Stories

On The Move With LA Based Designer, Stephen Kenn

01  Before starting your eponymous label, you were already a fairly prolific designer having launched multiple denim and accessory brands. What was your first introduction to design and how did you (creatively) arrive at the space that you’re in now?
It has been just over 10 years since I moved from Edmonton, Alberta to LA. My foray into design was a naive adventure with my best friend. At 20 years old we decided to start a denim brand. Having no clue where to start we borrowed 10k and put in 5k of our own and ordered jeans with our own fit and label from Montreal, Canada. After exhibiting at a small show in Las Vegas and meeting a lot of people from LA, we were easily convinced to take a road trip down and learn how "it was really done". After ambitiously presenting our jeans to some of the best stores in the city we gained traction with an investor and within a month we called our parents and announced that we were going to stay in LA. It has been a fun ride with ups and downs and many learning experiences along the way. From our first brand "Iron Army" we went on to linking up with Hudson jeans and starting a short lived label called "City Of Others" after that my attention shifted to bag design and I started a brand called Temple bags. I fell deeper in love with local manufacturing and gained a lot of confidence as a designer over those 3 years. I then shifted to furniture when starting Stephen Kenn. I quickly added a small capsule of bags to make sure that we would not be perceived as just a furniture company but a multidisciplinary design studio. The last 4 years have been amazing and I'm so grateful to be working with my wife Beks. We are constantly dreaming up products and slowly moving them into sampling and then production.
02  We used to hang out in Los Angeles’s Arts District a few years back and even then it was a creatively diverse place filled with artists and start-ups doing amazing things. Has being entrenched there helped to inform your work at all, and if so how?
I think living in creative community will always have an influence on someone. I have appreciated seeing friends start brands, restaurants and other creative companies and I'm always inspired by the work of others. I'm far less critical than I am appreciative when someone takes a risk in their life to bring an idea to life. I feel as though it should be commended and celebrated.
"For a space to actually "feel" like home I think it takes time. We need memories to be associated with the space."
03 What are some of your favorite places to shop/eat/drink in Los Angeles?
I love Alma and RedBird when taking my wife on a date but frequent Chego, Guisados, Squirl and Song for casual dining. I love getting drinks at Honey Cut or Varnish but also love making drinks at home.
04  Only because you’re in the process of moving – what does ‘home’ represent for you?
I have thought about this a few times in my life. I think moving is an interesting act. You rent a space that obviously feels foreign and then as you move all of your objects inside, it begins to feel familiar. For a space to actually "feel" like home I think it takes time. We need memories to be associated with the space.
05Is there another city that you can imagine yourself living and working in? Why?
I would love to try Japan for a season or maybe London but LA is a pretty amazing home based and I feel grateful to have landed here. Japan would be a fun experience because of how culturally diverse the people are. I would be interested to see how it would influence my work. I just read an interview of Jasper Morrison and it has my interest peaked :)
06You seem to draw a lot of influence from military design, which seems to manifest itself in some of your material choices, as well as your brilliant short film for the Encounter collection. How would you say the past influences your decisions as a designer?
When I began studying design it was defiantly on a subconscious level and I keep feeling drawn towards military materials and objects. There is something so pure about their utilitarian form and the ruggedness of the construction. As I studied the wear patterns and the repairs there was an obvious story that was being told, one that spoke to me about strength, honor and determination. I feel very grateful to draw inspiration from these materials and this era. We can learn so much from the men who fought for our freedom.
07If we took a peek inside your closet, would we find endless stockpiles of the WWII surplus fabrics that you utilize for your collections, or is the search for these vintage materials part of the process for you?
I have a pretty good sized collection but it mostly lives at our studio in boxes sadly. I am personally more drawn to things that are new these days. I love innovation and am constantly thinking about what the world needs now. Part of what I do think it needs are stories that remind us of the past but functionally help us exist in the present and create a more interesting future.
08What would you want to do if you were not in your current field?
I studied psychology before getting into design because of a deep desire I had to gain a better understanding of humanity but if I were to be pulled out of the design industry I wouldn't travel too far, I would try my hand as a fine artist.
"It's a process. Hard work, dedication and risk, but one of the key elements is defining for yourself why you are doing it?"
09You and Beks are married but you’re also business partners. How do you two manage to separate your work lives from your personal lives?
Great question! We ask ourselves this every day :) it is a very important conversation that we return to often. We need to keep the health of our marriage as the priority and one of the ways we have found works best is to have a meeting every 2 months that separates literally every different department of our lives and we set goals and work hard to make reach them. We do this to evenly distribute where we are progressing. It's important to grow as designers and company owners but also as a romantic couple and adventurous individuals. We call these meetings our "state of the union".
10In the past, you’ve talked about design as an opportunity “to meet and learn from people along the way”. Are there any lasting impressions that collaborating with industry designers and taste-makers such as Todd Snyder, Frank Muytjens and Nick Wooster have had on you or your approach to the ‘business’ of design?
One individual who stands out in the crowd has been Tok Kise from Osaka based, Truck Furniture. He has reminded me through simple conversations and his life's work as a testimony that building something authentic takes time, there is no sustainable fast track. He is one of the most genuine and authentic guys that I have ever met. His smile conveys his large heart for people, community and a passion for his work. I am inspired every time we talk.
11Do you have any insights you can share about launching your own brand?
It's a process. Hard work, dedication and risk, but one of the key elements is defining for yourself why you are doing it? I first learned this from Guy Kawasaki in his book The art of the Start and later reminded by Simon Sinek just how powerful it is to define your "why".
12What’s on the horizon (professionally or personally) that you’re most excited about in the months ahead?
We have a project that we are getting ready to launch called "Summer Shop" where we are converting the back of our ground level loft into a retail shop every weekend this summer. The goal is to share the stories of designers in our community. Create a space that provides opportunity for young ambitious creatives to bounce ideas off of others or just grab a coffee and relax. We are sarcastically promoting it as being located in the heart of LA's Arts District Adjacent neighborhood as we are minutes from the booming and ever growing DTLA's Arts District. We look forward to our Saturdays and Sundays being spent getting to know other creative people in LA.
fin.