If you’ve lusted after a luxurious alpaca cardigan over the past decade, chances are you know Jenni Kayne. Founded in 2002, the brand originally started as a fashion wholesaler but pivoted in the aughts to go direct to consumer and developed its signature style: elevated basics in neutral colors, at a price (that cardigan retails for $345). Jenni Kayne is both a company and a person—Kayne herself steers the look and feel of the brand. Behind the scenes, CEO Julia Hunter has guided the business as it has grown from a small operation to a company that brings in more than $150 million annually.
“We describe ourselves as a lifestyle brand—everybody throws that term out—but we really believe we’re the purest and most exciting lifestyle brand,” Hunter tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “I think the reason we can say that is because we’re inspired by Jenni. Jenni has a very beautiful life, she has a beautiful family, beautiful home, beautiful wardrobe. She has the best taste out of any human I’ve ever met. So that's the north star of the brand—Jenni’s creative taste.”
To that end, in 2017 the brand began exploring the category as a natural extension of Kayne’s own interest. “I can’t say that any of us were particularly excited about fashion, including Jenni, she was kind of tired of it,” says Hunter. “We knew the brand was going to get bigger, we just didn’t know which way it was going to grow. The consensus was that home was the most inspiring area for all of the team. When we were around Jenni we were constantly wanting her to recommend things for home.”
Initially, the brand experimented with textiles. Over the past few years, it has begun producing a line of upholstery and casegoods as well, and showcasing a small selection of its home goods in its apparel stores in addition to opening up a handful of dedicated Jenni Kayne Home locations in Los Angeles and New York. Pandemic supply chain issues slowed progress at first (“It is not fun to build a home business right now,” says Hunter with a laugh), but as the company has worked out the kinks, home products have come to bring in $20 million annually.
Supply chain considerations were the hard part. Translating Kayne’s aesthetic from fashion to home was simpler: Her focus on materiality, texture and neutral hues fits well into the home zeitgeist (maybe you’ve noticed that cream boucle is in?). This style also makes for a monochromatic line, but it’s a niche that Hunter is happy to own: “The color palette is our friend.”
Along with beige, Hunter is a big believer in the power of social media and influencer marketing as a primary driver for brand awareness. It’s a tactic that Hunter says is underused in the home category. “Influencer marketing in home is a missed opportunity and it’s part of the reason why we have so much potential,” she says. “Companies like RH—which I love, I really worship that company—they don’t have a perspective on digital … It leaves a lot of room for companies like ours.”
Another is that, economic downturn or no, Jenni Kayne is going to keep growing—Hunter is even considering the possibility of an IPO in the years ahead. “We’re not worried [about a potential recession],” she says. “We’re so early and there’s so much market share for us to grab.”
Homepage photo: Julia Hunter | Courtesy of Jenni Kayne