At just 22 years old, she’s already worked her way up through the high-fashion NYC boutique OAK, taking care of their social media, and has since become the first lady of Kith – an important and valuable role, made all the more important by the industry’s frequent domination by men.
We recently spoke to Mellany to find out just exactly how Kith stays so on top of its game, her fascination with vintage sportswear ads and how deep rooted her connection with New York is.
I came to Kith in April/May and before that I was working at OAK, taking care of their social media. I was just a friend of Ronnie’s, but we would meet up for lunch meetings and just talk about his brand. I’d give him my thoughts and he was always keen to listen. He gave me the opportunity to direct one of his shoots, and it was one of the first lookbook shoots he had done to such a high standard. After that he wanted me on board to continue at that level with all of his lookbooks.
How do you balance studying with your work?
I’m at NYU going into my senior year, and at the time I started I was just a junior. I’m studying Visual Communications so I’m always involved in the presentation side of stuff. I wanted to bridge a gap between the worlds I’m interested in – visually communicating messages while working for a brand that is completely related to sneakers and fashion, downtown and sportswear – all of my own personal interests.
So would you say that your education and your vocation bounced off of each other?
Absolutely. My school campus is located right where our office is and that’s also where I grew up, hanging out downtown. So it all met at the same corner – literally the corner of Broadway and Bleecker. It’s just wild because my first internship was on the exact same corner, so it’s been such a bubble of important creative history for me – all in one place.
Born and bred in New York, what role does the city play in your work ethic?
New York is such a fast-paced environment. You’re surrounded by so many creatives and there are so many events and things going on that you realize if you don’t get a head start, you just fall behind. I saw from a young age that people around me were doing more. The Internet is so empowering for that sort of thing because anyone can do anything on there. I saw so many 18 and 19 year olds blasting out websites and then selling them and being able to do whatever they wanted. And they were always the kind of people I was surrounded by. I went to an arts high school, so there were always kids around me going to auditions and playing parts in movies so, for me, being in New York gets you. It puts you a step ahead but it really infiltrates your mind that you need to be that step ahead, and it keeps that pressure on.
How does the fashion store OAK compare to the more streetwear and sneakers-oriented Kith?
As a store, OAK stocks high-fashion, sometimes avant garde lines. It’s heavily focused on art and lifestyle, and it’s minimal and cultured. Kith is new, and it’s got a very niche culture that is relevant but only to the people who know about it. Had you not known about, say, Ronnie Fieg’s sneaker collabs, you might have no concept of why kids are lining up for sneakers outside. In that sense OAK is a different world, but it’s equally important to me. They do compare but I think elements of them, especially through me, are going to cross over.
How does your role at Kith compare to your role at OAK?
I think a sense of what I bring to Kith is that same level of interest in culture and art and the storytelling behind what we do. So if Ronnie designs a sneaker and then wants to do a shoot for when he presents it on the blog, it’s important for me to tell the story in an interesting, compelling and classic way. A way that we can look back in five years and think, wow, that was so of the times. And that’s something that I learned at OAK. The owners of OAK are invested in so many different scenes, and they bring that art and culture into the merchandising of their store. With Kith, while we have to buy the things that people want and keep everything relevant, we can still leave our mark. And I think we’re doing that.
The crossover between high-fashion and streetwear has really been kicking off recently, how have you experienced it first hand?
With OAK, it was so funny because while I was there, there was such a streetwear crowd gravitating towards the long T-shirts, Rick Owens, Raf Simons – all of these designers that we were carrying. It’s funny because when I grew up and became aware of this sort of avant garde designer fashion, I was really interested in it, and that’s why I gravitated towards OAK. Then I ended up working there, and while I was working there, all of the sneaker kids became really interested in that, too. It was insane timing. I’d be at the store and I’d recognize these kids from the sneaker scene, and now they’re into OAK. It put OAK in a funny position because they weren’t used to this crowd, but it brought a new culture to the store. And people like A$AP Rocky have definitely bridged that gap.
Do you think Kith’s White Label was spurred on by that whole phenomenon – the high-fashion and streetwear scenes meeting?
I think an advantage of the fact we produce in NYC is that our turnover time is really fast. We’re paying attention to trends and things that we want to wear, which is what Ronnie’s most focused on. He makes things that he wants to wear, and that he thinks the market doesn’t have. It was definitely related to that moment, we were seeing people really appreciating black, and white, and minimalistic, and different hems. And we brought that into some of our classics. We’re starting to do shirts for the first time, which is funny because most streetwear brands start with shirts and we’ve never done one. The second White Label release includes our first Kith shirts, and because they’re the first ones we did all the basics. It’s as much of it being a classic thing as it is being a fashion thing.
Kith has always aimed to provide an intimate shopping experience, but with the momentum you’re gaining, how are you going to make sure you maintain that intimacy?
I would say that one of the most important things is the customer’s experience, and that’s something that we’re always working on enhancing. Our sales assistants are the first impact so it’s important that they’re interested in what they’re doing and knowledgeable about the product and what kids want. Whether the customer is a tourist who just wants their cool Nikes, or a kid who’s driving from New Jersey because he wants to come for sneakers that he could get somewhere else, but he’s coming to Kith for the experience. There are small details we provide, it’s things like our bags, our service, and our store – it’s an overall experience. And we’re starting to do more. We’re working on custom packaging for online so even those that don’t come into the store will experience it, because it matters.
What gives you job satisfaction?
As a company, Kith is a neat, small machine with so much potential and I’m excited to see it grow. I’m excited to set standards for our business and hopefully others. Things like, I got a new logo instated for us and that ended up being a flag that we hung up outside our store, and now it’s on stickers and business cards and we’re printing it on T-shirts. I really don’t feel like we just make clothes, I’m interested in making noise, culturally. That’s what I care about. Seeing how we make an impact now and onwards, seeing what people will remember and what people will collect.
What inspires you and your work creatively?
I’m inspired by the city. I’m inspired by classic things. I really study brands that have had an impact on my life. Whether it’s something like Champion or Hanes. I’m just really interested in brands that everyone gravitates to, things that are almost stale and you don’t even notice. Like Apple, I’ll do everything I can just to figure out why we love Apple. I try and streamline those qualities into things that I do, and things that I’d want to see for a brand. Considering visually how we impact people – people see things all the time but how do we make it so when they see what we do, they gravitate towards us?
Fashion and music go hand in hand, what’s your jam at the moment in terms of fashion?
Acne is a fashion house that I’m always looking at, as is Alexander Wang, and Kenzo. I think Supreme is always doing great things and Nike Sportswear I’m involved with and I think it always looks great. I think Palace is killing it, they have a huge presence in New York City, I just kept seeing this logo over and over again and I was like what is this brand? I found out and went on their site and saw who was involved and I just thought, wow, respect, they’re not even in New York and they have such a presence here.
I love A$AP Rocky, I listen to a lot of hip-hop. I’m looking forward to Drake’s new album and I’ve been listened to Kanye’s new album all summer. And then I’m always listening to classic, old hip hop. Sometimes it’s just the best background music to go to, the old stuff can really flow and it helps me through my workday.
Have you got any advice for people starting out in this industry?
Honestly, never underestimate the work that you do and never doubt that something you’re doing is always going to be beneficial. I just always say go for the experience and always, always make vertical movements. Focus on going up a little bit, even if it’s the tiniest notch. Don’t do 50 internships doing the same thing; always try to gain new skills. As far as working specifically in streetwear, I would say focus on the classics and do your research. I’m obsessed with vintage Nike ads, I look at those things all the time just for inspiration. It’s always just about going back and seeing how things worked from the beginning.