Streetwear is one of the fastest-growing areas of the fashion industry. One streetwear brand that is constantly mentioned when talking about popular streetwear brands is Kith. Kith was founded in 2011 by American footwear and clothing designer, Ronnie Fieg. This article details how Ronnie Fieg got into designing and the experiences that led him to founding his own brand, Kith.
Growing Up in Queens, New York
His Family Influences
Aaron “Ronnie” Fieg was born on June 16, 1982. He was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Fieg became very interested in fashion at an early age because of his family. His uncle, David Zaken, owned a chain of New York City shoe stores called David Z. Fieg’s older sister worked at their uncle’s store in the main city part of New York City, which influenced her to adopt city fashion and put Fieg onto it as well.
Queens vs. The City
Despite Queens being in New York City, the fashion in Queens was different from the fashion in the city. In Queens, people wore brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Karl Kani, and Cross Colours. They didn’t know about the brands and styles that people from the city wore. So when Fieg’s older sister wore shearling jackets and Timberland hiking boots with the tags still on, people in Queens would make fun of her. The same thing happened to Fieg when he wore Clarks Royal Suede Wallabees and New Balance shoes to school. People would say, “What is that? We don’t know if we like that.” These comments did not deter Fieg from exploring fashion. Fieg continued to wear city fashion styles to school. He would also take notes of what older kids were wearing while still in elementary school.
His Shoe Collection
Shoes were Fieg’s favorite part of fashion, which definitely was influenced by his uncle’s shoe business. He bought his first shoes when he was 13. They were the Jason Kidds Flight 95s. He loved those shoes so much that they were also the first shoe he bought two pairs of. They are still some of his favorite shoes today and kick-started his extensive shoe collection that continues to expand to this day. Fieg collects a variety of footwear from classic Jordans to Timberland boots.
Working at David Z
Getting the Job
At age 12, Fieg got his first job. At his bar mitzvah, his uncle David Z offered him money as a customary gift. Fieg turned down the money and asked his uncle for a job instead. Fieg wanted a job at David Z because he saw his uncle as his idol and wanted to also have his own store and do what he wanted. He knew that the only way he could take steps towards that dream was by getting experience. David Z agreed to give Fieg a job.
From Queens to the City and Back
Fieg started working as a stock boy in David Z’s Greenwich Village store. As a stock boy, he got to handle all of the new products before they were put on the sales floor. Spending more time in the city meant that Fieg could pick up on city fashion firsthand. He continued to bring city fashion to Queens but also got to bring Queens fashion to the city, effectively blending both styles.
Even though Fieg was happy to have the job, it was not always easy. Fieg was still a young teen at the time and was traveling back and forth from Queens to Greenwich Village by himself. After school on Fridays, he would go directly to the store and work for a few hours. He’d return home at night to go back both days of the weekend and work all day. He would take the subway to get to work, which was not always the safest, so things got ugly at times. Even if getting to his job was physically tiring and not the safest, Fieg refused to sacrifice what he had and got to experience while working in the city because it was everything to him.
Moving Up the Ranks
During his time at David Z, Fieg worked his way up. From a stock boy, he eventually became a floor salesman and got to interact with customers. There was a time period when a lot of celebrities would come by the store. Fieg would sell to Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Missy Elliot, and a few NBA players. Jay-Z was also a frequent customer and would buy two fresh pairs of Timberlands every week. His interactions with customers allowed him to learn more about what shoes people liked to wear. Eventually, he became an assistant manager and then a head buyer for the entire David Z chain. As a head buyer, he was also responsible for collaborations.
The Asics Collaboration
His first collaboration was with the Japanese footwear brand, Asics, in 2007. Asics wanted to collaborate with Fieg on new designs based on their existing shoe models that would be sold in David Z stores. He agreed and designed three pairs of Gel Lyte IIIs called “The 252 Pack.” It was called “The 252 Pack” because each sneaker was produced in batches of 252. In total, Fieg made 756 pairs. Fieg knew that it was not a good idea to produce that many pairs because David Z’s market was not catered to athletic footwear. David Z himself was more of a “boot, brown shoe guy,” which meant that athletic shoes were not really his thing and therefore not very present in his stores. Fieg took on the project anyway because the models were shoes he loved as a kid, and he selfishly wanted to bring them back. He also took a risk in not telling David Z about the collaboration. He knew that his job was on the line because if he couldn’t sell the shoes, he would get fired. The risk paid off because Fieg’s designs ended up on the cover of The Wall Street Journal, and all 756 pairs sold out.
