Christen Kinard is one of the co-founders of Threads by Nomad–a new clothing and lifestyle brand with the goal of creating comfortable, versatile, easy-to-wear clothing that inspires women to fall in love with the beauty of diversity. With the goal of “celebrating diversity through design,” Christen and her business partner (who happens to be her mom, Nell Green) train and employ refugees in the United States to carry out production, and provide an avenue for micro-enterprise entrepreneurs worldwide to sell their creations.
Christen and Nell
Threads by Nomad’s e-commerce business will launch in the spring of 2017 with a small capsule collection of 7 pieces–each available in a selection of various fabrics and prints. While future collections will involve fabric sourced from a variety of locations crossing the globe, this first collection represents the traditions and fashions of West Africa, where Christen and her mom lived for nearly a decade.
With a background in buying for high-end retail and fashion marketing, Christen heads up the design and advertising/marketing components of the business from the D.C. area while Nell manages production and customer relations from Houston, Texas. They recently celebrated the success of their first Kickstarter campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to raise sufficient start-up funds to–among other things–hire their tailor, Hayder–an Iraqi refugee, and their embroiderer, Atia–an Afghan refugee. Because the business of fashion moves so quickly, they are already working with artisans in Togo and Thailand for custom fabrics for their second collection. You can read more about Threads by Nomad, Christen and the rest of the team at their website: ThreadsbyNomad.com or follow them on Instagram: @threadsbynomad.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
It’s hard to say if there was one single event that triggered my interest in fashion and design. My mom, who is now my business partner, is a seamstress by hobby and I spent my childhood in West Africa. Together, we shopped for fabric in the markets, designed our own clothing, and then if Mom didn’t make the pieces herself we worked with local tailors to have the pieces made. Dressing myself was a very personal choice from a young age—one I took very seriously even back then.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
Sometimes I don’t know if I chose fashion and design as much as they chose me. But what I find most appealing about my work through Threads by Nomad is that it enables me to be creative in ways I find exciting and fun while still contributing to the betterment of the lives of those to whom Life has been less kind than it has been to me. That’s important to me—there should be a balance between selfishness and selflessness in all of our life choices. We should strive for our own happiness in the same way we strive for the happiness of others.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I joke that despite having a number of higher education degrees, I have never once put them to use. My poor parents… My scholastic background is in French Literature and Foreign Policy, and I started my career in politics and public relations. I have always, however, invested time and effort in creative outlets I enjoy and in learning about the fashion industry. Sometimes that looked like having a part time job in retail while my “real” job paid the bills. Other times that looked like maintaining a style blog and connecting with industry insiders. And other times, that merely looked like reading every fashion-forecasting manual I could get my hands on! Eventually, I found a way to make what had always been a passion a career. I do attribute that to the many hours I spent researching, learning and building relationships even when I thought it would never amount to anything.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I am sad to say that aside from my mom—who has always been my greatest champion—my interest in fashion was never lauded as an appropriate career option like my other interests were. This discouragement is one of the reasons I never studied fashion or design or even marketing—all of which are an important part of what I do now and areas of research I think I would have enjoyed studying formally. I came to a point though where I wasn’t happy working in other fields. At the time, I still couldn’t justify to myself or to others the value of what I wanted to do other than that it satisfied me in a way nothing else could. Now I am not only proud of what I do but understand that it is important.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
All the time. But I’ve decided this: the very worst possible thing that could happen is that you might fail. And that’s really not that bad. Because if you fail, you can still find a way to pay the bills (even if you have to deliver pizzas or as in my case work in a shoe store!) while finding another way to succeed in doing what you love. It takes forever tries, and that’s okay. We have to keep trying. Eventually something will stick.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I remember walking into my store about a year ago and realizing how fulfilled I am by what I do. I was happy to be there and looking forward to the day’s work. It actually briefly made me tear up, because how great of a gift is that? To be good at what you do AND to love it?!
My mom also says you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing when the end of the day comes and you realize you haven’t glanced at the clock once. It just so happens I never know what time it is and I am always surprised by the end of the day!
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I think one of the most difficult challenges to overcome was my ingrained belief that my dream wasn’t worthy of coming true. Yes, it sounds cliché. And no, the manifestation of my dream doesn’t look exactly—or anything—like I imagined it. But I really do believe now that with a lot of hard work and a little talent we can make most things happen. The trouble is that most of us aren’t willing to put in the work.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Oops. I think I just answered this question unintentionally. It all comes down to hard work. I’d love to tell you I made things happen by finding the ideal work-life balance, but that just wouldn’t be true. My husband and I schedule time to spend together, but we also recognize we both have career goals we want to achieve and that requires time spent trying to achieve them. I make a point of touching base with my friends regularly, but we are all busy and understand when time is limited. It’s all worth it in the end because I love what I do, and I want to work hard. I don’t believe in long hours for the sake of long hours. I believe in long hours when they bring you joy and fulfillment.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
At the risk of being obnoxious, there are a number of accomplishments of which I am particularly proud since my dramatic career change. But recently my mom and I launched a thirty-day Kickstarter campaign for Threads by Nomad. Our goal was to raise $20,000 in that time. We ended up reaching our goal in less than two weeks and eventually exceeded our goal by several thousand dollars. This money will not only enable us to go into production for our first collection but it will also enable to us hire refugees to help us in that process, providing well-paying jobs they might not otherwise have.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Keep on keeping on. Even when it seems you’re not getting anywhere, you never know when you will speak to just the right person, land just the right gig, or find just the right niche. It will be worth it in the end.