We sat down with The Closs, an online publication dedicated to cause-oriented independent brands and designers to tell our story, and here's what their amazing editors had to say about VENIM.
This article was originally written by The Closs and was published on June 23rd, 2020
“Essential”: Defined as being absolutely necessary or extremely important. It’s a word we’re hearing a lot of lately. At its root, it has to do with an appreciation for things that are truly important. If there’s anything we can appreciate about the state of the world right now, it’s that people seem to be reevaluating what is of value. They are checking in with friends and family, they’re not consuming so mindlessly, and they’re thinking about the welfare of others.
First question we need to address before we dig into the VENIM story: Why the denim jacket?
LF: Apart from being one of the most versatile, comfortable and timeless garments out there, we love how democratic a denim jacket can be. For so many decades it’s been a canvas for rebellion, political activism, and just unabashed self-expression in general and it’s worn by all kinds of races, social classes, and genders as a sort of “anti-uniform uniform”. Clearly, it’s here to stay.
All this being said, we still felt it was time for the classic denim jacket to get a bit of a refresh. We’ve developed a cooler, more relaxed fit, using environmentally-friendly materials, and then added distinctive design features and options to make it feel original again.
What about each of your backgrounds do you think drove you to come to this decision?
KH: I live and breathe denim, always have. I worked for Levi’s doing Product Development for 4 years and fell in love with the nuances, supply chain, and production of denim. Both of us grew up in California and denim is more than a staple here, it’s a lifestyle, so the decision came pretty naturally.
LF: I didn’t really self-identify as a “denimhead” before starting this brand. After years of working in fashion and shopping regularly, I was just getting frustrated by an industry that wasn’t prioritizing ethical production and was ready to make a change. VENIM kind of started because I was shopping for a denim jacket for myself that was sophisticated and high-quality with a special touch that made it feel different, but I wasn’t finding it.
Let’s go back to design school. How did you and Kaycee come together and what was your relationship like then? Is there a meet-cute we need to know about?
LF: Instant girl crush, followed by a growing realization that we had really similar work styles and thought processes. We didn’t lose touch after we both graduated, in fact neither of us left the Bay.KH: We were in nearly every class together, collaborating on projects and vibing off of each other all the time. It wasn’t just fashion either, we had similar tastes in music, culture, art, and sense of humor.
Fast forward a decade and tell us about the years after school that eventually led to getting the band back together.
KH: After college, we did diverge into two different career paths. I leaned heavily into garment development and design, fitting, production and innovation. I’ve been a tailor for Ralph Lauren, a lingerie designer, did private label for StitchFix, and I’ve learned to be versatile, but both of us always talked about starting something of our own.
LF: We both knew it wasn’t realistic to start our own brand before working for other companies and gaining insights from those experiences, first. I actually went in a very different direction from Kaycee and started focusing more on merchandising and brand marketing and by doing that, realized that the part of fashion that I’m passionate about is storytelling.
KH: If we hadn’t both made the choice to get some experience first, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to train under so many amazing mentors, too. Mentorship is crucial to personal and professional development.
LF: Now our skill sets are complimentary.
What about both of your personalities do you think is most reflected in the brand and product?
LF: A lot of our designs are a subtle nod to club culture - they incorporate that “sparkle and shine” associated with the confident and particular clothing choices of club kids and industry professionals that we identify with. But the artistic direction of the brand as a whole actually pays homage to my late father and his Formula Ford racing career, so you’ll see a lot of racing-related imagery and insignias used in our content and designs, such as the custom racer stripe that we apply to our sleeves.
KH: We grew up surrounded by skate and surf culture, so positioning ourselves as a streetwear brand came naturally and we possess a bit of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that comes across in our brand voice. Also ridiculous attention to detail. We’re both perfectionists.
LF: Our shared saboteur, perhaps.
Tell us a little bit about your philosophy and how you make a VENIM jacket?
LF: We design under the mantra of “fewer, better things” - the idea that investing in high-quality craftsmanship and materials adds value, which then translates into respect for an object; particularly when it comes to clothing, which is still plagued by fast-fashion consumption habits. But that value also comes from a sense of individuality, which is why we decided to offer customization. Even something as small as selecting your own buttons on a VENIM jacket plays into that.
