Nº21: Keith Abrams
Photos By Dale Algo
When he was younger, Keith and his close friends Maceo, Ryan, Salah and Jay all wanted to create a space where they could hang out and be creative. At the time, they were producing t-shirts and accessories to go with the bike shop they owned. Now, they’ve created a space not only for themselves but for new age kids: Kinfolk. Keith and his pals have created a culture here in Brooklyn, from the employees at the Kinfolk Studios to the creatives that come by to throw a rad party without spending an arm and a leg for space. It’s great being able to have a space like Kinfolk where cultures can meet and enjoy each other’s craft.
I had the pleasure to sit and chat with Keith Abrams, one of five principal partners of Kinfolk Studios. Keith shares his impact on the brand as the business eye, while his other partners are more of the creatives. He explains: “It’s easy to balance things out with me because I don’t have a creative ego.” With almost 10 years of building Kinfolk, Keith reminisces about how it all started. From a bar in Tokyo, things were just being treated like a hobby (a word he uses loosely). They wanted to start a real business that would eventually pay bills and help take care of their families. In 2004, Keith made his move from Portland (where he and his partners originally met) to New York.
Kinfolk is designed for everyone, whether you want to party at their nightclub, a cafe/restaurant where people can enjoy good food, coffee and cocktails and a retail store with a variety of amazing brands and a price range that can work for anyone’s pockets.
Kinfolk is an ever growing brand, having just released a collaboration with GAP and GQ. We can say that any entrepreneur could take a page out of their book of success.
Kinfolk is made up of 5 principal partners. Walk us through how you personally impact Kinfolk’s brand.
So I came on in 2012, and Kinfolk started in 2008. We’re coming up on our 10th anniversary. The other partners were trying to build a business that could sustain and support the three people we had. Around 2010-11, it grew enough so that everyone was able to leave their actual jobs and work on Kinfolk full-time. Maceo, who is one of my business partners is the connecting tissue of all the principals. Ryan and Maceo knew each other from when they were in their early 20s, Salah and Maceo knew each other from when they were teenagers. I know Maceo from when I was a teenager and he was in his twenties. I came on to help grow the brand, take a big picture view of what they were doing and try to expand on it, and turn it more than what it was at the time, which was a bar. We were a bar that did some design work. I became a partner because I had experience in some of the more boring business stuff, also with working in a small business into a medium size business. They were the creatives and I was more of the business guy. When I came on we had one space but now we have three spaces, the clothing line, the wholesale business, and e-commerce business.
Coming up on 10 years, that’s crazy. What else would you be doing if not this?
What’s funny is, I’ve had real jobs and worked for companies that had high stakes. It was always working for people who had no idea what they were doing and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it, it was never a big corporation. Kinfolk — l don’t know how to explain it, but we were like all too stupid to find real jobs. We were unhirable, so we had to figure out how to do something. Since I was less creative than them, they made it known that they will handle the creative aspect and I will do everything that can help the brand grow on the business side.
As a buyer for Kinfolk, what do you look for to bring to the New York scene?
Some of the stuff that we carry, you can’t find them anywhere else in New York. The original concept is that we all have to be enthusiastic about clothing. Among the five of us, we have all lived in different places and experienced many different things. We wanted to bring all that stuff back and put it into one space, so it was all about discovery. We lived in Japan for a long time, and there were brands out there that no one would ever know about until you’ve been there. Even if people would interact with those brands over the internet, they wouldn’t be able to actually get the pieces. That’s why I go out there so often; a lot of business we do is by handshake. We show face, try to find some nice products and bring those back with us. We constantly try to balance putting something in the store, that we think is amazing, that no one is ever going to buy. It’s a balance and it’s good that our space is a multi-purpose place, because it allows us to be a little pickier, I guess. We’re doing so much nightlife stuff, that we don’t have to do things just to make money. [We enjoy] still being able to bring in brands that may be priced out because of the high quality of the product but giving people the opportunity to experience it.
