Over the last eight years, Kiel James Patrick and his wife Sarah Vickers have grown a fashion business built on the backs of social media.
It’s a lifestyle brand of old New England that is played out on the very new mediums of Instagram and Snapchat. The stylized images portray fun days of taking the old woodie station wagon out for a picnic by the lake with an old wooden canoe. The company has almost half a million followers on Instagram.
The Rhode Island natives created an all-American line of classic clothes that began with a bracelet. The company of Kiel James Patrick, or KJP, now sells shirts, accessories and boat shoes. Everything is made in America, mostly in the Northeast. But while this is a huge source of pride, it has also been a major challenge.
“If you’re looking at the numbers, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except that you have a factory full of people who have a lot of pride for their work. We’re not in this business to make a lot of money,” Patrick said. “Yes, we could make more money if we didn’t make everything in America.”
When the company launched its boat shoe collection that is made in Maine, they sold out in four days. “We literally don’t have enough craftsmen to keep up with production,” Patrick said.
It’s this attention to personal detail that endears their followers to them. For example, they use a local manufacturer for the boxes they use when shipping their products. While it costs more than boxes from China, when they need boxes, they just jump into the van to go get them — saving on shipping costs.
“Instead of it coming in a plastic bag that smells like China, ours is folded up nicely. It’s got a handwritten thank-you note,” Vickers said. Patrick chimed in, saying, “When you’re getting the thank-you note from Kiley or Brendan, you’re also following them on Instagram. When customers post photos of them wearing the new item and tagging the person that boxed it — it personalizes the whole shopping experience.”
Others have taken notice. Brooks Brothers carries their products in its stores and has taken the duo to Japan, where they are very popular. But their focus remains firmly online, not necessarily at trying to get into as many physical stores as possible.
Their loyal social media following has drawn numerous companies to the couple as they document their travels to hotels or events. They recently hired an “adventurist” who will travel along to help document the, well, adventures.
Patrick has been part of the fashion world for a while. He caused his Catholic school to crack down on its dress code as he got his friends to push the envelope on the school uniform. That’s when he started selling handmade bracelets to middle school friends and never looked back. The company now employs more than 20 people.
Looking head, KJP plans to open its own factory this fall, which it has been building for the last three years. Of course, it will be featured heavily on Instagram — expect nautical ephemera on the walls with clubby chairs and vintage classic Americana.
Patrick and Vickers continually add new products to the line. Next up is a line of dresses. “We worked on the design for probably two years to perfect the fit,” Vickers said.
“We’re coming out with belts, loafers and travel bags,” Patrick said. “This is all towards the fall.”
Come spring, there will be polo shirts and a sweatshirt. “It will all be New England-y and classic. Effortless elegance. Like you would say, ‘JFK and Jackie would wear that.'” Patrick said.
KJP has doubled its business every year since it launched. That, combined with its social media following, has attracted investors, but they’ve turned them down. The couple, who only recently married after 15 years of dating, want to maintain control of the company. “I think if a lot of investors came in they wouldn’t think the American-made piece is as important as we do,” he said.
Patrick and Vickers just want to share their love of old New England with everyone. “I want to build something that our grandkids will say, ‘that was a cool brand’ and carry on the legacy,” Patrick said. “We built this business in order to have something that we’ll look back and say, ‘I loved that we created our brand and that was our life.’”