The Designer Series: Kelly Su (Part 3)

 
Seattle-Fashion-Collective-Kelly-Su-Portrait-Studio-3.jpg

KELLY SU

CAMI&TANK | COMPOSURE BY KELLY

 
 
 
I REALLY DIDN’T HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY. IT WAS JUST KINDA LIKE, I’M GONNA DO IT, I’M GONNA RUN WITH IT AND SEE HOW FAR IT TAKES ME.
 
 
Kelly’s production studio in Renton, WA.

Kelly’s production studio in Renton, WA.

 
 

Drawing on her earlier inspirations—in particular Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s deep blacks, clean lines, beautiful textures and elegant minimalism—Kelly applied a similar approach to women’s separates.  While the business struggled through a typical startup cycle, her brand began to slowly take shape.  However, she saw new opportunity in the women’s golf market and ultimately put Composure By Kelly on hold.

 
 

TIMELINE :

ART INSTITUTE OF SEATTLE : (2000 - 2003)
NORDSTROM, INC. : (2000 - 2006)
COMPOSURE BY KELLY : (2006)
SHE GOLF : (2006 - 2010)
BABYMOON : (2010 - PRESENT)
COMPOSURE BY KELLY (2015 - PRESENT)
CAMI&TANK : (2017 - PRESENT)


 

SHE GOLF :

It was the early 2000s. Tiger Woods catapulted golf into a new position of popularity. The LPGA vanguard saw consistent wins from Annika Sörenstam, Cristie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb. Celebrities Tea Leoni, Catherine Zeta-Jones and many others further modeled the sport’s accessibility to women. 

Kelly’s husband, an avid golfer, would often invite her to participate. Unenthusiastic at the prospect, she agreed, but quickly found the wardrobe options available to her unsatisfactory. So Kelly made a decision that would prove to be the catalyst for her second fashion label. And in the process, began a theme that would run throughout her entire career.

She would solve her own problem first, validate the concept, and then turn it into a business. And after validating the concept with close friends, Kelly formed her concept into her second brand, She Golf, and quickly saw her sportswear line at Pebble Beach and trade shows across the country.

 
 
STARTING OUT [WE] MADE A LOT OF MISTAKES . . . IT WAS KIND OF LIKE ME ALONE WALKING DOWN THIS PATH.
 
 

But the news wasn’t always good.  Kelly admits some of the difficulties she experienced during those years were crushing: “For She Golf, I invested a lot of my own personal funds into the business.  For production, rather than doing it in a smaller amount, we just decided, let’s go big, and just kinda went all in . . . A year’s worth of production was not the smartest idea.”

The quantity was too great and the demand too low.  The Seattle market saw favorable golfing weather four months out of the calendar year.  And as quickly as the fashion industry arose to support the trend, the sport fell out of favor with consumers, leaving Kelly with surplus inventory and time for introspection.

 
 
Kelly at work in her production studio, December 2018.

Kelly at work in her production studio, December 2018.

 
 

“Starting out [we] made a lot of mistakes . . . Choosing the right factory partners, people that you trust working with . . . I mean you really do work with others.  You have contracts in and out . . . suppliers, factories.  Just [make] sure you do your research on their companies and who you’re working with . . . Stay neutral and [don’t] let your emotions get too high [or] too low . . . Not knowing where are my resources, who can I connect with, who can I talk to about this — It was kind of like me alone walking down this path.”

It would be an expensive education in trend cycles and business relationships, but one that proved more valuable than her time in college.  It was the right time for Kelly to close this chapter in her life.  And in 2010, she exited the sportswear market altogether.

 
 
TO HELP YOURSELF IS TO DEFINITELY NETWORK AND THAT’S SOMETHING THAT I FEEL LIKE I LACKED.