Expert Insight: How To A Grow Brand While Staying True To Its Roots
Julia Hunter, president of California-based lifestyle brand Jenni Kayne, offers insight on taking the West Coast native to new heights through IRL activations, digital strategy and authenticity
- Jenni Kayne is a luxury lifestyle line that has rapidly grown to offer clothes, accessories and home goods. The brand operates six brick-and-mortar stores and has collaborated with Nordstrom and Pottery Barn, among others.
- Brand president Julia Hunter, who has been with the brand since 2014, says that expanding Jenni Kayne from its California roots is a much more holistic process than one might expect.
- PSFK sat down with Hunter to talk IRL activations that edge into hospitality with retreats and a hotel, digital and social strategy, and building out brand-new product categories, all while maintaining that West Coast charm.
PSFK: Tell us about building the brand's digital presence. What does it take to grow a digital brand today?
Julia Hunter: I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all formula for building a digital brand today. We certainly rely on paid social media to support our website’s success, but for us, creating content about living well is an important part of the company’s history and something we continue to think about as we grow.
Our blog Rip & Tan is our platform for storytelling that is inspiring and helpful to our audience, and a lot of it is not about pushing product or driving conversion. Overall, I think authenticity is a majorly overused word, but one that is so important when building a strategy today for digital. There’s all this emphasis on testing different platforms to engage with customers now, but I think what message you're sharing is so much more important than the way you are sharing it.
What does building a California lifestyle brand mean to you? Who are your primary consumers?
For us, building a California lifestyle brand is about a larger mission than being omni-channel and omni-category. Jenni’s creative taste is so uniquely beautiful and resonates with every woman, regardless of life stage or location. But beyond that, the way our team has been inspired by Jenni over the years is much more meaningful than just her aesthetic.
That’s what we’re trying to build at Jenni Kayne: a platform that helps women find ways to live well. Taking care of ourselves is something women deserve to do, and it’s our mission to help make that easier. We think this idea applies very broadly, we don’t have a certain demographic in mind because we believe every woman could find inspiration from what we’re doing in some way.
Tell us about the categories that you built out—home, baby and handbags. Why these?
I’m usually a person driven by numbers to make decisions about new categories and products, but at Jenni Kayne a lot of these new efforts have actually come from intuition. Our team spent time at several company retreats and strategic sessions thinking about the most authentic and inspiring parts of our brand, and we kept coming back to the idea that it wasn’t any single area, but the way everything came together so cohesively in Jenni’s life.
We believed that the best way to build the brand into a household name was to add categories that would let our customers experience the whole lifestyle story, so home was the most natural next step, and from there we’ve been expanding slowly. When we launch a new category, we try to keep the assortment very tight and focused. We don’t want to dilute the message, so we only introduce new products that we think our audience will love.
How is Jenni Kayne invested in sustainability?
Sustainability is built into the ethos of our brands in many ways. We encourage our audience to invest in quality product that will last forever, we work with natural materials in every category and we believe that less is almost always more. Our packaging is all recyclable and we’ve made strides in minimizing waste in manufacturing and our supply chain. We do our best to work with manufacturers in Los Angeles whenever we can, and we work with a woman run factory in Peru for our home goods, as well as a family run factory in Italy to make our shoes.
But we also have manufacturing infrastructure that needs updating, and it can be challenging to balance efforts for sustainability while offering accessible pricing. The feedback we hear most from our audience is that they wish our prices were lower, and we’re working hard to offer our assortment and the brand overall to as many women as we can, but some aspects of being truly sustainable are very expensive, so the answers aren’t as straight forward as they may seem. It’s a work in progress and we’re chipping away.
Tell us about the Lake House. Where did the idea for this activation come from, and how does it help drive engagement?
It’s a different and more memorable experience to see everything come together in the context of a home. We were able to bring the brand to life on so many different levels—from creating a warm and clean palette in the actual structure of the house with white tongue and groove walls and rattan light fixtures, but then we gave the same care and attention to all the thoughtful smaller details around the home, like the scent of our candles or the chance to place a cozy pair of shearling slippers in every guest room.
How do you see the brand continuing to evolve over the next few years?
We were so happy to see an overwhelmingly positive response to the Lake House, so what we’re looking at primarily is continuing to try new projects in hospitality, since that lets us introduce people to the whole lifestyle. Specifically, we’re looking at doing our own Jenni Kayne Hotel and launching new customer-facing Jenni Kayne Retreats, where we can offer curated and memorable experiences that introduce people to all of our different brand passions, from interiors and décor to entertaining and even wellness—all working back to serving our mission of helping women live well.
Lead image: Jenni Kayne