Meet the Maker: Haeni Kim, founder of KITRI
7 Sep 2018
At just 18 months old, KITRI has achieved monumental popularity among “millennial peacocks” who were desperately looking for quality, creativity and colour in affordable womenswear. Founded by Haeni Kim, she had a clear vision about what she wanted to create and who for, resulting in a digital direct-to-consumer brand that really listens to its customers. We speak to Haeni about how she represents a new wave of entrepreneurs shaping a modern approach to shopping.
What problem were you setting out to solve by launching KITRI?
I’ve been working in the fashion industry for a long time in marketing, sales and finance. My dream was always to start my own brand. I saw a gap in the market for beautiful, contemporary brands with an accessible price point. In my late twenties, I felt there were no brands out there sitting between high street and high end. I also started feeling uncomfortable about mass produced fashion and how long it lasts - we wanted to offer an intelligent alternative. We brought in a modern way to shop i.e. online only, cutting out the middleman (no wholesale markup) and going direct-to-consumer, which lowers the price point. It was basically just what my friends and I were looking for!
UK fashion has moved from minimalism to “millennial peacocking,” how have you seen this develop? Why do you think this is?
That’s something that we’ve been finding from the start. I have absolutely noticed a huge change in how customers see colours and prints - they would always sell out first over neutrals. In the age of Instagram, image is so important. Colour also lifts your day so it could be something to do with the current political climate too.
Kitri has been described as “creative workwear,” does this have something to do with the wider movement of how the workplace is becoming more casual? Did this play a part in your vision?
I’ve always struggled to find something to wear to work. Now we are living in a time where a lot of people freelance so they have the freedom to wear what they want. Creative industries are exploding in our generation so there are very few places now where you need to wear a suit. Kitri is appropriate but playful and expresses individual personality that works in a variety of settings; whether that’s client meetings, boardrooms, networking or drinks with friends. Colour also shows confidence – that’s the magical power of clothes.
We’ve noticed you’ve worked with Pandora Sykes and Laura Jackson. When choosing an influencer, what’s important to you?
There’s 13 of us in the team so we all decide whether we like what that person represents and whether their style suits us. ‘Kitri’ comes from a ballet heroine who was strong, vibrant and feisty. That’s the kind of effervescence we really wanted to embody in the brand. We love women of substance with a knowing smile - it’s not about perfectionism.
Described as sitting somewhere between “I have a brain” and “I know how to party,” your Instagram tone doesn’t take itself too seriously. Can you tell us more about how you use social media to grow your community?
We want to take our community on our journey with us so they emotionally invest in our brand. Like our customers, the team works really hard but we want to have to have fun along the way. Our tone is really just how we would talk to our friends.
You drop new styles every week to keep it fresh. What’s the reason behind this? How easy is this to manage?
It’s more to do with content than product as everyone is so used to seeing something new every second of the day. We drop 4-10 new styles to our newsletter subscribers every Sunday morning - some even shop at 9am that day! Limited quantities is really important for us too because we don’t want to be over producing. Bigger brands are seeing a decline in mass orders, which shows it’s important, but it’s certainly a challenge.
You’ve just launched US shipping, how is that market responding? How is it different to Europe and the UK?
Really well! In general, they tend to dress more casually than UK customers (other than New York) and they expect extremely high levels of customer service. They know what they want and there’s nothing wrong with that!
You launched a KITRI pop-up in 2017 and have another one launching in September, how have they helped you grow your business?
We launched the first pop-up when we were only six months old. It was a test as I always wanted to have a Kitri HQ but not a shop on every corner. It was an opportunity to get to know our customers, almost like a two-month questionnaire. As an online brand it sometimes feels like we are screaming into a void. The next one will be four months long to drum up more interest than the last. Two months wasn’t really long enough, particularly when it comes to press.
The fashion and retail industry is going through a tough time at the moment – what are your biggest challenges?
Established brands/retailers may be having a tough time but it means there’s now room for the new guys. Perhaps they weren’t flexible enough to listen to their customers and cater to the new generation. We’re starting out from scratch and don’t have 500 stores to worry about so we can be more innovative and make sure we’re better equipped to handle the challenges ahead. I’m also really concerned about environmental issues so we’re being really considerate of the future too.
What keeps you motivated? Where do you look for inspiration?
My friends who are all doing amazing things. Particularly those in fashion where we’re all trying to change an industry that has been the same for a long time. It really is an age of entrepreneurs, freelancers and free thinkers. I am in awe of how much support there is at the moment for female entrepreneurs and there’s a real sense of solidarity.
What advice would you give to a new fashion brand just starting up?
Do your research – especially when it comes to business models. Direct-to-consumer was the plan for us right from the beginning. Also a strong brand identity is vital – it’s what makes a modern brand (a good product just isn’t enough). The people side of a business is a constant challenge too; finding a motivated team who will run with you is so important.
KITRI is currently appearing in 52 Brewer Street, Soho. You can book this space for you idea here.