Kenworthy Design has grown by swimming against the fashion industry’s current. The Oak Bluffs–based mother-daughter company makes limited runs of their patterns, sews by hand, and subscribes to a philosophy co-owner Randi Sylvia termed “slow fashion.” The phrase evokes the slow food movement, which has become a sensation on the Vineyard with chefs, farmers, and consumers. Slow food focuses on local ingredients, which are often organic or sustainably sourced, and local methods of preparing them. It’s the opposite of fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King, or in slow fashion’s case, from Target or Forever 21. Like chefs putting together a gourmet dinner menu, Sylvia and her mother, Marlene DiStefano, design pieces for a variety of tastes that can be mixed and matched and keep their style. And like a Vineyard chef knows his or her diners, Kenworthy knows its clients. “It’s such a small place, we all go to the same bars and the same parties,” Ms. Sylvia said, “and no one wants to show up wearing the same thing.” This desire to be unique lends itself perfectly to Kenworthy’s model of only producing around 10 pieces per pattern. “We’re probably not going to be rich like an H&M or Zara,” Ms. Sylvia said, “But at least we feel good about what we make, and hopefully people put something of ours on and feel like a million dollars and don’t worry that it’s going to fall apart right away.” They’re focused on making pieces that last, in styles that are timeless. “We make our clothes so that you could buy a shirt three years ago and pair it with a skirt you got today,” said Sylvia.
Kenworthy started five years ago when Sylvia helped her mother out with a project for Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week. They made a small collection for the runway, and everything sold. From there they realized they had something, and decided to go into business together. This is the first summer that Sylvia has devoted all of her time to Kenworthy, and on July 15 they will be hosting their first solo fashion show at the Tisbury Pump House. They will be unveiling their spring/summer collection, which features more white pieces, including a wedding dress, and their new home goods line. The show was constructed with the idea of an ideal Vineyard Sunday. “Instead of people coming in and sitting down for a show, we wanted it to be more of an experience,” said Sylvia. In addition to the runway show, there will be a catered brunch by Not Your Sugar Mamas, a photo booth, and lawn games. It’s in line with the Kenworthy brand, which deals in the flowy beach silhouettes characteristic of the Vineyard vibe.
Sylvia and Distefano don’t limit themselves or their company to this Island. “It’s how I don’t burn out,” said Sylvia, “It’s part of my being; I can’t stay here all winter.” After the crush of the summer eases and winter makes most year-rounders wonder why on Earth they moved to this desolate rock in the first place, the Kenworthy pair take off for warmer climates. First, it was to Istanbul. They went to gather inspiration, and maybe pick up a few bolts of fabric along the way. They touched down stateside with the name of a cloth merchant they’ve been buying from ever since, and designed a collection named after their travels. Then in later years, it was on to Vietnam and Oaxaca, Mexico. From their visit to our southern neighbor, they got in contact with a local factory which embroiders some of their pieces.
No matter how large the distance these two women travel, they are determined to keep their business small. They work out of a small studio in Oak Bluffs, and sell through pop-ups and flea markets. All their advertising is done through social media like Facebook and Instagram, and their website is designed by Sylvia. Should business continue to do well, they would consider taking on a new seamstress or two; however, for the next five years, Sylvia said, the goal “is to keep on growing.”
Kenworthy Design will be holding its fashion show and brunch on July 15 at 11:30 at the Tisbury Pump House. The runway show will start at 1 pm, with pieces available for purchase after. $50 per person for general admission, $75 for front-row seating. Tickets available online at KenworthyDesign.com/fashion-show/.