?
For the clothing we carry rainwear from Denmark called Rains. They are doing really well. It’s very good product that is very functional and well priced. The other two brands we carry are Shuttle Notes from Japan which is mostly knitwear and Hansen Garments from Denmark which is pretty much the same concept as me. For the accessories we carry Bellroy wallets and another brand called Secret from The Netherlands. We also carry a leathermaker from New England upstate called Sweettrade. They were just featured in a bunch of men’s magazines and are an up-and-coming maker. The bags also come from different labels. We carry the brand Bleu de Chauffe from the south of France and a Brooklyn label called TM 1985. We also have sweaters from the English brand North Sea Clothing.
How has the Kai D. collection evolved over the years?
It probably started as a little more workwear. It still has the inspiration from the early century workwear but at the same time I kind of wanted to make it a little more modern so a lot of the pieces are essential, timeless pieces that I think men should have. I try to establish the right pant, the right shirt, the right jacket. I don’t change season after season. It’s kind of a classic silhouette so it’s a little more utilitarian in that sense.
On the other hand, because this is so very consistent with details and designs I try to express my creativity through making one-of-a-kind pieces. I took an old Japanese farmer coat and then I changed the shape and used a different cut but keep a kind of kimono look. I created this hybrid and I make them in luxury fabrics like cashmere and alpaca. We did that last year and it was really well received so we started to make more. We make shorter versions and on-off pieces. That’s almost like a separate entity that is evolving.
Who are the customers who shop at Kai D.?
A lot of them are in the creative field. A lot of them are photographers or architects. Other professions that are really popular are designers, writers, musicians, artists or entrepreneurs and small business owners that don’t have to wear corporate clothing but they want something that is well made and has a little bit more unique detailing compared to just generic materials. We tend to attract those kind of customers but the age range can run from someone who is 17 that has exquisite taste to the oldest customer, who is actually 72 and I used him as a model for the launch.
You also sell online…
Yes. I also have a friend who has two stores in Brooklyn called Modern Anthology and they carry a small portion of my designs. But the majority is sold here. Although the ecommerce is growing it’s probably ten percent of sales. Most of the people who shop here might not live in New York so when they go back to wherever they live they can shop online.
What sets your brand and store apart?
I think it’s the way I approach designs. I don’t think of a seasonal collection. I just design pieces that I think are something I would want to wear for at least five if not ten years. It’s almost like a keepsake kind of piece – you just keep wearing it and it will age better and better. So that dictates how I design and the choices that I make in shapes, fits, trims, colors and materials that I pick. Because of those micro-decisions that I make the pieces tend to feel like they don’t get out of style. So I like to stick with that. I did some research online and I came across Kate Fletcher who published the term “slow fashion” so I kind of use that generally speaking to describe what I do. It’s all about things that are higher quality and thoughtfully made so that they will last a long time.
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