Ronnie Fieg: The Owner of Kith and His Story
Streetwear is one of the fastest-growing fashion segments. One streetwear brand that is frequently discussed when referring to popular streetwear brands is Kith. The company was founded in 2011 by Ronnie Fieg, an American footwear and clothing designer. This article discusses the experiences that led Ronnie Fieg to establish Kith, his own fashion brand.
Growing Up in Queens, New York
In 1982, Aaron “Ronnie” Fieg was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. Since his family encouraged him to become interested in fashion at an early age, he has been a fashion fanatic ever since. He was the nephew of David Zaken, who owned a chain of shoe stores located in New York City called David Z. They worked together in their uncle's store in the main city area of New York City, where Fieg's older sister adopted city fashion and introduced Fieg to it as well.
Queens vs. NYC
Despite Queens' proximity to New York City, its fashion was quite different from the fashion in the city. In Queens, people wore brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Karl Kani, and Cross Colors. Consequently, when Fieg's older sister wore Timberland hiking boots and shearling jackets with the tags still on, Queens residents ridiculed her. They did not know the brands and styles people in the city wore. Fieg experienced the same problem when he wore Clarks Royal Suede Wallabees and New Balance shoes to school. Fieg continued to explore fashion, wearing city fashion styles to school. As a child, he also observed the clothing of older children.
His uncle's shoe business had a significant impact on Fieg's love of shoes. He purchased his first pair of sneakers, Jason Kidd's Flight 95s, when he was 13 years old. He loved them so much that he purchased two pairs of them. These shoes remain some of Fieg's favorites to this day and inspired his extensive shoe collection, which continues to expand to this day. Fieg collects a variety of footwear from classic Jordans to Timberland boots.
Ronnie Fieg’s Career at David Z
Getting the Job
At the age of 12, Fieg obtained his first job. When his uncle, David Z, offered Fieg money as a traditional gift at his bar mitzvah, Fieg declined it and requested a job instead. The reason Fieg wanted a job at David Z was that he considered his uncle to be his idol, and he dreamed of owning his store. To achieve that dream, he knew he must gain experience. David Z agreed to hire Fieg.
From Queens to the City and Back
He began working as a stock boy at David Z’s Greenwich Village store. He handled all the new products before they were put on the sales floor as a stock boy. As Fieg spent more time in the city, he was able to gain an understanding of city fashion. As he continued bringing Queens fashion to the city, he was also able to introduce Queens fashion to the city, effectively blending both styles.
The job was not always easy for Fieg, even though he was happy to have it. Fieg was still a teenager and travelled from Queens to Greenwich Village on his own. After school on Fridays, Fieg would go directly to the store and work for a few hours. After returning home at night, he would return both days of the weekend to work all day. He would take the subway to work, which was not always the safest, so things were sometimes unpleasant. Despite the physical labor and safety risk involved in getting to his job, Fieg refused to sacrifice what he had and was able to experience while working in the city because it was everything to him.
Climbing Up the Ranks
When Fieg began working at David Z, he was a stock boy and eventually worked his way up to become a floor salesman, interacting with customers. During that period, many celebrities visited the store. A few NBA players and a few celebrities bought shoes from Fieg, including Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Missy Elliot, and a few others. Jay-Z was also a frequent customer and would purchase two fresh pairs of Timberlands every week. Through his interactions with customers, he gained insight into what kind of shoe people preferred. Throughout his career, he has held various positions at David Z, including assistant manager, head buyer, and head of collaborations.
The Asics Collaboration
In 2007, Fieg collaborated with the Japanese footwear brand Asics on the design of new shoe models for David Z stores that were based on their existing shoe models. Fieg agreed and designed three pairs of Gel Lyte III sneakers referred to as “The 252 Pack.” The sneaker was referred to as “The 252 Pack” as it was produced in batches of 252. In total, 756 pairs were produced. Because David Z's market did not cater to athletic footwear, Fieg knew that it would not be a good idea to produce so many pairs. He was more of a "boot, brown shoe guy," so athletic shoes were not really his thing, and therefore not very prominent in his stores. Despite this, Fieg took on the project, since these were shoes that he loved as a child and he wanted to bring them back. He also took a risk by not informing David Z of the collaboration. Fieg understood that his job was at risk as he would be dismissed if the shoes did not sell. The risk paid off as Fieg's designs were featured on the cover of The Wall Street Journal and all 756 pairs sold out.
