Rhonda Swenson devotes much thought and intention to the sweaters produced by her company, Krimson Klover. Not only does she give this intention to her business, but also to her donations and charitable work, as the company donates 10 percent of retail sales to a different charity each month.
In college, Rhonda Swenson never would have guessed she’d soon own a sweater company. But just a few years later, she found herself the owner of one, Chompas, after meeting its founder while criss-crossing the world as a flight attendant. She could fly for free, so she visited South America often, where the sweaters were made, and learned how to design her own. Swenson has since sold that company, and started Krimson Klover. Now, she’s on the board for the Snowsports Industry Association, and her 7-year-old brand donates 10 percent of retail sales to a different charity her team chooses each month.
1. You make an effort to work with small, family-owned factories, rather than big manufacturing plants that might cost less. Why?
When I first started out, I worked with yarn suppliers in Italy and Germany who introduced me to small boutique factories because my business was so small. Those large manufacturers might talk to you if you want to make 1,200 pieces, but I was making 100. In the smaller factories, there might be 100 people in total, and they’re run by families. They’re nice places to work. And it just so happens that the factories I started working with are owned by women who are powerhouses and some of the most dynamic people I’ve ever met. It might sound strange for women to be so powerful in Asia, but there it’s not so uncommon. Krimson Klover is a woman-owned company, and I work with amazing women who have my back in China. It makes our jobs fun.
2. Krimson Klover is trying to reach more millennial women. Does that require a shift in marketing, or do younger women want different styles?
I think it’s a combination. This is what I hear from my team, which includes a lot of young women: When millennials go to our website, they want to see something different. They want things that speak to them, things that are more impulsive, more natural, and not staged. I think, as with all generations, different things resonate with different groups. If you look at our line, we have things that, for sure, would appeal to everybody, but we also have the classic ski sweater that my mother would love. Would millennials like that? They might, but they’re going to wear it completely differently.
3. Why is donating such a big part of your business?
I’ve always felt really, really strongly about giving back. My team feels the same, and it’s just part of the way we do business. I think it makes us all a little happier going to work every day knowing that we can make a difference. I think I would be pretty safe saying that we give back about 15 percent of everything. Some of that is money, and some of it is product. We donate a lot of product to places like battered women’s organizations. Back in the early days when we couldn’t give money, we did a lot of volunteering. It’s wonderful to be at a point now where the company can give money to people and organizations who need it.
4. You’ve owned several companies since you first bought Chompas, and the retail and manufacturing landscapes have changed significantly since then. What do you think is the key to success in the current market?
For a brand like mine, being very unique is important. We recognize apparel is a commodity. By sharing my personal story and revealing intimate details of our design process, we are making personal connections with our customers—and becoming more than just a sweater to dealers and consumers.
We really believe in the idea of slow fashion. Like food, fashion is best when made with thought and intention. What actually goes into each piece gives it so much more depth and meaning than a mass-produced item. With a connection to the people, the artists, and the companies behind our products, we strive to create beautiful, handcrafted clothing.
5. How is the health of the snowsports industry, given big-box stores going bankrupt, bad weather, and an abundance of product?
We all know there are a lot of changes, like the buy/sell cycle, being made in our market, and every market. It never got cold last year. Every single person in the ski industry felt that. But at the same time, I’m hearing of a lot of positive and exciting things happening for us. We’re just going through a big shift. We’re going to figure out what the differences are and how we’ll bring our products to market, and I think retailers are going to figure it out, too. There were a few months where I was feeling a little pessimistic, but lately, after the last SIA board meeting, I’m really excited. Yes, some of the big-box stores went out of business, but now there are some other not-quite-as-big box stores filling their shoes. I think it’s going to all work out in the end.
This article was originally published on p.61 of Outdoor Retailer Daily's Day 1 issue.