When Karen Kane’s son Michael, the brand’s Director of Marketing, discovered Gwynnie Bee while reading one of his favorite blogs, Wardrobe Oxygen, he foresaw the beginnings of a lasting partnership. “After getting in touch with Gwynnie Bee, we quickly realized what a perfect match we were, and it’s been a fantastic partnership ever since,” Karen told us in a recent interview.
We spent the day with Karen behind the scenes at Karen Kane headquarters in California where we saw just how involved she is in the design process, met Michael, and talked about style and keeping it simple.
Since Karen Kane was launched in 1979, how has your brand evolved? To which factors do you attribute some of the brand’s most notable changes?
So much has changed since we first launched in 1979! It’s hard to say which changes had the most impact on us, but there are several that stand out above the rest. Three months after we got married, my husband, Lonnie, and I started the company out of garage. In the beginning, we screen printed silk tops. As we got more orders, stores also began to request a broader range of products. Over the years, so much has changed. Lonnie and I had two boys, the company moved into several (progressively larger) facilities, and technology revolutionized the way we manufacture clothes. The idea of buying (or renting) clothes online didn’t exist in 1979. Today, ecommerce makes up nearly 20% of our total business. We still have the same pride in our products, but the industry has dramatically changed the way we operate.
Michael says, “The quilt was a gift that employees presented Lonnie and Karen with to celebrate the brand’s 25th anniversary. Each department designed its own special patch. Time flies – this December will mark our 35th anniversary!”
How hands-on are you in the design process?
Very! Every style we produce starts with my design team and me. There is not a single garment that leaves the building that I’m not involved with designing. I love the creative process – it’s what makes me excited to come to work every day!
What is your attitude towards fashion?
Keep it simple. My mantra for surefire-style is easy: only wear one trend at a time. It’s a guaranteed way to stay stylish without looking inappropriate.
How would you describe your personal sense of style?
Comfort is important to me. I think I have a pretty “Californian” sense of style. We’re a little more relaxed than the East Coast in how we dress… less structured, and little more playful. My daily uniform consists of jeans or pants, boots, a tank, a top, and jacket or sweater.
How did you come to arrive at your personal fashion identity?
It evolved over time. My biggest fashion philosophy is that you should never stop taking risks. While I’ve developed a personal sense of style that I feel comfortable with, I’m open to always trying new trends.
What trends should we expect to see in your upcoming fall collection?
This season, expect to see a lot of excited luxe details. Faux fur accents, faux suede & leather, scuba textures, and jacquard are going to be key trends. In terms of prints, you can never go wrong with animal – and this season, python print is going to be everywhere. There will also be a lot of graphic prints this season… like geos, chain prints, and more.
What are your thoughts on the growing sharing economy?
I think it’s very exciting! As a brand, we have been thrilled to be a part of the Gwynnie Bee community. It’s been a fantastic experience to see so many new people get acquainted with our brand. From a personal perspective, I love the fact that sharing clothes encourages fashion creativity and experimentation. It’s definitely a big win for the fashion community.
Why is it important to you that the large majority of your clothes be manufactured in the U.S.?
Since the company was founded, we have always produced a majority of our clothing in the United States. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, changing economics forced us to export a greater percentage of our manufacturing. However, a series of economic shifts in the past decade allowed us to bring back much of that work and we’ve been really happy with the results of that effort. Not only does it allow us to have greater control over the quality of our clothing, but it also lets us make clothes in a much shorter window of time. We’ve been able to react to trends faster, employ more American workers, and get clothes to our customers more quickly.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the Gwynnie Bee community?
Thank you for your support! I’ve loved the opportunity to be a part of the Gwynnie Bee family and look forward to everything that is to come!