Originally posted on the Pioneer Mode blog, where we dig into the core of the fashion industry by collecting perspectives, identifying the key issues, and uncovering potential solutions. In our Industry Insights series, we interview key stakeholders to consider their day-to-day challenges, and reveal their contributions towards a stronger, healthier community of fashion enterprise.
To kick off our industry insights series, we chatted with Kate McGregor—the owner and founder of Kaight, a specialty boutique in Brooklyn focusing on sustainable fashion and educating shoppers on the importance of knowing about their clothes' backstory, by putting the idea of discovery at the front of the shopping experience. Kate—who launched her brick and mortar store in August 2006 and the online shop within the following year—has always put the idea of “slow fashion” above all when it comes to the merchandise she carries. The store, which has become a neighborhood favorite, has garnered a multitude of press on its message. In Kate’s words: “We’re all about helping customers style themselves and get the most wear out of their purchases. I’ve had people comment that this philosophy and type of selling is counterintuitive for a retail store: We’re not trying to push products on people. We want customers to really think about what they’re buying and be thoughtful consumers.”
“We’re all about helping customers style themselves and get the most wear out of their purchases. We’re not trying to push products on people.”
Saying that Kate knows her customers is an understatement. With between sixty- and seventy- percent of customers returning to Kaight for a repeat visit or purchase, it’s easy to keep these devotees in mind when buying season comes around. “It’s nice to be able to know exactly who you’re shopping for,” she says. “I can go into a trade show or a sales meeting with another brand and have a handful of customers in mind who I know would specifically love a certain product. That makes it really exciting and fun as a buyer.”
Kate shared a few words on the day-to-day pain points of owning a fashion retail business, the fight against seasonality, tools for increasing efficiency, and the conversations she’d like to hear among fashion’s most influential players.
The Daily Grind: The Pain Points of Standing Out in Fashion
Kate: “Generally speaking, I would say it’s the unpredictability of retail. There are so many factors—especially as a brick and mortar shop. As a retailer we’re at the mercy of the weather, inventory seasonality, emotions; shopping is a very emotional experience. Often when shopping—especially when you’re in a store—you’re all about the instant gratification. Unless you’re shopping for a specific event, most people buy something and want to wear it immediately, that night when they go out, or the next day. If the weather isn’t compatible with what’s available in the store, that’s really challenging.
“I tend to work mostly with smaller brands and designers that have a little bit more flexibility. The benefit is that often they're producing a little bit closer to delivery and can work more with seasonality. From that perspective, it’s much easier to negotiate a delivery with a smaller brand.”
Industry Efficiencies: Effective Marketing and Streamlining Processes
Kate: “The outside industries I work with are mainly marketing and promotion-related. There are all of these companies popping up that are offering platforms that aggregate all of your marketing needs in one place. Honestly, it's a niche that’s just swelled in terms of the amount of business it’s bringing in.
“In tandem with that, there is no longer a need for a showroom relationship—the representation and the intermediary that can get a designer into a store. The whole dynamic is changing pretty quickly. There are a lot of wholesaling platforms that have popped up; I personally like using them. I think they’re great tools for re-ordering products and working with brands from which I already buy. It’s definitely less time-consuming than taking a trip into the city or going to a showroom. Everything becomes pretty streamlined.”
“Fashion is supposed to be fun and make you feel good. When you start talking about how toxic the dye process is and the people that are being abused who make the garment, it’s not fun or sexy.”
Missing Conversations: Taboo Within the Fashion Industry
Kate: “I would really like there to be more honest discussions about the environmental impact of the fashion industry. I don’t know how and where that will ever happen. There have been so many talks with the sustainability coordinator for H&M on down to really great brands like Patagonia. Nothing tangible seems to come from it. It would just be nice to hear people really say, ‘Yes! This is something that’s really serious.’ Fashion is supposed to be fun and make you feel good—those are the two main components of why people shop. They want to feel pretty, or beautiful, or strong, or whatever. The emotional connection that they have to a certain look or garment is strong. When you start talking about how toxic the dye process is and the people that are being abused who make the garment, it’s not fun or sexy.”
Leaders of the Pack: Industries to Admire
Kate: “Food is always the top tier, with the push towards organics, and getting people on board because we have such a connection to what we eat. In the last five or ten years, the beauty industry has done a great job of communicating the importance of knowing the ingredients in the cosmetics and products we use. Hopefully it will start to shift more for clothing. Europe has done well putting their eco standards in place. There are a lot of different regulations and information that make it easy for consumers to buy products with a higher level of comfort in terms of knowing how they were made.”
“People don’t always want to be told something. There’s an element of self-discovery with shopping and buying. We all want to have some sort of unique perspective.”
It’s More Than An Outfit: Spreading Knowledge
Kate: “People don’t always want to be told something. There’s an element of self-discovery with shopping and buying—people really like that. They want to feel like they found something special. Any way information can be communicated without having to say it explicitly is a really great thing. Not every brand that I carry, but a lot of the brands I carry, have informative hangtags. It’s a really easy, unobtrusive way to get a message across. I mean, I feel that way as a buyer when I discover a new brand who I feel no one really knows about. We all want to have some sort of unique perspective.”