Ronnie Fieg – The Designer
In addition to the Asics collaboration, Fieg also collaborated with other brands to bring back old models and put his spin on them to effectively bring products back to life. A lot of Fieg's early collaborations were similar to his Asics collaboration, as he would take brands' older models and reinvent them. The products were not exactly new when they were released, but eventually, people were attracted to Fieg's vision and liked what he did. This phenomenon occurs all the time in fashion when trends and styles resurface. People initially question the return of old trends, but they ultimately adopt them in their new form.
During the next three years, Fieg collaborated 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 to design over 50 products.
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 labelled 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.
The End of an Era
The 252 Pack collaboration was a risk, however, Fieg says that leaving David Z, where he had worked for 15 years, was the biggest risk for him. Despite having a vision that would not be achievable if he remained at David Z, he said it was very difficult to discuss it with David. In 2010, he left to begin his store, since David was concerned with business aspects, while Fieg was concerned with creativity and design.
The Birth of Kith
Fieg's family friend Sam Ben-Avraham recognized his talent and approached him with an offer to manage the footwear division at his clothing store, Atrium. Fieg declined and made a counter-proposal. From simply running the footwear part of a store to opening a whole store inside an existing store was quite a tall order, but Fieg was unconcerned with it. "I want to open my store within your store but with its door." This desire goes back to his childhood dream of having his store and doing what he wanted to do. That was the only way he could leave David Z and begin his own business. In response to Fieg's request, Ben-Avraham agreed to change Atrium in Brooklyn into Atrium + Kith.
Identifying the name's meaning
Kith is derived from the Middle English phrase “kith and kin” or “friends and family.” Fieg selected this name as part of his desire to establish a community. During a 2017 interview with Complex, Fieg stated that he does not wish Kith to become a large company. By keeping the brand small, he can keep it to “Just Us,” which was Kith's unofficial motto when it first launched: “If we can afford to be bigger than we are, we don’t want to be” and “some things aren’t meant to scale.” Fieg defines “us” as “a small group of my friends who just, you know, liked the same stuff… more of like a crew thing.”
Kith initially offered solely shoes, both those designed by Fieg and others. It did not extend to apparel until 2012 when a single pair of cargo pants from Scotch & Soda was given to Fieg. When the pants were tapered using ankle zips and elasticized cuffs, the shoes could be easily shown off instead of hiding under the pants. In making the pants fitted to the calves and ankles, shoes could easily be shown off instead of being hidden under the pant legs. Although Fieg intended to show off his shoes with the pants, he received more compliments for his pants than for the shoes. He was inspired to create pants in the same style to sell in the store just to see what would happen. The pants kept selling out immediately after he made batches of 12, 24, 100 and 1000. He did not even name the pants until the 100-piece batch was made. The pants were modelled after the Mercer pants and were made from twill. Because Kith did not sell clothing, the immediate success of the Mercer pant puzzled Fieg, as the pants were the only pants in the entire store among all the shoes. Fieg made the pants because he wanted them for himself. At this point, Kith was still a store and not a brand as a whole. Following Kith's full expansion into a retail fashion establishment with a variety of products, weekly drops, collaborations, and multiple locations, the brand was officially launched.
The majority of business owners do not expect to open a business in a particular industry when they hear the stories of many others. The uniqueness of Fieg is that he has always known what he wants and has used his passion to reach where he is now and where he wants to be. As a result, he has been able to go from being a kid from Queens who was ridiculed for his New Balances to collaborating with New Balance and hundreds of other brands. He has created an exciting brand that he considers “an extension of himself.” Fieg believes that “If you’re passionate enough about anything, you can make anything happen… anything happens.”