For this edition of IN STOCK, we’re headed to Brooklyn. Ah, New York -- a place that means a lot to P.F. Our founder, Kristen, attended NYU while she got into the swing of DIY, blogging, and turning lots of nothings into somethings. Today, Brooklyn still remains important to us, as it's home to one of our favorite stockists Kai D Utility, a curated men’s clothing and accessories boutique for the well-dressed. An early P.F. Candle Co. adopter, Kai D.’s backstory is equally as interesting as the pieces that adorn his shop's shelves.
We got to know Kai D. himself and learned what it takes to run a shop like his. Keep reading for a look into the inspiration that allowed Kai D. Utility to become what it is today, and for shelf-inspo that'll make you want to book a flight to the East Coast ASAP.
A bit about the owner...
Kai was born and raised in Taiwan, arriving in New York to study menswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. At a young age, he formed a fascination with vintage clothing and all things utilitarian, which led to his career as a designer and shop curator. As an avid textile and object collector, Kai draws inspiration from the early 1900s to 1920s fashion, as well as art, photography, architecture, graphic design, and industrial design.
Before opening the shop, what were you doing and how did you make it all happen?
I was the design director for Nautica and consulted for Lacoste, Izod, John Varvatos, and Edun, to name a few. Opening the shop was just a natural progression after working for large companies. I felt the urge to have complete control over all aspects of my creative expression.
How do you find products to stock on your shelves?
In the beginning, I mainly relied on my personal research online. Now, many makers and brand owners come to my shop to show their product. For me, there has to be a connection with the people in addition to absolutely loving the product. I have built friendships with many of the makers, and I enjoy being part of a community of artisans.
What's the most rewarding part of being a shop owner?
When I finish a new window display, set up the shop meticulously with everything neatly folded and presented, and see the customers’ reactions when they walk into my shop.
What do you want customers to remember when they leave the shop?
I want customers to feel that they have found the perfect product to match their personality and lifestyle needs. I believe in 'buy less, choose better’ and conscious consumption. I want our customers to know that this is a shop owned by someone who really cares about everything he presents in the shop.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned as a shop owner:
You cannot be all things to all people. Create a compelling story, draw the customers into the imaginary ‘world,’ and build an emotional connection instead of just focusing on product characteristics or promotion. Also, bring in merchandise that is more timeless and less seasonal.
Favorite motivational quote:
If you want to be successful, try to make others successful.
What’s the biggest sacrifice you've made in order to start the business? How has it paid off?
I haven’t taken any trips for pleasure since I opened my shop. I used to enjoy traveling and being close to nature, but I realized that everything is a state of mind. I can get the same relaxation spending 10 minutes at the local park. I wouldn’t trade my life for the past four years because I get to wake up every morning to do what I love! I love interacting with customers and having deep conversation about life and our common interests. But, I could do without the tedious accounting and constant worrying about finances.
What's something that most people wouldn't realize about running a shop?
You get to develop a ‘sixth sense’ for people. You can observe the people for a few seconds and know a lot about them. Also, the necessity of wearing comfortable shoes!
What are your goals for the next few years with the business?
The shop started in 2013, and we have built a strong base of repeat customers. For the next few years, I plan to expand the accessories assortment and improve our website. It has been my dream to open a second shop in upstate New York, but we’ll see.
Lastly, what’s one thing you wish your customers knew?
I wish that customers knew more about the process of how products are made and the differences between massive production versus small production. If only they knew how difficult it can be to produce high quality product and compete with large companies who have much more resources and people.
Find Kai D. Utility at 230 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211.
Thank you so much to Kai and Kai D. Utility! Support the shop and its list of artisan vendors here, and see what's new on their Instagram