In August, the fashion boutique Kaight will have been opened for eight years. In sustainable fashion time, that practically makes it a heritage brand.
I’ve been of a fan of Kaight for some time, ever since it was located on the East Village. (She opened a second store on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn and then consolidated to that one.) It’s one of the only boutiques in NYC offering nothing but sustainable fashion, with about 50 brands to choose from in the brick and mortar store and on the website. It seriously takes the work and guilt out of shopping.
And I now count Kate McGregor, the owner, as one of my friends. As someone who has spent the last eight years tirelessly researching ethical fashion brands, she’s something of an expert. So I sat down with Kate to ask her about her favorite designers, the new designers she’s excited about, and where she sees the sustainable fashion industry going.
What was your main goal in opening Kaight?
Initially it came from just wanting to satisfy a personal need. I was interested in shopping like this, and it evolved into seeing a need for a retail outlet to showcase all these wonderful brands that weren’t getting a lot of attention at the time. And also wanting to promote that there was great, luxury, beautiful eco fashion out there.
When you first opened Kaight, what was the landscape like for sustainable fashion?
Well, there was one other store in the East Village. It was interesting … there really wasn’t much happening. The idea was so new, there was a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm. There was probably only a handful of designers that were doing quality, really beautiful pieces. Not necessarily luxury, but really great ready-to-wear contemporary pieces. It was still very much a casual wear, yoga wear, lounge wear, t-shirt landscape.
So what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Certainly there’s a lot more selection! There’s a lot more designers who are producing collections using sustainable materials, and who are thoughtful in their production. I think with really great programs like Manufacture New York and Makers Row that are connecting smaller designers to local factories, it’s making it easier for designers to produce domestically. Also, there’s a lot more platforms to connect designers with sustainable textiles, like Source 4 Style. So there’s just a lot more product. There’s a lot more to choose from. I think it’s become—certainly not mainstream by any means—but less niche, and consumers are becoming a lot more aware.
What kind of prices do you have in the store?
In the beginning, I was carrying a few high-end luxury brands that are sadly no longer in business. I did see a lot of frustrated customers that really wanted to support and buy eco fashion, and felt that it was out of their reach. I worked hard to accommodate those customers, and source designers that are producing ethically and with sustainable fabrics and within a more accessible price range. And typically small designers are able to fulfill that, because they don’t have the infrastructure of a huge brand, and they don’t have the overheard and the corporate structure behind them that can inflate costs.
What do you look for before you consider picking up a new designer or brand?
Aesthetic is the first thing I look at—if I like the product, if I can see it fitting in the store. If that’s there, I move forward in the conversation, asking about production, their business philosophy, what their mission is, what kind of fabrics they use, how they are producing.
Do you have a certain aesthetic in your store?
I certainly buy things that I like and I would wear. I also know my customers and look for pieces that I know would fit in their wardrobe and meet their needs. I have a lot of young professionals I try to shop for. Also, I personally have a classic aesthetic, so I tend to gravitate toward pieces that are less trend-driven and that could have a long life in someone’s wardrobe.
Do you only carry American brands or other brands as well?
I do carry international brands. There’s a lot of really great designers and great things happening in Europe and Canada, and I try to represent those designers and collections as much as possible. It does add another challenge, but I do sell those.
Are there any brands that only you carry?
They’re definitely not widely represented. There’s only a couple other stores if any that carry them in The U.S. Sara C. does amazing digitally printed dresses, she uses a lot of cupro which is beautiful. Good One by Nin Castle, she’s also a British brand. Her collection is made from all repurposed and upcycled fabrics. She mostly does fall/winter collections using old English wool sweaters and knits. O My Bag is a really great bag, out of Amsterdam. Nicole Bridger is another great brand out of Vancouver, Canada.
How do you find new brands?
I do go through the traditional channels of attending trade shows and Market Week. A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of people pitch me their collections. Research online and through blogs. Wherever I can find them!
Who is your favorite designer in New York?
Ooohh … good question! Um …
I know, just choose your favorite child.
I know! Personally I wear a lot of Tara St. Jame’s of Study NY’s pieces. She’s a really great designer. Her pieces are interesting but not trendy and also really wearable. They have a really classic element to them. I also love Helena Fredriksson. Her prints are absolutely stunning and gorgeous, and everything she does is interesting. I wear a lot of her dresses as well.
Is there a new designer on the scene you’re particularly excited about?
I have a few new designers I’ll be working with in the fall. One is Isabel Wilson, who has a textile background. She recently launched a collection, this will be her first season, actually. She has really beautiful prints and really great fabrics. Everything is made in upstate New York. Also, Laura Siegel is someone I’ve been coveting for a while. I’m going to be bringing her in the fall. She’s a designer based in Canada who just does really amazing things.
Those are new to me, so I’m excited to see those come in the shop!What would you like to see happen in the sustainable fashion industry at large? What are your hopes and dreams for it?
Honestly, when I opened my store eight years ago, I anticipated that I would eventually be just another boutique, that my philosophy wouldn’t be that special. Because I really thought the industry was trending toward that. And that’s still my hope. Not that I don’t want Kaight to be a special place, but I hope ultimately that companies and brands will become more conscious, and it will be the norm. You do see it happening more and more. Small boutiques are bringing in a few designers here and there. It’s not pervasive, but I think it’s becoming a little bit more popular in the fashion scene. Sadly it is still seen as this “other” category. I think that until we move beyond that, it’s not going to grow. It really needs to be embraced as a real part of the fashion community. But it’s still labeled and off to the side—like, “Oh, yeah! This little thing.”
What plans do you have for Kaight?
The biggest next step for me is rebranding your website, and relaunching that, which I’m working on hopefully for the fall. And enhancing the e-commerce aspect of the website.