Making ‘a big leap of faith’

  • Kristin Brown / Special to The Garden Island

    Kristin Brown of Kapaa has high hopes for her new robe line, “Imbued.”

LIHUE — For the past decade, Kristin Brown has been a herbal supplement representative.

It may not sound exciting, but it’s been good. Made a nice living doing something she enjoyed.

“It’s gotten me along the way very nicely,” the Kapaa woman said. “It’s a great gig. You’re helping to heal people on the planet.”

There was one catch.

“As far as the creativity, I was starving,” she said.

Brown is one of those high-energy, passionate people, who dives into everything with her heart.

Three years ago, she did some soul-searching and she had an idea: create a sustainable woman’s apparel line.

So she did.

“Imbued” was born.

It was kind of a surprise to this single mom. Because this is, she said, without a doubt the biggest risk she has ever taken, the biggest challenge she has ever faced.

“I never thought I’d be doing this,” she said, smiling. “I have no background in fashion, but I know how big an issue sustainability is in general in the world right now.”

“Imbued,” fittingly, means “inspire or permeate with a feeling or quality.”

“Imbued’s primary aim is to educate about the fast-fashion industry and unsustainable clothing consumerism through the creative allure of a super-soft, not-too-sexy-for-the-mailbox robe,” Brown wrote.

She designs functional, eco-conscious robes for women that sell for $148 each.

Before you say you can’t and won’t pay that much for a robe, hear her out.

“You could do that,” she said. “But the cost, the true cost on that price tag is a dollar-a-day minimum wage in another country where they’re working 12 hours a day without any medical and hardly able to buy their own clothes,” she said.

The textile industry produces a lot of waste. Brown points out that hundreds of billions of dollars worth of clothing is tossed out every year. Truckloads of clothing end up in the landfill daily.

“This is something people don’t realize,” she said.

There had to be better way, Brown said.

She created a business plan, arranged financial support, and completed Factory45, an online accelerator program that takes sustainable apparel companies from idea to launch.

She learned about supply and demand, manufacturing, production, distribution and sales.

Now, she’s calling for a fashion revolution of sorts — a “slow-fashion movement.”

Her robes, she explains, are made with modal fabric derived from beech trees, a low-water-demand tree that is pesticide-free, renewable and biodegradable.

It’s a bit technical for clothing, but Brown describes it like this: “Imbued’s Tencel Modal fabric is Lenzing-certified — which verifies that the fabric was made with wood harvested through sustainable forestry methods. Also, Imbued’s Tencel Modal fabric is certified by OEKO-TEX Standard 100 — a third-party system that tests for harmful substances during every stage of production.”

She considers her robes, which come in one design but three colors, the “coziest, classiest, eco-friendliest robe you’ve never worn … yet!”

So far, she’s sold nearly 50 of them, which will be made to order at a Los Angeles-based sew factory called 9B Apparel.

The goal is to get orders for another 100 robes by the end of this weekend through an Indiegogo campaign to raise $22,000.

“It’s a little old-school,” Brown said.

“It has to be sewn into existence once you think about it. It’s not fast fashion. It’s the complete opposite. It’s slow fashion. It’s a whole movement.”

It’s not just about designing comfy robes to making a living. It’s Brown’s way of supporting and promoting a sustainable lifestyle.

“The robes are just a creative way for me to educate and be artistic, but also a huge piece is to give back,” she said.

She plans to donate 5% of sales to a small nonprofit. She learned the benefits of community service when she worked with AmeriCorps in Colorado for about a year.

“It was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.

Getting Imbued to this point was hard work. Taking it beyond this is going to be even harder — and riskier.

Brown plans to leave Kauai, her home for the past 12 years, for a year with her daughter, and live closer to Los Angeles.

She knows there are no guarantees. She knows the chance of failure for startups is higher than the chance of success. But it is, at this point, all or nothing. No turning back.

Despite that, Brown, as is her style, remains enthusiastic and hopeful. As she says, she’s not worried about failing. She’s worried about not trying.

She believes as Imbued gains a following, as her sustainability message spreads, her designs will be in demand — and perhaps change the fashion world, one robe at a time.

“Anytime you do this kind of big leap of faith you face some shadows,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m going for it.”

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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