Just a year after launch, womenswear brand Kitri is soaring thanks to its versatile, sophisticated offer. As it prepares for its wholesale launch and international expansion, Drapers speaks to founder Haeni Kim
This time last year, womenswear brand Kitri was just three months old. But thanks to a quirky yet sophisticated approach to design, it was already garnering the kind of press attention and customer buzz that can take years to build.
The brand has since gathered even more momentum. With two Selfridges pop-ups and a collaboration with Next’s Label/Mix under its belt, Kitri is now setting its sights on international growth and wholesale expansion.
With a background working for both high-end designers and in value-driven sourcing, Kitri’s founder, South Korean-born Haeni Kim, is targeting a niche in the market for semi-smart, fashionable clothing.
“Women in professional settings sometimes struggle with what to wear,” she says. “Brands that you can go to for something that’s really well made at a great price point, and can also be really versatile, are very few and far between.”
With backing from investors in Korea, Kim dedicated a year to researching the business. It launched as a direct-to-consumer website in March 2017, offering a range of high-quality womenswear designs at accessible price points – from £40 for a cotton T-shirt to £185 for a silk dress.
Kim describes Kitri customsers as “creative, urban, professional women”, and the collection are eclectic and elegant.
Classic wrap dresses and midi-dresses in satin fabrics and ditsy floral prints, shirts and blouses with dramatic ruffle details, and jumpsuits in tailored cuts and heritage fabrics make the offer one that is both modest and a touch experimental.
For autumn 18, Kim hints at a greater focus on tailoring and knitwear, as well as a small launch of outerwear.
Products garner frenzied customer responses, thanks to Kitri’s weekly product drops, resulting in waiting lists and sell-out items. This is part of the brand’s strategy: ensuring customers feel they have found something exclusive and unique.
Jumpsuits and wrap dresses are bestsellers. The green floral Gabriella midi-dress became a social media sensation – it sold out almost instantly and gathered a waiting list of more than 2,000 people. To maintain the sense of exclusivity, Kim decided not to restock immediately.
While Kim declines to give exact figures, she says the business has “met and surpassed a very ambitious business plan”.
“Although the industry is incredibly competitive and saturated, I don’t think necessarily that every aspect of it is fulfilled,” she says. “Sometimes when there are so many brands things can get quite samey and people want something a little bit different.”
In the short time since its launch, the brand has mainly sold direct to consumer via its website, kitristudio.com. However, a pop-up shop ran in August 2017 on London’s Marylebone High Street, and a pop-up in Selfridges’ London store from April to the start of June led to a permanent shop-in-shop. It also has a pop-up until 15 July in the Manchester branch.
It also works with Next’s Label/Mix line to sell via the brand’s website. Gemma Metheringham, creative director at Label/Mix, calls the collaboration a “perfect fit”.
“We collaborate with new and establishing brands and designers to showcase their unique style to a wider audience,” she says. “We’re big fans of Kitri’s hard-working wardrobe staples with a distinctive design signature, all at accessible prices.”
For autumn 18, Kitri is venturing into wholesale for the first time, working on a short-order model.
“We are constantly experimenting, and customers are saying to us that they are shopping everywhere, so it’s an omnichannel approach that we have to take,” says Kim. “The customer is looking for lots of different experiences and touchpoints where she can experience the brand.”
Rather than focusing on growing sales, Kim views wholesale as a way to build brand awareness and access: “It can be an endless investment trying to get noticed in a huge market, so we really want to be strategic with our wholesale partners. We will be working with partners that we really believe in and we think are best aligned with the brand.”
“I’ve always been very sure that we wanted to be digital first and direct to consumer. And I think first and foremost we will always be that.”
Kim is cautious about plans for growth outside the UK, but the US and Europe are top of the list.
The site launched US shipping this month, following high demand from customers, but Kim stresses the importance of perfecting customer experience and ensuring the business is not overstretched: “It’s a really remarkably different and diverse market, and we want to make sure we’re stepping through that really carefully.”
With its rapid rise supported by a cautious but ambitious approach and smartly targeted product, Kitri’s success looks assured for the future. The appetite for unique, affordable luxury brands is growing and, thanks to a combination of the classic and unusual in its designs, Kitri has found a strong niche for the seasons to come.