There’s no denying Martha’s Vineyard has its own laid-back look when it comes to fashion. You’d never dress up, but you still care to look good. It’s about balancing that straight-out-of-the-garden grunge with an upscale Carly Simon hippie vibe to create something that captures the effortless Island lifestyle.
There are many designers and retailers on-Island who are in on this design credo, with a fine eye for fashion and under-the-radar trends. Randi Sylvia and Marlene DiStefano are the mother-daughter duo behind Kenworthy Designs — an Island brand they started four years ago — and a collaboration that goes way back.
“My mom’s a seamstress, and her line anytime we’d go back-to-school shopping was, ‘I can make that,’” Randi said in an interview with The Times. “It drove me insane, but eventually between me knowing what I like, and her being a really good seamstress, we started making things.”
Randi grew up on the Island, and went to university to study fashion design, fine arts, and merchandising. She came home one summer, and her mom asked if she wanted to collaborate and create 10 pieces for the first annual Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week. Randi agreed, and they sold every piece.
Small production and small distribution is where they’ve had their sights set ever since. Even though there’s more money in factory production, they don’t want to mass-produce. They want to keep things small in their Oak Bluffs studio, hand-sewing only 10 of the same pieces at a time, and then moving on to the next thing.
“No one wants to look the same,” Randi said. “It’s pretty cool to wear something you know only nine other people have.”
Randi and Marlene sew in their studio, dye in their kitchen, and distribute online and to select retail stores on-Island. Kenworthy Designs can be found at Pandora’s Box in Menemsha, Michael Hunter in Edgartown, and at Driftwood in Oak Bluffs. The brand can also be found at pop-ups and during summertime flea markets in Chilmark and at Featherstone.
“When I was a kid, I wouldn’t see as many young people around,” Randi said. “Now I do, and it’s a crowd that likes to get dressed and go out dancing, and not wear plaid all the time. Each town has its own look.”
Kenworthy had its own retail space in the Arts District in Oak Bluffs during its inaugural season four years ago, but Randi and Marlene decided that maintaining a store was too much in addition to design, production, and distribution. It’s a two-woman business, and they’re creating a brand destined to be different from the others.
“The idea is to get a really great client base, email out new designs, and sell as we go, so there’s no waste or overproduction,” Randi said.
Unique to Randi and Marlene’s business is their globetrotting. They travel to find inspiration from fabrics and silks that you can’t get anywhere else. They found reliable contacts that they continue to order from in Istanbul, Turkey, and Oaxaca, Mexico. On a winter trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, they found ideas for new patterns and color schemes. This winter, the duo will return to Mexico, and Randi is planning a trip to India. Kenworthy style lines are location-inspired, with collection names like Mexico and Istanbul.
Kenworthy itself is Randi’s middle name, and her grandmother’s maiden name. “It’s funny,” she said. “Growing up I hated my middle name, and now it’s my livelihood.”
Prior to this summer, Randi bartended at Park Corner Bistro in Oak Bluffs, and now Kenworthy is her full-time gig.
Browse the online shop, (kenworthydesign.com) and you’ll notice loose-fitting shrugs, long skirts, silk slip dresses, dip-dyed velvets, lightweight fabrics. The kind of clothes that complement many different body types. The kind you could wear to bed, to work, or straight to the bars. And best of all, they’re the kind of clothes that no one else has. There’s nothing like rocking something that’s one of a kind — or at least something that’s one of just nine.
About that house behind the fashions: 111 Main Street, Vineyard Haven
Tucked down an unassuming driveway and invisible from the street, this 19th century Cape is just steps from Vineyard Haven’s year-round shopping and cultural center. Terrace after terrace unfolds as you descend toward the waterfront through the lovely ⅔-acre compound, culminating in 68 feet of beach on the inner harbor.
The main house, built around 1825, has four bedrooms plus an office/bedroom, three-and-a-half baths, and five fireplaces. Harbor views abound from many vantage points, with character-filled features including wide board floors, extensive wainscoting, broad-silled windows, plaster walls, and low ceilings. A seven-bedroom septic was installed in 2013.
The property boasts many extras: a garden shed, detached one-car garage, large harborview porch with arched beadboard ceiling, and lush, mature gardens. A secret gate provides access to Owen Park with its town wharf and gazebo. Near the harbor is a boathouse with brick fireplace, built-in bunkbeds, barrel-ceilinged interior with natural wood, tiny bath, and kitchenette. The peaceful private beach, perfect for crabbing, kayaking, and contemplation, crowns this property where future memories are waiting to be made.
Want to know more? Call or write John Best, email@example.com, 508-693-5566.