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Andrew Stone | October 23, 2012
What was once a humble Internet experiment, offering design editorial alongside a handful of curated sale items, has grown into an engaging, powerful influence in the home décor industry. One Kings Lane is the brainchild of Susan Feldman—a veteran fashion powerhouse who formerly served as VP of Sales at Polo Jeans and President of Ralph Lauren Sleepwear—and digital media maven Alison Pincus. The site presents home design editorial content alongside three-day sales from interior design brands, “tag sales” from design professionals, artisanal handmade products, and a large selection of one-of-a-kind vintage pieces in their own dedicated marketplace.
Here, we sit down with Feldman to discuss the site’s meteoric growth, consumers’ reticence to commit, and the first time she laid eyes on Marimekko.
INTERIOR DESIGN: Susan, in just a few short years, One Kings Lane has grown into a significant influence in the décor industry. What’s it been like to watch the company grow so quickly?
SUSAN FELDMAN: It’s been such a fast evolution. Back when we started in March 2009, we were running just one event a day and emailing to exactly five thousand people. It’s so funny to think about that, because now we launch eight to ten new sales events every day. We have close to six million members and work with well over two thousand vendors and designers. As the business evolves, it just fuels the creative energy among this amazing group of people we have. On both the merchandising and creative sides, it’s this collaborative effort that just gets better.
ID: Your background is in the fashion industry. How does the mindset differ between a fashion shopper and a home shopper?
SF: I’ve seen that people are kind of scared of the home. They might be really in the know when it comes to fashion, but they’ll have a hard time picking out pillows. What we try to say creatively is that nothing is really ever permanent… Everything can be moved, and decorating is about both adding to your home and taking things away. It doesn’t have to be like it was in my parents’ home, where you had your place decorated and that’s how is stayed for the next forty years. What people often experience on our site it how one thing can start the decorating process going. Now that you have new pillows, you can imagine a new table, or say, “Yeah, I could use a new sofa.”
ID: Very few sites take off to the degree in which yours has… What was your original vision for One Kings Lane?
SF: Well, four years ago, Ali and I did not think we’d become something that would disturb the whole industry. It started with a simple vision, but then got traction so fast. There must have been a real pent-up demand for what we put out there—on the consumer and the vendor side. I’ve had a lot of vendors come up to me and say, “Thank you so much, you’ve saved my business.” We didn’t set out to do that, but if we’ve been able to, fantastic.
ID: Now, 2009 was not exactly a banner year for the economy. Why did this site stay strong when so many others weren’t so lucky?
SF: 2009 was definitely a difficult time. But I think people started entertaining in their homes a lot more, and this put more focus on what their homes looked like. Design is another form of expressing who you are. People have started to ask in a more discerning way, “How do I set the table when I am having people over?”
ID: Would you say the general public has become more design savvy?
SF: I would. Thanks to the Internet, there are a lot more places for people to learn about it. Educating has been a big part of our approach on our site, exploring the way you can present things. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, you can always go on there and get ideas and be inspired. We’ve never been interested in just putting up product to sell it. We want to contextualize it. “This is how you can use this box, in five different ways.”
ID: Now, you feature a lot of artwork on your site, and that seems like something people might be more hesitant to commit to. What’s your approach there?
SF: Art is one of those funny things. It’s such an intimidating purchase to make. But people get caught up in thinking that there’s “right art” or “wrong art” to buy. I think the key to choosing art is simply to hang on your walls what you enjoy looking at. The first art sale on the site was this line called Dutch Touch back in October 2009, based on the Dutch masters. They were pretty expensive, and we weren’t sure if people were going to buy them. But we had this great event and I just thought, Yes! We can sell art. I find that people have a hard time knowing how to hang art after they’ve bought it, as well, so we put a lot of things online about how to hang a gallery wall and how to put the right pieces together.
ID: The Vintage and Market portion of the site has tons of unique things. How did that portion of the business come together?
SF: It was just a part of our evolution. At first, we just ran events with vendors who had a real depth of product. But then we found we had all of these designer friends with one-of-a-kind products. That’s why we created these Tastemaker Tag Sales, so they could show off the things they’d find on their travels. We had such interest from that and we couldn’t get enough of this vintage product. We had to create somewhere to highlight more vintage product, and so came the Vintage and Market category.
ID: You’re generating a ton of new content all the time… What’s your team like there at One Kings Lane?
SF: You’re right, what we do isn’t easy, but everybody that works for us is mad-passionate about what they do. They can’t get enough, and are completely motivated by the hunt. It’s an amazing, super-smart group.
ID: What can fans of the site expect in the coming months?
SF: We have some very exciting programs happening for holiday. There’s a holiday wrapping paper program, the proceeds of which go to charity. For that, we engaged a group of seven home and fashion designers to design exclusive wrapping papers—people like Rachel Zoe, Simon Doonan, Stacy Bendet, Rachel Roy... We first did this last year and it’s extremely popular. Also, we’re having a movie set sale from the film Anna Karenina. There’s already all sorts of Oscar buzz surrounding it, and our team went to London while they were filming to select items. They’ll be on sale in November, coinciding with the release of the movie.
ID: When did your interest in the interior design industry take root?
SF: During my first career in the apparel industry, I was constantly surrounded by strong design. But before that, my father was a retailer, and he was really into art and great design. I remember once, he brought back Marimekko to his store, and it was the first time it was here in the US. I got excited about that, about how retail and art can combine.