In 2008, mother-and-daughter team Sheridyn and Kaitlyn McClain of St. Paul parlayed their sewing and designing acumen into a costuming business called KMK Designs LLC.
The studio specializes in original and custom wedding gowns and fantasy clothing in multiple genres, including Steampunk, Gothic, Victorian, Lolita, and Edwardian.
Kaitlyn holds a degree in fashion design from St. Catherine University while Sheridyn, a former pilot with Northwest Airlines, has been sewing for over 40 years. Sheridyn started the business in 1989 and Kaitlyn joined the business while attending college.
In 2015 the company moved from a tiny space in Stillwater to a 1,300-square-foot studio on University Avenue in St. Paul within an artist-centered building that generates better walk-in trade. KMK merchandise is sold in house, at multiple fashion conventions, through the company website and via Etsy.
Crain’s spoke with the duo about running the business and the future of the company.
Q: To what do you attribute your longevity in this competitive field?
Sheridyn: We respect the different styles and directions our customers want to go [in], and we make their journey and their outfit come true.
Q: Where does most of your customer base come from?
Kaitlyn: About 25 percent of our customers are local; the rest come from all over the world – including England, France, Australia, Germany and Canada.
Q: Tell us about your staff.
Kaitlyn: We have three full-timers and two part-timers, plus some seasonal workers. It’s higher overhead, but we believe in the long run it’s going to build us a happier, healthier business.
Sheridyn: It was a big step to have employees. But we find a lot of our competition doesn’t have enough help.
Q: How do you complete custom garments for off-site customers?
Sheridyn: We keep a catalog (of our current lines), or it helps when they include a sketch. We don’t want to copy other designers’ work, but can maybe design our own version if we know the look they’re going for. Sometimes we send (in-progress) pictures to get feedback.
Q: How have revenues fared in recent years?
Sheridyn: When we started out, neither of us had much business experience at all, and we had to learn from trial and error. Like any business we’ve had to take out loans, and we’ve had moving pains.
In a perfect world without any debt, we’d be making a decent amount every month. But we’re seeing a lot of growth and interest, and we’ve improved our profit margins a lot. We’ve made things run a lot better: Now to pay down our debt and really benefit.
Q: Are you both putting in crazy hours?
Kaitlyn: Sheridyn are much more realistic; she’s semi-retired and works about 30 hours a week. I take Saturdays off, but on average work 60 to 70 hours a week. That’s actually better than it used to be.
Q: What’s the greatest challenge of running your business?
Kaitlyn: It used to be time management, but that’s gotten a lot better since we implemented an online scheduling system. Now it’s monthly cash flow. It’s just a difficult business, with money coming in from all over and no way to control (fluctuations). There’s high overhead from keeping fabrics in stock.
Q: The most enjoyable part about running your business?
Sheridyn: I like the challenge of figuring out how to make a complicated design come out of paper. It’s like solving a problem.
Kaitlyn: Definitely the people we have working for us. We’re creating jobs, and the work environment is positive. And when customers are really happy, sometimes they say our gowns changed their lives. I want to be the fairy godmother who makes their dreams come true.
Sheridyn: Sometimes we get cookies from them, or tears of joy.
Q: What’s in your five-year plan?
Kaitlyn: We’re working on options to make it easier to have more cash flow by diversifying our income. We’re trying to make the shop a little more sustainable by finding styles that can use scraps. And our ultimate goal is to have two studios in the same building, one focusing on production merchandise we take to conventions to keep prices lower.
Sheridyn: I’ll go to four days when it really has to happen. Then I’ll do the conventions. But I hope to have a hand in this til I’m 70.