In notoriously French style, Paris fashion week is an aloof host. There is no signage. It is an ‘Amazing Race’ type challenge to find the showrooms at all in the snail shaped assemblage of neighborhoods while braving the brine of March’s cold drizzle. As the sun drops in the sky, Wendi Martin charges onward through the dimming sogginess of the city of lights to our sixth appointment of the day.
As her close friend and consigliere, I am along as a springboard. I hustle along beside her, exhausted—we crossed the Atlantic only yesterday. Wendi shows no signs of fatigue, “This might be the building?” she thinks aloud leading me through a dark archway in search of a coveted new designer. A blur of apple red lips and crisp black bangs blows by us. “Yui.” she says. “She’s the buyer for a major Japanese chain. This must be it.”
Now with a thriving e-commerce site and a second location in Houston, Martin opened the first Kick Pleat store in a bungalow on South First when denim with a three figure price tag was still both scandalous and aspirational in Austin. She travels to Paris and New York for buying trips four times a year, frequently tagging Milan onto the tail end. Wendi Martin is nothing if not tenacious, having handled every hurdle a retail owner can encounter, including in 2009 when all the customers had been vacuumed away in the economic collapse following the mortgage crisis. On a balmy February day, she settles into a plate of chicken chalupas to talk about taking bold risks, food, fashion and her love of Paris.
Q — How do you carve out restorative space for yourself within the frenetic pace of your career, especially the continual travel?
(Laughing) I am on a rigorous program of self preservation and even my two young kids know it. There are a few things that are non negotiable; I have to workout 4-5 times a week and if I don’t I’m cranky. I run or I do Vinyasa yoga. I have been running since I was sixteen so I’m probably addicted to endorphins. I also meditate for twenty minutes a day. Even when I’m traveling, I meditate in public, people just think I’m asleep. Outside of that, everything is chaos and mayhem. (more laughter)
Q — Talk about how you experience New York and Paris differently, how do these cities inspire you as an entrepreneur?
New York is a continual explosion of information for all of the senses. Because the energy never stops pulsing and crackling, my body never really feels at rest and I am more exhausted when I get home from New York than I am from Paris, even with the jet lag. That rebellious wild vibe translates into what I see at market in New York. There is no uniformity in the designer collections, no rules, everyone is pushing the envelope as far as possible, wanting to stand out as much as possible.
Paris is quiet. At midnight, the city is sleeping. It is lovely and civilized with a highly functional subway which is definitely a contrast to New York. Paris has this effortless beauty and it is reflected in what the French designers offer at market which is classics done in an elegant way. Paris really informs my core values as a buyer: comfort, quality and timelessness.
Q — In Paris, what meal or restaurant do you find yourself returning to again and again?
Oh my gosh, it’s such a good question. I HAVE to have my 7 euro falafel at L’As du Falafel. They are super generous with the falafel and it comes with a big piece of perfectly cooked eggplant, crispy cabbage, creamy secret sauce and you can choose spicy or not spicy—I really do fantasize about it in between Paris trips. Paris also has a robust raw food scene, which I love. I make a point of going to Zen which is great Japanese close to the Louvre and Marches des Enfantes Rouge is an outdoor market with a Japanese stall that I go to regularly for salmon sashimi.
Q — What is your most vivid memory of fashion as a child in Corpus Christi Texas?
More than anything, I remember Esprit and how I just longed for it. I remember an outfit I picked out and received for my birthday, it was a matching floral top and shorts. It was pretty important. Units for sure. (a modular clothing line from the eighties that was a mainstay in any suburban mall.) From a young age, any occasion with presents involved, my request was clothes.
Q — Where do you see the Kick Pleat brand five years from now?
I ask myself that all the time and I always say I let the business tell me where it’s going. There are a few avenues I can go down and I don’t know what it will be.We have invested a lot of energy into our new website that will be launching in the next couple months. I was inspired by the online giants to make shopping as easy as possible. The new site will be able to store credit card information and utilize a ‘Buy it Now’ button. Another brick and mortar is always something I’m thinking about. What is true of the Kick Pleat brand now and will be in five years is that we are always working together as a team to focus on communicating our brand with laser clarity in every style story that touches our customer.
Q — You are a risk taker, as well as someone who has weathered every hurdle that can be thrown at a retail owner. I have always liked the acronym for FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. How do you mentally fortify yourself to overcome situations that present as impossible or full of doom?
Again meditation, and an awareness that any amount of anxiety I’m feeling is not real. I am a big believer in one day at a time and the simplicity of ‘show up and do your best.’ Things always pop up—conflict in general is inevitable. No matter what the problem is, I always go back to, are my clients happy and are we offering total ease of shopping? Happy customers are the foundation for untangling every problem. Also, are my vendors taken care of? Is my staff taken care of? I have a clear conscience. If those things are on point then everything is OK. Business cannot work without any of those components being nurtured.
Q — The KINN mission is “Eat well, live simply.” What are any touchstones or rituals you have that honor that philosophy?
My husband teases me that I won’t eat anything mediocre. Even if I’m just making a sandwich at home, I want every bite to be delicious. I want the freshly-baked bread to be toasted and the most complimentary cheese for the meat selection. For me, food is a great source of joy and self nurture. Even if it is a simple half avocado, I will have it with a squirt of Meyer lemon and sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt. Life is too short to not eat amazing food everyday.
Words by Elizabeth Aubrey — Elizabeth is a writer and the Operations Manager at Kinn. She gets excited about a well-crafted sentence, a dry martini and dogs, any dog.
Images by Carli Rene