It all started when Ronnie Fieg set out to create “the best curated footwear shop in New York City,” a place where people would feel comfortable hanging out. At the time, most of the other trendy shoe retailers were uppity, so he felt there was an opening and a great opportunity for a store that would be more welcoming.
So with the blessing of the owner, he carved out a 580-square-foot space within the Atrium store in Brooklyn and opened Kith. He launched with an Asics collaboration and brought in other sneakers from New Balance, Gourmet, Pro-Keds and Nike alongside Florsheim wingtips, Red Wing boots and Clarks’ casual shoes.
Over the next 10 years, Kith has “grown organically to where it is today,” he said in a conversation with WWD style director Alex Badia, which is a buzzy retailer with eight flagships and three shops-in-shop around the world, an eponymous apparel brand, and even Kith Treats, a concept that sells cereal, ice cream and other munchies.
In the beginning, he said, his ambitions were just to be a footwear shop, but it wasn’t long before he started dabbling in apparel. His first move was the Mercer Pant, a camouflage army pant that he altered with an elastic cuff at the hem. It was a hit with the community he had already begun creating and quickly led to varsity jackets, six-panel hats and other pieces.
“I had an evolving vision that kept changing as we started doing different things,” he said.
Case in point is the Kith Treats concept, which is now six years old. “The goal was to expand the concept and give people the ability to consume the brand for seven bucks — and put smiles on their faces.” He said he believed that footwear fans and sneakerheads also loved cereal, which led to the “crazy idea” of opening a cereal bar in Brooklyn. “It really took off,” he said. “People lined up and it indicated what we should build going forward.”
Running through Kith as its primary theme is New York City, Fieg’s hometown. The 29-year-old was born in Queens and grew up within the confines of the five boroughs. He recalled how he was able to “see and absorb different cultures” as he traveled to work in Greenwich Village. “It really gave me the inspiration I needed to work on apparel and footwear” that would appeal to a wide spectrum of shoppers.
“New York City has always been the North Star for me,” he said, adding that his collection and ethos are “as true to the city as I can make it.”
He also had some real favorites growing up — Bergdorf Goodman, BMW, Coca-Cola — brands that he would eventually collaborate with at Kith. “Growing up, what you love between the ages of 13 and 19, you will love the rest of your life,” he said. These are brands that he has “incredible passion for,” and his goal was to “expand what they’re known for and dimensionalize what they do.”
He was introduced to Bergdorf’s by his mother, who used to take him to the store to browse as a child. “She was inspired by Bergdorf Goodman but couldn’t afford to buy anything,” he recalled. But this experience left a mark and his collaboration with the store in 2016 was the ultimate gift to his mom.
To this day, he views Bergdorf’s as “the Rolls-Royce of retail,” and when the store allowed him to put its logo on pieces like hoodies and baseball caps — and gave him a shop on the third floor of the men’s store — it became a real turning point for his business, and a highlight of his life. A dinner the store hosted for the launch, where Fieg was able to bring his mother, represented “a big moment for me,” he said.
It was also evidence that Fieg’s gut was right. “I felt people wanted to see that logo on a garment and it could expand what people know them for,” he said. For Kith, it brought “global exposure” to his company and “put us on the path to be taken seriously as an apparel brand.” It also exposed his brand to a whole new group of customers.
Fieg credits his success to the development of a community of “like-minded individuals passionate about the same things. It’s a family.”
As far back as his launch in 2011, Fieg said that his nascent footwear shop “became a place of community for locals to hang out. It’s so easy for them to talk to each other, they’re there for the same purpose.” And they didn’t need to buy anything, they were welcome just to hang out, chat with the other shoppers and check out the shoes.
It was also where he first realized that this community “wanted the retail business to become a brand. They dictated the roadmap,” he said. “That type of experience is magic. You can’t create it, you have to let the people guide you.”
What his community has helped him develop is two Manhattan stores, on Lafayette Street and Bleecker Street, as well as locations on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; West Hollywood; Miami Beach; Hawaii; Tokyo, and Paris. In addition to the Bergdorf shop, there are boutiques inside Hirshleifers in New York, as well as in Selfridges in London.
“Every market we enter globally has been a building block for the company,” he said.
For his 10th anniversary, Fieg created a book that chronicles the company’s rise. He worked on it with former GQ creative director Jim Moore and stylist Eugene Tong. He said the book was “one of the greatest projects” he has ever realized and credited them with helping him execute something that usually takes a year but they pulled off in a month.
The book is a visual documentation of his accomplishments and gave him the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on what he’s done and look to the future.
The book looks back at each collection and collaboration and shows the evolution of the brand. But it also shows how much of its initial aesthetic has remained. “You can still look at [something] and know it’s a Kith piece,” he said. “One pant and one varsity jacket started it,” but what has stemmed from that is a natural progression.
The book also showcases a timeline of the business and the “notches in our growth,” which include a collaboration with LeBron James, the car he created with BMW, the Coke logo he created in the Kith font and the original prints from Gianni Versace that he was able to repurpose.
“We sold 150 cars in 11 minutes,” he said of the special-edition M4 BMW he created last fall that retailed for $150,000 and up. “It shocked me, but it shows people are willing to take you seriously in every category of lifestyle, not just footwear and apparel.”
Kith has also been accepted outside its home market. The Paris store, where he opened a Sadelle’s restaurant serving quintessential New York noshes such as bagels with lox and chopped salmon, has been “packed every day,” he said. The new Hawaii store has also been a success, despite the fact that it opened during the pandemic.
With all of his stores, Fieg is careful to ensure that the space is designed specifically for each market. He works with local businesses and studies the local culture to “build a space for locals.” But while his New York roots are never hidden, Fieg never forgets that “we are visitors to each city.”
With his roadmap established and 10 years under his belt, what’s next for Fieg and Kith?
“We will continue to grow organically,” he said, and spread the energy that his brand has become known for. “The next book will go from 300 pages to 600 or 1,000,” he predicted. “But we will create at the same pace and passion as we put in now. We will work on things we love.”
He credited his team as key to him achieving success. “The team helped us get here, and I’m most proud of that. So I’m hoping to continue to inspire and be inspired by the team to continue to grow.”