Ronnie Fieg – The Designer
His Design Style
The Asics collaboration helped launch Fieg’s career as a designer. A lot of his early collaborations were similar to the Asics one in that he would take brands’ older models and put his own spin on it to effectively bring products back. This was his signature yet people were not a fan of it at first because the products weren’t exactly new. Eventually, people caught onto the vision and liked what Fieg was doing. This is sen all the time in fashion when trends and styles resurface. At first, people question why old trends are coming back but end up adopting them in their new forms.
Over the next 3 years, Fieg ended up designing over 50 products through collaborations with brands such as Adidas, Caminando, Chippewa, Clarks, Converse, Harris Tweed, Herschel Supply, New Balance, Polo Ralph Lauren, PUMA, Red Wings, Saucony, Sebago, Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen, and Timberland.
Ronnie Fieg or David Z?
Something important to note about all of these collaborations is that they were all under Fieg’s name while he still worked at David Z. All of the collaborations were labeled as “Ronnie Fieg x [insert brand name here].” It was important to Fieg that all his designs be under his name because he wanted to separate himself from what was being sold at David Z. He wanted this separation because he wanted his designs and collaborations to be special and not just another brand or product sold at David Z. This mindset was what influenced him to leave David Z.
Leaving David Z
Although “The 252 Pack” collaboration was a risk, Fieg says that leaving David Z was his biggest risk as he had been working there for 15 years. He said that talking to David about leaving was very difficult but that he had a vision that could not come into fruition if he stayed at David Z. David was all about the business aspect, while Fieg wanted to create and design. He left in 2010 to work on opening his own store.
The Birth of Kith
Sam Ben-Avraham, a family friend of Fieg, saw and recognized his talent. Ben-Avraham approached Fieg with an offer to run the footwear part of his clothing store, Atrium. Fieg said no and gave a counter offer. He said, “I want to open my store within your store but with its own door.” From simply running the footwear part of a store all the way to opening a whole store inside an existing store was a pretty tall order, but Fieg didn’t care. He told himself that the only way he was going to leave David Z and start his own business was if it was going to happen on his terms. This desire goes back to his childhood dream of having his own store and doing what he wanted to do. Ben-Avraham said yes to Fieg’s request, and Atrium in Brooklyn became Atrium + Kith.
The Meaning Behind the Name
Kith comes from the Middle English phrase “kith and kin” or “friends and family.” Fieg chose this name because he wanted to create a community. In a 2017 interview with Complex, he talked about how he doesn’t want Kith to become big. He says, “If we can afford to be bigger than we are, we don’t want to be” and how “some things aren’t meant to scale.” By keeping the brand small, he can keep it to “Just Us,” which was Kith’s unofficial motto when the company first launched. Fieg defines “us” as “a small group of my friends who just, you know, liked the same stuff… more of like a crew thing.”
At first, Kith was just shoes, both ones Fieg designed and ones from other brands. It didn’t expand into apparel until 2012 with a single pair of pants. Fieg got gifted a pair of cargo pants from the brand Scotch & Soda. He took the pants to his tailor to be tapered using ankle zips and elasticized cuffs. In making the pants fitted to the calves and ankles, shoes could be easily shown off instead of hiding under pant legs. Even though the aim with the pants was to show off his shoes, Fieg got compliments on his pants more than his shoes. He was inspired to create pants in the same style to sell in the store just to see what would happen. After making batches of 12, 24, 100, 1000, they all kept selling out immediately. He didn’t even name the pants until he made the batch of 100. He named them the Mercer pant and made them a twill jogger. The immediate success of the Mercer pant really confused Fieg because Kith didn’t sell clothes. They were the only pair of pants in the entire store among all the shoes. Fieg made the pants because he wanted them for himself. Turns out, everyone else wanted them too. At this point, Kith was still a store and not a whole brand. Once Kith fully expanded into a retail fashion establishment with a variety of products, weekly drops, collaborations, and multiple locations, Kith officially became a brand.
When hearing the stories of many other business owners, they usually don’t expect that they are going to open a business in a particular industry. Fieg is different because he knew what he wanted ever since he was a kid and used his passion to get him to where he wanted to be and is today. This is evident in the fact that he started off as just a kid from Queens who got fun of for his New Balances to collaborating with New Balance and hundreds of other brands and having an entire brand that he considers “an extension of himself.” Fieg believes that “If you’re passionate enough about anything, you can make anything happen…literally anything happen.”