Wearing a hat is your thing. What’s your hat collection like?
It’s big. However, I’m not very nostalgic. I’ll get a new hat, I’ll have a rotation of like 2 or 3 and I’ll wear them a lot. Then I’ll toss them and get new ones. I’ll probably say I have maybe like 30 hats, but only about 2 that I’ll wear regularly.
What goes through your mind when you guys make huge accomplishments like the gap collaboration?
Yeah, when it came about I was like “wow, this is pretty big.” Then when it dropped and people started sending me pics from different GAP stores, it’s easy to get caught up, and be like “that was a great project, what are we working on now?” That emotion doesn’t allow you to enjoy any type of success, whether it’s recognition or monetary. I try and take time out and encourage my business partners to take a step back from time to time, like "holy shit, we just did something really good" we accidentally started a company, now we have a GAP collaboration.” It’s also something that our parents can now understand, since they’re like, “what do you guys do?” “What’s your role?” Then you tell them about this and they’re like “oh, okay great” because they’ve all heard of the GAP. It’s super exciting when a company that size works with us. We’ve done stuff with Levi’s last year, and any time a company like that recognize what you’re doing and notices you, it’s super flattering. I'm in this physical space so often, I spend so much of my life just in this corner, sometimes it’s just nice to get outside and try to see how everybody else is seeing you. Shoutout to the GAP and to GQ for thinking about us.
Being that you work in clothing and you're a buyer for your brand, how epic is it to be married to a fashion/ art director?
She’s the best. We have a lot of common interests. It’s funny because we don’t talk about fashion very often and we have very different opinions on what is great and what is not. She’s a million times more knowledgeable than me; she knows every single brand. I’d look at something and just to get under her skin I’ll say “that’s whack.” And she’ll respond “you don’t even know what this is.” But it’s great, it’s great to have a common interest, but whether or not she was into fashion I think we probably would have ended up together.
Does she play a role in the process of you buying pieces?
We definitely bounce ideas off each other. She deals mostly with women’s luxury, much more elevated stuff. She would shoot a product that’s worth our entire inventory, just like one piece. She has great taste and she’s not afraid to tell me when she thinks something is not up to par. Or she would be like “I don’t understand why you think that’s good.” I have to either admit she was right or like talking about it, trying to convince somebody why you think it’s good, is also a good exercise whether or not you actually like it. Can you defend the products you’re actually putting into your store?
Does she play a role in your decision making for your outfit of the day?
No. Zero percent. Anytime she says something about what I am wearing, I get super defensive and I tell her she has no idea what she’s talking about and I storm out of the house.
What would you say makes your relationship successful as a power couple?
The most important thing is—which is super cliche but true—is communication. My schedule can get pretty hectic sometimes, especially this time of year. I’m in and out of town a lot, but — not to be all sappy — we communicate and are always aware that we are each other’s most important person.
What are your top 5 songs on your playlist right now?
I have no idea...Hmm, let me see. I’m super excited for B12 to come out, I love Ty $, even though he is one of the ridiculous artists of the last whenever. I like a LNDN DRGS with Jay Worthy, I definitely love the last EP they put out. I don’t know, man. I feel like music has lost its way. (pauses) Actually, there are tons of good stuff coming out right now, I don’t want to sound like an old head. Because there’s really good shit coming out, and so much music that I feel overwhelmed. When I was a teenager, I felt like I knew every single thing that was coming out. Now it feels like a full-time job, trying to stay on top of that. The busier I get the harder it gets. Also [there's] so much bullshit out there to get to the tons of good music.
You guys did a collaboration with the Brooklyn Nets. What’s your favorite basketball team?
Portland Trail Blazers. Heartbreak every year, they suck — I gotta represent but they will never win a title. I think we’re cursed.
FALL WINTER ESSENTIALS?
A good hoodie.
Over the shoulder small bag.
A nice top coat.