Maison Kitsuné has launched a new investment arm called Kitsuné Ventures, which specializes in early-stage investment, and on Monday revealed its inaugural investment in Brooklyn-based fashion label Connor McKnight.
As per the investment, Kitsuné will help McKnight with logistics, distribution and accounting for his brand and the designer will retain 100 percent ownership of his company. McKnight said that, as the relationship continues, they will discuss partial brand ownership and Kitsuné will get right of first refusal, meaning it can match any outside investment McKnight is offered.
“I feel this is a unicorn,” said McKnight, who worked at Kith and Bode before launching his namesake label. “I have a business background and went to a business school for undergrad, but I became a designer in the end. I think about these things on a regular basis. There’s a level of trust and understanding. This felt like a no brainer.”
McKnight had reached out to Kitsuné cofounder Gildas Loaëc and Kitsuné general manager of America Vinod Kasturi in 2020 during the pandemic simply seeking advice on launching his label, which he did last year using unemployment dollars. Loaëc and Kasturi officially invested in the brand in April 2021, which helped with the first Connor McKnight fashion show in September during New York Fashion Week.
McKnight will also put the funding toward growing his team.
“Last season, I did way too much on my own,” he said. “It was important to learn and experience things first hand and it becomes easier to delegate when you have experience firsthand. Last season, I showed more silhouettes and I want to continue to grow what offering I have. It won’t be like my collection made during the pandemic when it was just me and a sewing machine. It won’t be like that ever again.”
Loaëc sees the new investment arm as a way for Kitsuné to remain connected to creativity and innovation, but is doing so in a new way that speaks to the brand’s maturation. Kitsuné will have been in business for 20 years next year and will open new stores in Brooklyn, in early 2022, and in Los Angeles and Vancouver as well, according to Loaëc.
“We’re still growing in a positive way, but we want to keep the brand to a certain size,” Loaëc said. “We’ll have maybe 10 to 15 stores in the next month. We don’t think every brand should be massive so we’re navigating and controlling the growth. We’ve had a steady growth for a few years and we grow 40 percent each year. Even this year, we’re going to grow 50 percent.
“We’ve been working 20 years to set up a strong base. We have a strong network in China, South Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, we feel we are in a good position. We’re pretty lucky in general.”
Kasturi said establishing the investment arm came organically, much like Kitsuné’s history. Loaëc and brand cofounder Masaya Kuroki ventured into the fashion industry in the midst of Loaëc’s music career as a producer where he collaborated with numerous talents. “It’s the same kind of collaboration,” Loaëc said, and recalls how crucial the first capital is to starting a company.
“We were not thinking of investing in Connor, but one main issue he was having was having a little bit of cash for development and work. So this was a natural thing,” Loaëc said. “The main thing for us is to help Connor keep his name. There are many founders that have lost their name along the way, so we tried to help.”
He’s also excited to share his Rolodex with McKnight to help the emerging talent create relationships and set a foundation for long-term success.
“Most of all, this is to share and expand with him and help with logistics, back of house, accounting, introducing him to some buyers in territories, helping with our network for Connor to introduce his brand to a wider audience and giving him insurance to build his vision,” Loaëc said
There is potential for a capsule collection in the future. “I think it’s been discussed and on the table and fluid,” Kasturi said. “Speaking about the deal, we said it’d be great to structure in the ability to design a capsule, but we want to put Connor first in the agreement. We don’t want to overshadow what he does by any means. We were also thinking about our brick-and-mortar footprint and thought how can we help?”
Kasturi proposed carrying McKnight’s brand in Kitsuné stores or share wholesale spaces. “He’s in a crucial stage of establishing his brand identity,” he added.