Kai D. Fan, a seasoned designer with many years of experience working in the fashion industry for such well-known brands as Lacoste, Converse by John Varvatos and Sean John, launched his own menswear collection in 2009.
Fan’s meticulously designed store Kai D. Utility, located in the heart of Williamsburg, feels more like a Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities of Fashion and Design than an exclusive boutique. Take a close look around and between the well-crafted menswear pieces and archival images of explorers, you will discover various witty and provocative aphorisms posted on the walls that reflect Kai’s unique personality and philosophy. And don’t be surprised if the salesperson you are having a very engaging conversation with turns out to be Kai D. himself.
S2S: Kai, why did you decide to opt out of the corporate fashion world you have been part of for so many years and start your own collection?
Kai D.: I like to be more hands on with the product, from choosing the materials to working closely with the factories to assisting the customers. When I was working in the corporate environment, I was only involved with very specific aspects of the process — not the entire process. Above all else, the designs are much more personal. It feels more complete from start to finish.
WW: What is the philosophy behind the label Kai D.?
Kai D. : Designs that are high quality and timeless, that can live and age with the customer.
S2S: Most of us have heard of Slow Food – you use the term “Slow Fashion” – can you talk a little bit about this relatively new movement?
Kai D. : Slow fashion is rooted in endurance: buy less but buy better. It values education, conscious consumption, and quality over quantity. Slow fashion is less about trends and more about making timeless, personal styles.
S2S: Where is your collection made and where are some of the materials you are using from?
Kai D. : My label is made in the Garment District in New York City. I sell some other designers’ accessories. Most of them are either local artists or hail from another US city.
S2S: How important is sustainability for you?
Kai D. : Very important, and slow fashion lends itself to sustainability. If we invest in select quality goods then we lessen our consumption. Therefore we reduce waste, pollution, and misconduct against laborers. I also make small batches of product in order to utilize the fabric and trims I purchase as effectively as possible. I often reuse leftover materials to create smaller products. Like a leftover jacket could be repurposed into a tie, or pocket square, etc.
S2S: What are some of the things that inspire you?
Kai D. : Military and hunting gear, workwear from the 1920s and 30s.
S2S: How has your collection evolved since you started? What can we expect for autumn?
Kai D. Fan: The collection has adapted to our customers’ lifestyle from day to evening. Now we have a larger mix of casual and slightly more formal wear, like tailored pants and blazers. For this fall, we’re going to introduce raw salvaged denim jeans, and hunting inspired jackets and blazers, and virgin wool expedition pants.
S2S: Your first retail location was in the Lower East Side. You have since relocated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Do you find there to be a different vibe than in Manhattan?
Kai D. : In Williamsburg, I think more people are involved in the creative industry. They’re also more environmentally and socially aware.
S2S: It is very common to find you in your store. How important are the interactions with your customers to you? Are people surprised to discover that you are actually the designer?
Kai D. : The interactions make me more aware of different body types and why certain designs draw attention. Many customers are surprised when they discover that I’m the designer. It’s not very common for the designer to also be a salesperson.
S2S: In front of your store is a sandwich board that has a different inspirational message on it everyday. Do you create these messages personally and what do they mean to you?
Kai D. : These quotes serve as either inspiration or reminders of what’s important in life.
S2S: You are also known for organizing social events that bring together people from a variety of creative fields. What are you hoping to archive through these happenings?
Kai D. : I hope for like-minded individuals to interact with each other and to cultivate community of artisans from various creative fields. We should be able to share our expertise and resources.