Stephen Kenn, Founder, Stephen Kenn
Downtown Los Angeles
Interview by Laura Piety
A Rverie Conversation with Stephen Kenn, founder and designer of Stephen Kenn, a design company based in Downtown Los Angeles.
The brand is known for re-appropriating military styles and merging them with the simple lines of classic mid century modern design. Whether you're looking for furniture or men's accessories (beautiful, durable leather bags to be precise), Stephen Kenn is one for your list. We chatted marketing, design and building the company over a cup of coffee in their showroom, and were also joined by Stephen's lovely wife, Beks, whose is undoubtedly an invaluable addition to the Kenn team (and not just because she brought delicious pastries).
Where did you first pick up the designing bug?
You owned a number of companies before founding Stephen Kenn. Can you talk a little about that journey?
I started in Edmonton Alberta with my close friend Steve Dubbeldam. We began making jeans in a small loft area of his dad's machine shop and after taking out a loan; buying 300 blank jeans and altering the aesthetic, we signed up for a show in Vegas called Pool.
We met a lot of great people from LA and after returning to Canada we loaded up Steve's car with jeans and headed straight for LA. After getting stopped at the border for illegally trying to import products, and sleeping in hammocks beneath semi truck trailers, we finally arrived.
So many people helped us out and 3 weeks later after getting a few orders and an investor/manufacture we called our parents and broke the news, we were going to stay. After 3 amazing years of making jeans under the brand name Iron Army, Steve and I joined Hudson jeans to launch a brand called City of Others. We had a short run and the economy crashed. I began sewing bags from old military fabric and called this project Temple bags. After learning more about local production and growing an appreciation for military materials, I decided to start making furniture with my wife Beks. We have been making furniture and leather bags for 3 years now in Downtown LA.
You moved from Canada to the USA. What was the cultural transition like?
There wasn't must of a cultural transition although Americans are a little more opinionated in my experience.
You work alongside your wife, Beks. How do you balance work and life together?
We love working together and are aware of the difficulties that can arise. We know that clear and open dialogue is so important. Arguments arise all the time but we are getting faster at setting the small disputes and better at remembering that we are on the same team. It's amazing travel and dream with my wife.
You’re brilliantly connected in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles. What’s the community like there?
We're surrounded by creative and interesting people. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and visionaries. There is never a dull moment... and always a party to go to. I hope that the area will retain the close community that exists now as the DTLA area grows and expands.
Each of your pieces are incredibly unique. What’s one of your favorites, and where do you get your inspiration from?
I love the indigo pieces that we made with Simon Miller brand jeans. The process of hand dipping indigo and copper plating the frame is so rewarding. I love watching these pieces come together. As for inspiration, I love talking with people. I'm always inspired after having coffee with a friend.
Can you talk a little about the design process, including manufacturing and the materials you use?
We make everything in east Los Angeles and downtown. When we get an order we submit it to our contractors and then make sure everyone has the materials they need to get started. We run around the city in our little Nissan flat bed trucking picking things up and dropping them off. I love getting to visit and catch up with everyone involved.
When we first started 3 years ago we exclusively used reclaimed military fabric and replica Swiss mule belts for support and a rusted steel frame. We have since then expanded into a lot of new material stories and love when customers bring new ideas to the table.
Where are your customers based?
All around the world.
How did you initially engage them?
We have been fortunate enough to keep up with demand, we get emails almost everyday from people who are interested in pieces from The Inheritance Collection.
What have been some of your marketing techniques?
We believe that an important part to making products in general is pairing them with a story. People are drawn towards objects because they help communicate what we value to those around us. When we put together a collection we make a short film that expresses why we created the objects in the collection. Often times people align with that deeper narrative and if they also like the objects we make it seems to be a great fit. I'm not a very typical 'sales guy.' I see myself as someone making what I'd like to see in the marketplace and telling the stories that feel authentic to who I am and what I value.
It seems to align with the desires of others as well.
What are your future plans for Stephen Kenn?
I use curiosity as a navigational tool for where to head next. When I'm curious I often pursue projects with more passion, which often leads me to to new design. Lately I have been more interested in fine art and environment design... so we'll see where that leads.
For more information visit http://www.stephenkenn.com
All images courtesy of Stephen Kenn