Kiel James Patrick Flagship Store, Newport
July 31, 2017
Kiel and I started Kiel James Patrick in May of 2007. It’s crazy to think we have been building this business for ten years. We were two kids with just a sewing machine, and an American-made dream. Our first product was a fabric bracelet crafted out of Kiel’s grandfathers vintage neckties and old novelty ribbon belts, stitched together with a plaid lining on the inside, and fastened with a button. These designs were sold at craft fairs across New England. At the very first show, we sold out of the bracelets and spent the next week scouring for more vintage ties at local thrift stores. In those days we spent a lot of time at thrift stores. The money earned that summer was used to invest in woven labels, a signature plaid bracelet lining, custom brass buttons with the Kiel James Patrick logo and name, and wood displays built by Kiel and his grandfather. From the onset we understood how much every detail would matter, and branding was very important to us.
The next couple of years were spent on the sewing machine. Kiel taught himself how to sew by reading books and practice. I ironed and prepped every bracelet. In our spare time we cold called accounts and stopped by local stores to sell our designs. While we managed to set up a few accounts, we quickly learned that most buyers were not interested in speaking to us without having a proper company website. Up until that point a brand brochure was left at every prospective account.
Moving a couple of years forward, a company website was completed in 2009. During the process of building the site, we learned the importance of social media to build brand awareness. We collaborated with bloggers to promote early designs, and began setting up photo shoots with friends and family to showcase the brands lifestyle. Similar to sewing, Kiel didn’t know how to use a camera or edit pictures but he was determined to learn. The first photos were shot with a Canon Rebel and mainly displayed on the website and Facebook until they started getting shared across the internet. We didn’t realize it at the time but it was the start of a separate business.
Kiel James Patrick steadily grew as a result of our early social media efforts combined with the success of the original fabric bracelet, sailing rope belts, and an updated Turks head bracelet fastened with a button. I have so many pictures from the early days that I would love to share at some point as they are pre-Tumblr, Pinterest, and Classy Girls Wear Pearls. In the Fall of 2010 Tommy Hilfiger featured the line of bracelets in their Meet the Hilfiger’s Campaign. It was our first big account and great exposure. Within a few months Orvis picked up the line of sailing belts for their stores, and Ralph Lauren featured a belt on the front page of their website.
In 2012, at exactly the same time as I started this blog, we introduced the anchor rope bracelets. This simple design changed the company overnight. We went from working out of our house, with family and friends helping us package orders, to opening our factory and hiring real employees. Starting this business has been one giant learning experience. As we continue to grow I realize how much more there is to learn. With growth there are always new challenges. Kiel and I were never formally taught business (I double majored in creative writing and journalism), and had to learn the ropes, figuratively and literally, through a lot of trial and error and wonderful mentors willing to give advice. We have never had an investor, or funding from family. This brand has been entirely self-funded. Every decision we make counts, our successes and failures not only effect us but our 30 employees.
Returning to the topic of the anchor rope bracelet, this design was the start of a new chapter. When we released that collection on a snowy night in January of 2012 we could not have imagined the response we received (a year later our line was carried in every Brooks Brothers store). The bracelets blew up instantly and were spread virally across Pinterest and Tumblr. Orders were pouring in and we were not prepared for the volume. Through sheer determination we managed to find a way to make it work. I remember hardly sleeping those nights. With a limited supply of rope, we kept up with orders by dyeing white cotton rope in lobster pots in our backyard. The rope was tightly spun using a make shift drill and baked in the oven. The fumes were unbearable and the amount of rope that could be produced each day was limited. It was quite the challenge. After the rope was dried, we would hand-twist the colors together as many of our bracelets were not solid colors. The day we found a source to make our rope was a beautiful day.
This design continues to be a staple of ours. It’s been copied many times, and we are fortunate to have it trademarked. I could write a whole chapter on battling the imitation bracelets. You know you’ve made it when China manufacturers knock off your design right down to the brand name and Made in America insignia.
A lot has happened since we introduced that anchor bracelet and opened our factory in Pawtucket, RI, which we continue to operate out of today. The initial success of the anchor bracelet waned, as fashion constantly demands something new. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We continue to design new American-made products and we’re fortunate that the anchor bracelet was not a one hit wonder. Since the anchor bracelet, we have introduced pearl bracelets, which became just as popular as the rope bracelets, pet products, hand-painted phone cases, shoes and clothing. Most of our accessories are made in- house, with some being outsourced to local vendors. These days our biggest challenge is keeping our clothing items in stock. We started off as a bracelet company and now clothing is a huge part of our business.
There is so much to this story that I could never cover it in a single post. It’s been a very long and exciting road with more to come. With a little one on the way I plan to continue blogging when I find the time, alongside expanding our line. Kiel and I have so many dreams for Kiel James Patrick!
With this post I’m thrilled to introduce our flagship store. It’s been many years in the making. We always knew we wanted to open a store but it was never the right time… until this past January. Our dream location in Bowen’s Wharf, Newport finally became available and we knew it was meant to be. Formerly the Narragansett, it was the first place we ever contacted in 2008 to carry our bracelet line. We were turned down, but we got there eventually 🙂 After months of construction and planning, we opened our doors to the public on June 15th. It’s a thrill to share these images of our space with my readers. We wanted to bring a little slice of our factory decor to the public.
In honor of the store opening, Kiel and I are hosting our first meet and greet on Thursday August 1oth from 5-7pm at the store located on 3 Bowens Wharf, Newport, RI. RSVP with customerservice@KielJamesPatrick.com if you plan to attend. We hope to see some of you there!