Grad Debuts Swimwear Collection for Janie & Jack
A fifth-generation San Franciscan raised in nearby Mill Valley, KK Sample first moved to Southern California to attend UCLA. While still an undergrad, she was an assistant for IMG during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, where she worked directly with legends such as Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, and Calvin Klein, among others. Convinced she wanted to work in the fashion industry, KK discovered FIDM and received a Professional Designation degree in Merchandise Product Development in 2012. Her first company, Onesies by KK, was acquired by Betabrand in 2015. She went on to work for Marine Layer and Gymboree before founding the sustainable swimwear line Dawne Florine in 2017. She most recently created limited edition swimwear pieces for Janie & Jack’s The Think Pink Collection, launched on Mother’s Day, inspired by stories of hope and love from family and friends who are breast cancer survivors.
What was your path to FIDM? While I was attending UCLA I was still sewing and knitting and doing different crafts. I was involved in the fashion industry and by the time I graduated four years later and knew I wanted to go to fashion school and continue to explore a profession in fashion. I thought about going to New York and then I checked out the FIDM campus in LA and fell in love with being Downtown. I wanted to do Fashion Design and the Admissions Advisor suggested Merchandise Product Development, which I knew nothing about. Based on my resume she said I had a very strong business acumen and that I would learn about sourcing, pre-production, post-production, and all the different stages of development.
As soon as I took a Sourcing class I knew I was in the right major. I love negotiating costs and I'm really good at sourcing, which I didn’t know was something I could get paid for. I really loved the MPD program and got a full-time internship through FIDM as a shoe buyer for Ross Stores, Inc., so I took a quarter off. I got a job offer at the end but was so close to finishing FIDM so I actually chose to continue FIDM and I’m so glad I did. I decided to look at the SF campus and totally fell in love with it and switched over to finish my last quarter and that was mainly to be closer to family.
You were at IMG for almost four years. What was that like? I flew out to New York twice a year for NYFW in February and September and would stay with my brother. His friend got me the job and each time it felt like a dream being in the big city and working for these big designers like Calvin Klein and working with six-foot-plus models. It was what you see in the movies and at the time I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I worked a lot behind the scenes and my favorite experience working for Pat McGrath; she is just incredible. One time, one of the models was sick and they had an extra outfit and they asked me to try it on and pushed me out on the runway for indie designer JoAnn Berman.
How did your positions at Marine Layer and Gymboree further prepare you for running your own business? I got the corporate experience at Gymboree because there’s structure and training and three months of on-boarding. The training is really intensive at a corporation. When I went to Marine Layer, it was a startup, so day one you’re answering emails and talking to all the factories as if you’re running a company. I was really involved in the whole supply chain and knew I wanted to start a second company of my own.
How did Dawne Florine come to fruition? While working at other companies I noticed swimwear had the highest margin. I was also shopping personally for a trip to Hawaii and was so frustrated with the cost of swimwear. It was over $200 for a bikini and there was little fabric with super simple construction so I went on a mission to see what is driving up the cost. I interviewed a bunch of factories and designers and learned that a lot of companies bring in swimwear because it’s a high margin product that offsets other companies. Based on that knowledge I decided to do luxury swimwear with the best fabrics.
Tell us about your approach to sustainability: If you want to be a designer, it’s necessary for your brand to be sustainable. I think it's 100 percent necessary for all swimwear designers to use fabric that’s recycled. I wanted my swimwear to last beyond one season so I kept exploring and decided to work with a nylon. With swimwear being so close to the body, I developed a thread called a post-manufactured nylon that’s blended with lycra and it's the softest swimwear fabric out there. Everything is made in the USA. The best of the best swimwear is made in Los Angeles. Our cut and sew house is in Downtown LA and our warehouse is in San Francisco.
Tell us about your collaboration with Janie & Jack, which donates 25 percent of sales, a minimum of $250,000, to The Pink Agenda, the nonprofit funding breast cancer research and granting wishes through Fab-U-Wish: I launched The Think Pink Collection on Mother’s Day with Janie & Jack and Dawne Florine. I designed the women’s swimwear: a reversible pink-and-white swimsuit and a high-neck swimsuit top and high-waist swimsuit bottom. It’s being sold at Janie & Jack and also online at Dawne Florine.
KK is pictured, second from left, with her family
In light of Covid-19, you’ve shifted production from swimwear to masks. One-thousand masks have been sewn and shipped to our customers and an additional 500 have been donated! Our mother and daughter-owned factory in Los Angeles is working seven days a week. Each mask takes more than an hour to sew and we only have two seamstresses in the factory due to social distancing.
Anything else you’d like to share? I’m always looking for FIDM students to help with different projects and I’ve had two FIDM interns so far.
Learn more at dawneflorine.com and on Instagram @dawneflorine.