In Detroit, we’re known for our alligator prints (Mauri’s), exquisite furs (Dittrich), and admiration for Cartier frames. What was your favorite clothing brand as a child?
Growing up, I liked a lot of different brands. What made me like the brands was the person behind the brand. As a teenager, I was very selective about the clothes I wore. My great uncle is Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops, so I was always involved in music, fashion, and entrepreneurship. Initially, I wanted to become a music producer with my own record label and clothing brand. I wrote all of these things down when I was 14. I went to the Detroit School of Arts for music production. I chose DSA because it gave me the ability to be around other artists while being a creative entrepreneur.
As a teenager, I loved Ralph Lauren and Polo. I had all of the polo varieties, hats, and cologne. I liked what Ralph stood for as the standard for American style. If you look at Ralph Lauren as a corporation, it’s incredibly segmented. He has a genius way of tying American culture into all of his apparel. Recently, I watched the documentary, Very Ralph, and he stated that he hates fashion, but he loves style. Marc Jacobs is another person I looked up to purely for aspirational purposes. I also loved Sean John and what Diddy stood for when he created that brand. I pulled from a lot of these influences to create my own imprint.
As a Michigan State University alum, how did your Advertising and Brand Management background help stimulate the process of building K. Walker Collective?
I call it a beautiful recipe. With my background, I needed that experience to understand the power of marketing and the psychology behind branding. When I went to MSU for college, I majored in Pre-Med because I took a biology course at DSA, which planted the seed for becoming a doctor. I changed my major in three weeks due to a lack of interest. I’m creative, and I needed a major to complement that, so I changed my major to Marketing and then Advertising.
While at MSU, I went on a study-abroad trip to Italy for six weeks. The trip was centered around Marketing and Communications, so I got to interact with the makers of Ferragamo and Gucci. When I came back, I was incredibly inspired, and I knew it was attainable from there.
When I graduated, I thought about going to Fashion School, but I decided to put my degree to use, and I started working for Cadillac. There was an identity crisis within Cadillac within them trying to position themselves along with their German competitors, so I was able to do a Global Competitive Audit. One of the biggest partnerships we did at Cadillac was with GQ. I used my experiences there to understand the nuances of the business.
K. Walker Collective is a high-quality fashion brand that bases its designs on velour fabrics, cotton-blends, and spandex material. What made you push traditional fabrics and take a divergent path?
At the time, K. Walker Collective was named K. Walker Attire. In 2017, I contemplated going to Los Angeles to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where Project Runway was shot. I went out there for an open house and met Nick Verreos, who was on Project Runway. He hosted a book signing for his book at the school the day I was there. I bought his book, talked to him, and he was amazed that I came to L.A. from Detroit to go to school. I told him that I felt incompetent in my journey to become an entrepreneur because I have a strong marketing background, but I didn’t know how to sew clothes. I knew I had visions and ideas, but I didn’t know how to bring them to life. He told me that I had a skillset within knowing how to build a business around fashion, which meant that I didn’t need to go to school.
After my trip, I changed the name to K. Walker Collective because I wanted to create a design collective of street comfort and refined looks. I also knew I wanted to showcase black excellence due to the lack of diversity in various fashion houses and on the runway.
With K. Walker Co, my design language is clean and minimalistic, but the fabric choices and the stitching make the brand stand out. When I’m creating a new collection, I think about what makes for a timeless piece, which is why I use velour with my designs. When I think of velour, I think of the powdered-blue Sean John tracksuit that my grandmother bought me. When I did the velour collection, people said they wouldn’t wear certain pieces. I knew I was on to something because if it’s fashion-forward, people will question it first. I started with the color Blue which exudes calmness, power, and trust. From there, the rest is history.
As an advocate for mental health, what made you become so transparent on social media?
I have a great relationship with social media, but I know my barriers. I know when to get on and when to get off. I do a lot of intentional work, and as a creative, I don’t want to second guess anything which can happen when you spend time on social media. Social media is also a community, so I try to embrace that part of it as well. I’ve made some of my best connections through social media as an entrepreneur, something I don’t take for granted.
Excerpt from Ken Walker's Exclusive Feature on Medium.com
Written by Andre Ellington
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