It’s Made in NYC week here at Maker’s Row and we are celebrating the brands that prove that New York City is a great place to start a business! Every day this week, we will be sharing interviews with New York City factories and brands and giving you insight into what it’s like to be an NYC creative.
Even though Krammer & Stoudt started in Los Angeles, Mike Rubin and Courtenay Nearburg now call New York City home for the brand. Courtenay tells us how the brand started out of boredom, moving to New York, and looking into expanding to European markets.
What was your background before you started Krammer & Stoudt? Did you have any experience in the industry?
We did not have any specific experience in the fashion industry prior to starting KS. Courtenay was a photographer in California and then attended SVA in NYC to study fashion photography, and Mike was a scenic artist at Disney before starting his own paint contracting business in Southern California before we launched KS.
Why did you decide to start Krammer & Stoudt?
We were bored. Seriously! Two creatives in Orange County, which isn’t exactly known for its high culture…great beaches, but…we were both struggling to stay inspired in our work there. Mike didn’t dream of being a painting contractor when he went to art school way back when. So we knew we were getting stagnant, and I realized the direction I wanted to go with photography was fashion. I started doing tests with models, and I asked Mike to style the men’s shoots. It got us thinking that he had all the skills, and certainly the innate style, to perhaps do menswear. So we did. (Crazy.)
What steps did you take to get started? Did you find a mentor or seek out any education?
We did fully take advantage of affordable resources available to us in LA. I had a photography client that happened to do apparel manufacturing in OC, and we went to them first with sketches. They, in turn, took us to our first fabric sourcing show, at the CalMart in LA. Then we found Fashion Business Inc, a nonprofit in LA dedicated to assisting emerging fashion designers with educational seminars, webinars, lectures, and events dedicated to helping new designers get started. We participated in pretty much everything they had to offer for the first year we were doing KS. It was likely through them that we heard about Makers’ Row and joined the site. We happened to have a friend attending Parsons in NYC at the time, and he started sending us the handouts they would give him in class. We literally took whatever help we could get to educate ourselves on how to do it.
Why did you make the move to New York?
Well, we officially started in LA and I would say, 5 years ago, that was a tough row to hoe for a menswear brand. Things have changed dramatically. Our manufacturing options, especially for tailored goods, were incredibly limited on the west coast at the time. Things have improved a lot since then in LA. The industry is booming and far more organized and diverse. But it prompted us to move to NY, specifically for the manufacturing options available to us there, and also, because we felt it was the hub of the American menswear industry, and if we could make it in NY within the community, we could make it in general. We did not even anticipate what a strong and supportive community it is in NY. We thought it would be dog eat dog. Instead within 6 months we had a thriving network of menswear industry pros and friends who really built us up, built our confidence in ourselves and shared valuable resources to get us up to speed to compete. It’s been amazing.
I always call out Liberty Fairs and their team for being so hands on and attentive to new brands, and Ouigi Theodore at Brooklyn Circus, for taking us under his wing almost immediately upon meeting us and making us legit in the eyes of the industry. Without those 2 entities helping us by promoting and supporting us so visibly, I don’t know where we’d be today. But that’s a perfect example of how NYC can be an extraordinary place to start a brand, even with all the challenges of the expense of living and working in the city.
What does it mean to be “Made in New York City?”
Being Made in NYC means that you are bringing a more cosmopolitan approach to your audience, in our minds. We have always considered ourselves a bit outside the dominant trend of ‘Heritage’ and ‘Workwear’ that has been happening since we started KS. Mike being a surfer/skater/punk/artist from SoCal…it wasn’t really the driving aesthetic behind his personal style, and it seemed disingenuous to attempt to promote that exclusively with KS.
There are aspects of heritage and workwear in KS, but it’s always couched with more of a SoCal aesthetic, that plays on rockabilly vintage, or interprets workwear in a way that is more fashion forward rather than reinventing the past. Our travels to Europe since we started KS have really informed the evolution of the brand in considered ways. We don’t want to be static in a trend. We want to be classic with a twist, and with an eye on what’s trending in the global menswear universe. Being Made in NYC contributes to that brand story, that we are citizens of the menswear world as a whole, not just exclusively American designers.
How did you find your factory and what kind of relationship do you have with them?
We were referred to our apparel factories in NYC and in California by associates and friends in the industry. We have used Maker’s Row to seek resources for more specific projects like accessories manufacturing and other products. And also to search more manufacturing options outside the Tri-State area, where it’s not just a hop skip and a jump away. As we grow and scale KS, it’s important for us to have more manufacturing options outside the Garment District because the factories there are ideally suited for small scale production and sample making.
What are some of your plans for growth for Krammer & Stoudt?
We are very focused on the Western European market at the moment, as we ride out the retail woes in the US. We’re seeing a lot of smaller independents in the US struggling, which has been the foundation of our business so far. Because we make a unique and upscale product in NYC, we have to consider that larger more stable retailers with a more luxury clientele makes more sense for us, and adding to the account list premier retailers in Europe and Asia can really build confidence with the premier buyers in the US. They tend to follow the lead of the more adventurous Europeans and Asians when it comes to buying brands. We feel we need to build our reputation overseas, and we are well on our way with Spring/Summer 2018 so far. We’ve added at least 4 new European accounts, including one of the most prestigious concept stores in Paris. Our business is growing each season in Japan and we’re making serious overtures in Korea, with one prestigious account in Seoul so far, and more to come, I’m sure.
The other aspect of our growth strategy is online and custom projects. We started a Made to Measure program with illustrious bespoke suit makers Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, and we’ve unveiled a new website design this summer with far more engaging content. We are actively working on several collaborative projects going into fall 17 and will continue to create fun and exciting partnerships with fellow brands we feel a kinship with. Shoe collabs have been really fun for us, as Mike is a shoe freak too, so working with Dutch brand Mason Garments has been very cool, and there’s more to come.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a business specifically in New York City?
I think it’s very important to be dedicated to doing your homework, and anticipate that mistakes will be made, but don’t let them drag you down or bury you. You have to be able to pivot quickly and respond lightning fast to challenges and obstacles that inevitably arise, running your own business. Determination is the key to overcoming those types of problems. Just knowing that failure is not an option. In your bones. Research. Network. And most importantly, stay humble and grateful.
Specifically for NYC, be very attuned to your finances from the get go. Stay out of debt and live and work within your means for as long as you can. You have to be that rare being that can do the highest quality for the lowest cost. And that takes a lot of legwork and a lot of determination. And a high tolerance for frustration and anxiety. But in the end, it is the winning formula. And that’s worth more than any amount of gold.
What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?
We love walking Brooklyn Bridge Park in the evening, drinking coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Co, which is just below our studio, and wandering over to have a burger from Shake Shack occasionally, by the ferry stop. Evening walks in whatever neighborhood we’ve lived in have always been our favorite thing to do, to decompress and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. This summer Mike finally got active surfing regularly at Rockaways, Montauk and at the Jersey Shore, this is a new and infinite pleasure.
What borough does Krammer & Stoudt call home?
We have been in Dumbo for the last 2 years. It’s been a great joy, since we lucked out huge and found an affordable loft in one of the rare Loft Board protected buildings left in Dumbo, and we have all these cool neighbors who are artists, and who have lived in Dumbo since the late 80’s. We were immediately introduced to the artist community there and they are super supportive of us and our business. Yet another example of how NYC can really build you up as your starting out. We would never have imagined that we could afford to live and work in Dumbo, with an amazing loft and a view of the Manhattan Bridge, and a rad community of creatives around us. Dreams do come true, when you work your ass off, I suspect.
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