Reaching $1 million in sales is a milestone that can take years to achieve. For Emma Grede, it took one day. In 2016, Grede’s size-inclusive denim brand, Good American, sold $1 million of product within hours of launching. By the midafternoon, the company was completely sold out of jeans. It didn’t hurt that Good American’s co-founder was reality TV star Khloé Kardashian.
While Los Angeles-based Good American had pulled off the largest denim launch in history, Grede spent much of her first day as a fashion entrepreneur explaining to customers why her company had run out of product. The experience helped set the tone for how the brand would communicate with its customers for years to come.
“It was the beginning of a two-way dialogue between Good American and its community,” Grede says. “That’s been a huge thing for us.”
Good American wasn’t Grede’s first entrepreneurial venture; she founded the entertainment marketing company ITB Worldwide in 2008. And, following the launch of Good American, she started another clothing company, the shapewear brand Skims, this time with her husband, Jens Grede, and Kim Kardashian. (Grede met the Kardashian sisters through their mother, Kris Jenner, a business associate.)
In 2021, the 39-year-old Grede surrounded herself with a different group of reality TV stars as a guest on ABC’s Shark Tank, where she became the first Black woman investor to appear on the show. One of the businesses Grede invested in was the hair care-focused clothing brand KIN Apparel, which shares Good American’s dedication to inclusivity. Founded in 2020 by Philomina Kane, KIN’s flagship product is a satin-lined hoodie designed to protect hair that traditional cotton hoodies can dry out by absorbing moisture. The Philadelphia-based business generated $1.3 million in revenue in 2021, up from $246,000 the previous year. Kane, 26, attributes her early success partially to KIN’s inclusive ethos.
“People felt seen and heard when they saw a satin-lined hoodie,” she says.
Prior to starting the company, Kane amassed a following of nearly 200,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, NaturallyPhilo, where she shared natural hair care tutorials for women of color. Now, Kane is in position to build an even larger community of brand loyalists–if she can get over a slight case of imposter syndrome. We sat her down with Grede to talk about inclusivity as a business strategy and how to keep KIN Apparel growing, naturally.
Kane Thanks to Shark Tank, KIN Apparel experienced a huge influx in sales. You got to $1 million in sales on your first day at Good American. How do you deal with demand and the supply chain?
Grede The first thing is, don’t panic. We have to be mindful that in the early days of a business, scarcity is not a bad thing. There are a lot of companies out there artificially creating scarcity. It’s a huge opportunity for you to learn and grow, and it’s about the customer experience. How are you dealing with the fact that people can’t get the product and you’ve hyped them up to want to buy it? We were literally educating people about how much longer it takes to make our jeans than a standard pair of jeans. And I think people appreciated our saying, “We’re so sorry, but here’s what’s happening and here’s why.” It’s an opportunity to start understanding your supply chain. So my big advice to you is: Don’t worry. Just use every moment–the good, the bad, and the ugly–as an opportunity to learn.
Kane Good American has “the Good Squad,” which is a tight-knit community of customers. So what can an entrepreneur like me learn from my own community of customers?
Grede When you’re lucky enough to have a following, you have to ask yourself, “How can I use that as a data point in my business?” We decided early on that it would be a two-way street and that we would ask questions and get answers. But you have to be willing to listen to the good and the bad. It shifted our priorities as a business, because we were willing to listen. We would have launched categories in a different priority if we hadn’t been listening to our customers. It turned out that they wanted different things. And they were interested in products that we didn’t have in our pipeline.
Kane Another thing I’m still learning about is hiring. As a solo entrepreneur, I used to do everything myself.
Kane At some point, I realized I needed some help. So I think that the biggest asset to a growing business is its team. When did you realize you needed help, and how did you go about finding it?
Grede It’s not just for a growing business. For any business, the people who work for you are your primary asset. You have to be as obsessed as you are with your product in actually making an incredible place to work. Good people today have many options, so being focused on your culture and how you’re bringing people into an environment to work is important right now. I have a mantra: Hire for attitude, not for experience. And, in the early days, that was really good, because I couldn’t afford the experience. So I got the people who believed in what I was doing.
Kane My operations manager loves KIN Apparel.
Grede And that’s important. Because in the beginning, it’s not a 9-to-5. You need those people who are going to be super high-level and help you with planning the business over the next three years. And then you need those people who will pack a box at the end of the day. And that comes down to someone’s attitude and how much they care about what you’re building.
Kane So how do you make Good American a fun place to work?
Grede I think that so much of culture comes from the top down. I’m English, and so I think there are a lot of stylistic differences in the way businesses are run here. I had just had a baby when I moved to America and started Good American, and so I was trying to understand what the standard maternity policy was. And, it turned out, it was not very good. So I changed that. We’ve all had jobs with people or in places where we were disgruntled, and so I really thought about those things and what I could afford to do better. And it’s really just small things that allow people to enhance the quality of their lives.
Kane Something I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life is imposter syndrome and feeling like opportunities afforded me aren’t really for me. Have you ever dealt with that?
Grede I never had imposter syndrome, and I fully credit my mother, who was a single mother of four girls, so she was a pretty fierce woman. She taught me that you are not better than anyone else, nor is anyone better than you. You might have a better education or more experience, but we all have something to bring, and I never really thought about it in any other way. You’re where you are because you’re where you should be, and you need to just believe that every single day.
Kane Have you ever entered the room and you were the only person there who looked like you?
Grede All the time. Every day. Look around.
Kane Has that ever affected you?
Grede Yes, but it’s also made me understand what kind of organization I want to create. Right now, the smart people and the winning companies understand that a diverse room is a winning room. My background and the fact that I think differently from other people is actually what makes me win. I’m not the first person to create a denim line. I’m not the first person to do plus-size denim. But I am the first person to put them together in one place, and the only reason I could do that is because of my viewpoint and where I come from. My culture. My background. And so I always think of those things as strengths.
Kane So what should an entrepreneur look for when deciding on an investor?
Grede This is a complex question, because at different stages of your business you want different things. In the early stages, you need people who believe in you and believe in the mission. As you get further along, you’re not always looking for a cheerleader. There are different types of investors for different stages, in the same way that there are different types of staff you require at different stages. Knowing what you are optimizing for when you are going out and fundraising is one of the most important things.
Kane How did you go about getting funding as a Black woman?
Grede Let’s be honest: Khloé Kardashian is my business partner, so I didn’t face the same obstacles raising finance as other Black women. But that is why I’m absolutely hell-bent, now that I’m in a position to invest, on working with minority founders and backing, especially, Black women. Because we know the stats. They are abysmal. No one is saying everything’s better. But I’m an optimist. I think the fundraising community in general has woken up and said, “We need to think about that.” And so that brings a lot of opportunity, and you have to be the person who goes out and takes advantage of it. Somebody’s got to, so why should it not be you?
From the March/April 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine