Forging Fashion Dominance: Khaite’s Path to Success in the Industry
A Closer Look at Khaite’s Approach to Building a Credible and Global Fashion Brand
Khaite, pronounced "Kate" (KAYT), derives its name from founder and creative director, Catherine Holstein, fondly referred to as Cate. Drawing inspiration from the Greek term "Khairein", which signifies long, flowing hair, the brand encapsulates a distinctive femininity that transcends fragility. Khaite's designs strike a harmonious balance between fluidity, strength, and softness, blending traditional masculine and feminine energies. Khaite’s unique style, coupled with the brand's positioning in the industry and financial backing, has propelled its success and distinguishes it from competitors. Its collections offer a diverse range of ready-to-wear clothing and accessories, spanning from striking eveningwear to luxurious cashmere sweaters and athleisure that aim to reimagine sportswear.
About the Designer
Catherine Holstein's journey in the fashion industry began well before Khaite. At the age of just 22, she left Parsons Fashion College after her junior year thesis caught the eye of the renowned Barney’s New York buyer Julie Gilhart, infamous as ‘the champion of young designers’. Encouraged by Gilhart, Catherine started her first eponymous label, launching its first collection at Barney’s in 2006, and thereafter building a stockist to include Saks Fifth Avenue and leading specialty stores Kirna Zabête and Louis Boston.
Unfortunately, this label was short-lived due to the 2008 financial crisis. This setback, however, only marked the start of Holstein’s success story. From there, she continued to hone her craft designing for renowned brands, such as Vera Wang, J Crew, Gap, and The Elder Statesman. Through these experiences, Catherine gained the talent and confidence to bring her vision to life, giving rise to Khaite.
Since its inception, the brand has garnered significant buzz and has established itself as a luxury and much-loved fashion label. The brand's remarkable success, coupled with Catherine Holstein's talents, have earned her numerous accolades, including her recent recognition as the 2023 CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year.
Building Credibility and Authority
Khaite’s notoriety within the luxury fashion industry has steadily evolved since the brand's inception, but few could have foreseen the buzz that surrounds the brand today. When exploring Khaite's success story, it’s impossible to overlook the iconic cashmere set famously worn by Katie Holmes in 2019 as she hailed a cab in Manhattan. This unexpected and monumental moment skyrocketed awareness and propelled the brand into the spotlight. While Khaite’s designs are no stranger to the flash of paparazzi, often spotted on A-list celebs such as Jennifer Lawrence and Hailey Bieber, this candid endorsement shone a light on the everyday elegance at the core of all its collections. This moment has been frequently referred to as one of the highlights of 2019 for the fashion world, with the £1,800 cashmere cardigan and £450 bra selling out three times and is still in demand today.
“It was mania…It changed our business.” - Catherine Holstein, Founder
Guided by founder, Catherine Holstein, Khaite has become a fashion authority, achieving remarkable success marked by visionary leadership, customer-centric growth strategies and notable endorsements from celebrity stylists and financial backers. Holstein’s journey, leading to the 2023 CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year accolade and a recent investment from US growth equity firm Stripes, highlights the brand’s expertise and reinforces consumers’ trust in it. Rooted in product quality, taste, consistency, and sustainability, Khaite consistently prioritises customer-centricity in decision making. This approach has firmly established the brand as a notable global fashion brand with a dedicated customer following, poised for continued growth as it focuses on expanding its retail presence across the US and worldwide.
Khaite’s debut collection launched in Spring/Summer 2016 with luxurious cashmere jumpers and denim jeans, as a response to the lack of American modern sportswear that Holstein felt was missing from her personal wardrobe. With the backing of entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and stylist-consultant Vanessa Traina, Khaite's fresh take on comfortable and sophisticated fashion pieces ignited significant interest and early growth, serving as promising indicators of the brand's potential. This initial momentum, coupled with impressive financial performance, prompted a need to secure working capital to support Khaite's future expansion. Today, Pritzker remains the majority shareholder of Khaite, while Stelac Capital Partners acquired a minority stake in 2019, providing essential financial support for the brand's product development and digital expansion.
While helping to grow Khaite, Pritzker and Triana recognised a notable gap in the financing landscape as few understood the idiosyncrasies of cash flows and inventory management in a direct-to-consumer business. The pair launched Assembled Brands, a holding company that not only infuses working capital into their partnerships but also offers financial services to support the growth of direct-to-consumer brands, like Khaite. Assembled Brands’ portfolio also included The Line and Apartment by The Line, which, before its closure in 2019, showcased a curated selection of homeware and clothing, and aided in bringing brand awareness to Khaite during its initial launch.
In the first 18 months, the label gained 50 stockists and grew exponentially. Today, the brand focuses on its direct-to-consumer e-commerce operations, brand partnerships, and the expansion of its physical stores. Khaite is currently sold by more than 150 retailers worldwide1, including Net-A-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue, Moda Operandi and Ssense. The label showcases over 790 SKUs of clothing and accessories on its own site, predominantly across its knitwear and classics collections, as well as its across its newer eveningwear and accessories collections. Notably, Khaite’s SKU count on its website has almost doubled since 2022, demonstrating rapid expansion and popularity of the brand.
Customer-Centric Growth Strategy
Much of Khaite's initial success was largely attributed to its ability to establish immediate credibility. Its ongoing growth is fueled by a steadfast commitment to product consistency and a consumer-centric approach, aligned with Holstein’s dedication to high-quality products. She aims to create a one-stop shop for the finest versions of foundational items, such as their denim and cashmere. This focus on delivering top-quality experience extends beyond the garments themselves, encompassing all consumer touchpoints, from shipping to website usability. Furthermore, the brand consistently upholds themes of sustainability and comfort across every season and category, placing these values at the forefront of its collections.
“Before, if you were a young designer, you just had to be...a young designer…Now you have to really be willing...to think about a brand in a full 360-degree way in the way that Prada or Gucci does.” - Catherine Holstein
Being customer-centric involves prioritising customer needs and preferences at the core of your business strategy. Khaite demonstrates this commitment by proactively understanding and leveraging customer preferences to refine and enhance its products. Sales data analysis guides the expansion of key fabrications and products, which has driven growth in their classic collections over the years.
Khaite’s style is inherently tied to the chic and wearable preferences of New York residents, where Holstein calls home. While maintaining wardrobe staples, Holstein has broadened her collections adding more dresses, tops, and partywear, redefining what is ‘sexy’ in women’s clothing. The brad has also placed a newfound emphasis on their successful accessories line to meet a wider range of customer demands.
Furthermore, in October (2023), Khaite garnered significant attention by unveiling a limited edition childrenswear collection in collaboration with the renowned French retailer, Bonpoint. This 11-piece capsule was born from Catherine Holstein's personal journey during her recent pregnancy. This growth in product mix showcases the brands’ continued efforts to respond to customer needs and evolve its collections.
The brand has also incorporated tech and AI solutions to enhance its customer’s experience. Their PF21 runway show used augmented reality during COVID-19 (link to view), and as of June 2021, Khaite began using BODS, an immersive 3D styling technology powered by AI, to enable customers to create avatars and try on clothing virtually.
To further bring the brand and customers together, in February 2023, Khaite expanded into brick-and-mortar retail opening a store in Soho, New York.
“Following the pandemic, I think we’re all craving deeply sensory, in-person experiences more than ever before, It’s the perfect time to bring the world of Khaite to life in an immersive space where our customers can engage with the collection and feel our fabrics and textures.”– Catherine Holstein
The flagship store, located on Mercer Street is a tribute to the ‘cultural legacy of Soho’; the space is clad with steel, glass, concrete, cement and plaster creating an industrial space that spoke to the history of the district and the continuous inspiration for the products.