By the age of seven, Kinn founder Tarica Phung Navarro, was already an international citizen. She and her family had just returned to their native Thailand in 1986 after her parents’ five year experiment owning and operating a motel in Anaheim, California. Navarro identifies as a big city girl and grew up in an apartment style home in the center of Bangkok’s vibrant pulse. The ground floor housed her parents’ businesses, the second floor was the family domicile, her grandparents lived on the third floor and the top floor was an outdoor garden. Entrepreneurship was a family value, her father was a real estate broker and her mother was an attorney, both ran their own firms.
While indefatigable work ethic was baked into Navarro’s DNA, so was the value of family bond which was fortified over shared meals. “Dinner was sacrosanct in our house, no matter how busy my parents were, and they worked constantly, we always sat down as a family to share dinner.” Her father posted a static list of food divided into four categories on the refrigerator: protein, soup, vegetables and a wild card. Navarro and her sister picked the ingredients for every dinner. “Looking back, I see this tradition was the seed of a lifelong love of food as nurturer and centerpiece for human connection.”
I was indoctrinated into American immigrant culture. A part of my identity has always been being the other. When I grew up, I always felt like I didn’t belong which raised a lot of insecurities. Now, I feel the opposite, I feel like I have a unique perspective that I can bring to any group I am in and I can blend into many different cultures.
Until she left Thailand for college, Navarro attended an international school where everyone was from somewhere else with over 60 nationalities represented. “I never felt like I belonged anywhere in particular. I’m part of a subculture of ‘Third Culture Kids’ – we spent a great deal of our childhoods in places where we were not natives and consequently never felt totally at home anywhere. I felt Thai when I lived in America and American when I returned to Thailand. Ironically, we are particularly adept at fitting in, and my now husband is half Mexican so I’ve continued to live out my values of being in a multicultural household”
As someone who grew up feeling untethered from any one set of customs, being the founder of a lifestyle company whose mission is to slow down and savor rituals was a natural evolution for Navarro.
Q — Kinn is all about creating moments and your touchstone moment growing up was dinner, what did that look like?
No matter what, we always had dinner together and that is a tradition I have carried on in my family. And, I realize the conversation is not all that different. My husband and I are both entrepreneurs and our daughters already talk about wanting to have their own businesses. They play pretend business owners. As a child, I enjoyed being in the kitchen watching our nanny or grandma prepare home-cooked meals, and I just loved being a part of it. One big difference from the states is that everything was always made from scratch. You couldn’t buy ground pork you had to buy a hunk of meat and mince it yourself with a cleaver and a butcher’s block. I remember coming to the US and being blown away that you could buy pre-ground meat. Everything was about convenience factor, which is great if you’re busy, but I sometimes still miss the art of doing everything manually. Maybe I romanticize it a bit, but there is a certain sweetness to real slow cooking.
Q — When you close your eyes, what are the first flavors or dishes that come to mind when thinking about meals from your childhood?
Stir fried chicken and Basil. Holy basil is used a lot in Thai food, it’s very flavorful and spicy and effervescent. In Thai cooking when we say stir fried chicken and herbs, it’s not just a sprig of herbs, it is an entire bunch of basil, it’s not 3 cloves of garlic, it’s an entire head. You can really taste every ingredient in the recipe; all whole foods, nothing processed, nothing unidentifiable.
Q — What is a unique aspect of Thai food?
Thai food is a very interactive experience, especially the noodle dishes that everyone seasons according to their personal taste. There are condiment caddies with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar with pickled chilis, and a roasted chili paste, so there is sweet, salty, acid and heat. From the time you are a child, you are taught and expected to understand the way different flavors impact a dish.
Q — You moved back to the states for college and grad school. How did those years inform you professionally?
I studied communication and media arts at USC, and after graduation, I wanted to be a photographer but quickly realized eating and paying rent were things I was interested in and with my current skill level, photography didn’t support those kinds of habits. So, I enrolled at UCLA to get a degree in interior design while working fulltime as a sales associate at Barney’s, running around in high-heels all day selling designer denim to celebrities. I remember coming home some days almost in tears because my feet hurt so bad. Now I live in sneakers.
Q — How did you end up opening Kettle and Brine (Navarro’s now closed brick and mortar kitchen ware shop) which was essentially chapter one to KINN?
Honestly it came from a self-serving place. I try to live my life as an essentialist, meaning to do and have less but better. It’s an ongoing practice, but I couldn’t find household products that fit in with that value so I thought I would open a store that was highly curated to only include the essential items. It was really a marriage of my two loves; food and design. Ultimately our customers are people who love food, care about design, and value sustainability.
Q — Why Kinn, and why now?
Creating our own collection was a natural evolution to owning the shop. Our brand is about finding slow moments in a fast paced world. This is a theme in my life, big city girl looking to create self care rituals and habits around nurturing myself and my family, and enjoying beautiful things. I was raised that way. It’s generational. My Kinn moments are our Sunday pancake brunches, and daily dinners with my family – it’s baked into my DNA – sharing some time at the end of the day to talk to my family. This is a very common human thing, and I don’t believe I am unique in that regard. I started with dinnerware, with how we eat, because it’s close to my heart, and it’s how we can all connect. Maybe it sounds aggrandizing to think design has such an impact on daily living but I do believe it is the little moments that matter, the little things add up to a bigger whole that has a ripple effect.
Q — How did you decide on the Kinn aesthetic?
My aesthetic is informed by the places I have lived. Thailand is a culture that deeply values handcrafted and heritage goods which is reflected in the wabi sabi feel of the glazes and forms of our dishes. I think the subtle hues that speak to me were partly inspired by my time in LA and the city’s laid back vibe. Kinn products have a timeless quality to them so they can be appreciated for a long time and so they don’t end up in a landfill. Sustainability and longevity is a big part of my life so I strive towards minimizing waste and away from disposable culture as much as possible.
Q — You have two girls. How do you talk to your daughters about business?
I always ask my girls for their opinions, so they are included and know that their input is valued in what I do for a living. We have cultivated a value of curiosity in our girls which they have internalized. Our girls can also see that we love with a passion what we do. I define success as is my life the way I imagine it, and am I living with intentionality. I would say I have a full life. It’s certainly crazy at times, but it feels very fulfilling.
Q — You are definitely an inveterate hustler, the perfect temperament for a founder. When do you sleep?
(Laughing) That is where things get a little dicey. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like sleeping. I’m like a child, who thinks she’s missing out on life, even though clearly everyone else is sleeping. There are so many ideas to chase. It’s not a healthy habit though and I’m working on it. It’s part of the reason why taking a moment to pause is so vital to my survival and well-being. We sometimes get lost in the daily grind, and finding daily moments to re-connect and re-charge makes all the difference.
WORDS BY ELIZABETH AUBREY
Elizabeth is a Writer and Operations Manager at Kinn. She gets excited about a well-crafted sentence, a dry martini and dogs, any dog.
PHOTOS BY CARLI RENE
Carli Rene is a free-lance photographer and editor of InkedFingers magazine. She’s traveled around the world to document stories, from Tokyo to Jerusalem, and is so grateful she gets to do the two things she loves most in this lifetime: raise a daughter and get paid to create.