KH: Offering customization is also a means to reducing inventory waste and returns. Our production methods are all about leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible, so we produce using liability denim (basically the leftover fabric from other designer denim brands) and manufacture locally. When a customer orders a custom jacket from our website, we complete them by hand, in-house in San Francisco, which is also where our jackets are sewn. Honestly, if you placed an order right now, it would probably be one of us that makes it.
Where does the name VENIM come from?
LF: I mean, it’s mostly just a sick word that carries a lot of brand equity, but technically it’s an alliteration of the words “venom” and “denim”.
KH: Our unofficial tagline is “pick your poison”.
Tell us about your relationship with the Bay Area and why you are here.
KH: I moved here after high school for college and have lived here now for 13 years. What drew me to the Bay in the first place is how quirky, independent, and beautiful it is. I love the hills, the architecture, and all the creative people who live here.LF: I’m Bay Area born and raised. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a lot of amazing places around the world, but none of them have “checked all the boxes” like they do here. I fell in love with house music here, have had my heart broken here, become a part of so many communities here, and while I’m not afraid of change and experiencing something new somewhere else, right now it feels important to remain a part of a city known for its innovation.
What has been the hardest part?
LF: We’ve been let down more times than I can even remember. Everyone says this, but it’s true: you have to become very comfortable with constant rejection and not let it break your confidence. People are only just now starting to pay attention to VENIM - we’ve been at it for nearly 2 years and it’s just beginning to click.
KH: Launching only one month before COVID didn’t help, either. Everything we thought we knew about how our product would be received in the market has been turned on its head.
LF: 100%. It’s an enormous challenge to convey the designer-level quality of our product without some sort of physical presence or offline event and that’s pretty much out of the question for 2020. Fortunately our digital customizer tool keeps getting better and better, though. Maybe we can work our way around these challenges.
Tell us about .JUNKMAIL
KH: .JUNKMAIL is our new “patch-of-the-month” subscription product. Every month, we drop a limited-edition patch design in collaboration with a different artist, designer, or musician, etc. paired with a piece of printed artwork. It’s a way for people to stay inspired, learn the stories behind some pretty iconic images, and to indulge in something small and collectible.
LF: Promoting the discovery of new artists is a fundamental trait of our brand. It’s why we also compile and share seasonal mixtapes with up-and-coming artists, some of whom are ambassadors for VENIM.
Any other hobbies or side projects either of you make time for?
LF: I’m either gardening or DJing. Apparently I’m a 75 year-old retired woman with the spirit of a teenage boy and a penchant for outerwear.
KH: I like to hang out with my fur child, Sunny. She's an adorable, albeit very sassy French Bulldog (you can follow her shenanigans on her Instagram @sunnygramm). Aside from that, I like falling off my surfboard and Boosting around my neighborhood.
Because the sky is the limit and you two can clearly do anything you set your minds to, where will VENIM be in 5 years? What about 10?
LF: Our collabs are getting bigger and bigger - we’d love to grow that model to the point that we can start using that platform to make meaningful, powerful change, whether it be through messaging, charity, or some other involvement in social issues. We’re also starting to get the (teeniest tiniest) cult following in Japan thanks to some friends that live in Tokyo, but we’d love to see that grow into a real international presence in East Asia over the next decade.
KH: Store-in-store pop-up experiences are definitely on the list, too. And after that? SPACE.
What are your favorite articles of clothing to pair with VENIM? Any favorite brands we should know about?
LF: Honestly, no. That’s the beauty of a denim jacket - you can style it however you want. Last week I wore one with a slip dress and sneakers and this week I’m on my third day of wearing the same band tee and there’s just no wrong answer. I do make a point of pairing our jackets with my best luxury streetwear pieces though, like something from AMBUSH or Margiela - VENIM is on that level.
KH: I like to pair crop top hoodies that have a pop of color with the jackets, particularly because the color pops through the "V" cut-out on the back of the jacket, it’s a fun surprise. I’m also a real advocate of denim on denim. The “Canadian Tuxedo” is nothing to be afraid of.