With the imminent opening of its modernist-inspired space in SoHo, KZ_K Studio is targeting consumers eager to develop wardrobes that minimize excess and maximize utility.
Founded and run by fashion designer Karolina Zmarlak and her business and life partner Jesse Keyes, the company advocates slow fashion. Zmarlak from Poland graduated with honors from the Fashion Institute of Technology and was the winner of the Gen Art Styles competition. After selling a distinctive label to department stores and specialty stores for about seven years, the company was relaunched as KZ_K Studio in 2016, focusing on “direct to customer” sales, personalized service and reduced wholesale distribution.
For the Great Jones Street studio, Zmarlak and Keyes, an experienced architect, included a design room, showroom, model room, bar with library, kitchenette and outdoor terrace. With a launch event set for April 12, the couple expect the outpost and neighborhood to be a “more interesting and exciting area” to visit, than their former digs on West 29th Street.
“Also, there is an evolution in the environment that we wanted to build within the new space,” said Zmarlak.
In addition to welcoming clients by appointment, the couple will welcome industry partners, photographers, designers, neon light designers and other creative friends into the library and café. Zmarlak and Keyes worked on short videos highlighting the collection with David Van Keuren and other creatives.
Borrowing from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when women visited ateliers for set-up, wardrobe building and personal attention, KZ_K Studio encourages women to develop their individual taste against passing trends. “We are providing customers with direct communication where we take care of each of them over time,” said Keyes.
Since 2016, the company has built a customer base of 60 to 1,200 customers. Customer relationships proved beneficial during the pandemic, as did the brand’s multifunctional designs, including fully reversible styles, according to the designer. Using many Japanese technical fabrics, the label is produced in New York City’s Garment District. “Our customers are part of our own community. They see us as more than just a brand to buy from. I think they are invested in our success, ”he said.
When the company wholesaled to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus from 2013 to 2016, it sold about 10,000 units a year and “is now catching up” through a different revenue structure, he said. With 12 to 14 specialized store branches, KZ_K Studio’s wholesale business accounts for around 30% of its total sales. The remaining 70 percent is made up of direct customer services such as studio sales and collaborations with stylists.
As for the most challenging aspect of the business currently, Zmarlak said: “There are so many. From a creative design standpoint, the fashion business and the production of high-end ready-to-wear requires an Incredible labor intensity. Very few people understand that when making a single garment you can pass 30, 40 or 50 pairs of hands from the beginning of the fabric [selection] process until the finished garment that we ship to a customer. We are competing with some huge brands that have hundreds of employees. Our quality control and everything related to our products just needs to be perfected, on time and stand the test of time. “
The company creates pop-up shops, trunk shows, special appearances and private events through its network of designer collaborators. Returning to in-store events to try and help support sales in June 2020 was “a game changer,” as product shipping was a problem for many at that point due to Covid, Zmarlak said. Reached Wednesday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, he was on his way for a multi-day visit to Tootsie’s specialty store. There, he will meet and greet buyers and develop existing relationships for the next few days. The plan is to participate in more than 50 events nationwide this year.
The KZ_K Studio collection retails from $ 495 for a reversible silk tank top, charmeuse to a $ 2,895 leather parka with $ 800 to $ 2,000 as the key price range. Outerwear is the main category, especially convertible and reversible styles, followed by trousers, blouses and dresses, Zmarlak said. Washable leathers and sheepskin are also offered. KZ_K Studio has also created a capsule collection of bespoke bags with 1 Atelier.
As an incentive to spend, consumers and stylists’ clients can receive ‘trial packs’ to take a closer look at potential purchases at their leisure or through virtual sessions. Many opted for this option during the pandemic and continue to use it, Zmarlak said. Consumers are not required to purchase trial items before they are shipped, nor are they charged for advice. There is a fee for changes, which can be handled digitally or in person. Stylists, however, have their own models when it comes to consulting fees.