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Saturday, May 15, 2021

CEO Spotlight

Co-founder of True Religion Jeans, Kym Gold, Brings Her Fashion Sense to the Home

It all started when Kym Gold was born a triplet, one of only .1% in the world. Bursting out of the gate as a precocious 18-year old, she went on to define modern fashion, hatching five style brands, one of which was the legendary True Religion jeans. When Kym sold the denim powerhouse for a bit shy of $1 Billion, she became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs on record. Fearlessly, In 2020, during the COVID pandemic, she developed her sixth company, Style Union Home, which makes fashion for the home. Despite her wild successes, she remains one of the most approachable, fun and down to earth people one could hope to meet, driven by – among other things – a deep passion for helping other female entrepreneurs make their way in business.

Gold is a creative first and foremost, but is a practical businesswoman who never counts her chickens before they hatch. Though many of her companies have used investors, she always starts reasonably and tests for proof of concept to ensure a consumer     base. This innate strategic acumen was evident in her first venture when she borrowed a mere $300 from her parents and not only paid it back in the first month, but made $50,000.

As a teenager, Kym had the idea to buy irregulars in downtown LA and resell them on a then seedy Venice Beach Boardwalk. Kymberly Suits You was the company name, which included the contributions of a new-to-Los Angeles East Londoner, and her new husband, the now famed reality show producer, Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, Survivor, The Apprentice). From beach boardwalk rack sales, Kym expanded to swap meets and created clothing parties in private homes. She found clothes that would have sold in Nordstrom for $60 and sewed flower patches over the damaged spots to become $20 fashion statements.

With the proceeds of that business, she then purchased a jewel of real estate in the most expensive market in the U.S. (Los Angeles), and flipped it in 48 hours to make a $75,000 profit.

“Using your own money serves as the best education,” she shrugs. “One cannot call themself an entrepreneur until they do the work, part of which means failing. If you want to figure out what this means; earn it,” she explains with emotive hand gestures.

Kym’s next business endeavor created a 1990’s fashion phenomenon when she trimmed Levi’s with kimono fabrics. Bella Dahl sold richly to all the most beloved retailing giants of the time: Contempo, Judy’s and Fred Segal.

Kym Gold

By this time, remarried and the mother of three boys, she and her husband started True Religion, but retailers didn’t like the jolly laughing buddha and were wary of a jean company with the word “religion” in it. Neiman Marcus buyers turned their backs to the burgeoning new brand.

To make ends meet, she designed for Laundry by Shelli Segal and Rampage, and dressed celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, as well as members of Outkast. From there she founded a company called Hippie, continuing to sell high fashion denim.

Eventually the True Religion match lit and burned brightly for Gold in 2002, becoming a global behemoth in only seven years with revenues topping $417M.

“I’ve paid my dues. I schlepped clothes in the trunk of my car up until the time that True Religion started to take off. I’ve leveraged everything I had, lived in a hotel with three kids, sold my car and held my breath – many times.” The bespectacled and tattooed style guru continues: “I’ve been sued for nothing and I’ve had the joys of luminaries like Beyonce and JLo wearing my clothes. The Black Eyed Peas even sang about my clothes! (“My Humps”),” she laughs.  “I’ve been ousted from board meetings, married and divorced twice, but I’ve also had Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith serenade me in my backyard. I have worked with some of the biggest business moguls in the world and grappled while watching my mother succumb to breast cancer. Life is rich, but to find success, you must embrace the beauty of all these things.”

Gold left True Religion at its height in 2009, looking for the freedom to not only develop a new fashion brand called Babakul, but surround herself with an entirely female staff.

“As odd as it seems, the fashion business is very male-dominated, and as a creative businesswoman, I felt I had so much more to give.” This has become an important mission.

A creative who thrives in many mediums, Kym has produced films while building and reimagining homes. It turned out that her sense of aesthetics wasn’t limited to fashion, but she had a knack for creating cohesion throughout a living space. Through a few of these experiences, which also were grandly profitable, it was a birthday celebration that sparked the fun she had with clay into a business.

It started in a moment she shared with her youngest son, Dylan, who gifted her with a pottery throwing session. She liked the experience so much, her entrepreneurial wheels began turning almost immediately, though she managed to utter aloud, “This would be a great hobby.”

Dylan knew better and said “Mom, nothing with you is a hobby.”

Inspired, Kym translated the decades of business building knowledge, colorway collections and technical shaping of clothing for a body into homeware. She created the Style Union Home pottery atelier, designing each piece herself, handbuilding some and throwing others on a wheel.

She looked for clays that were intrinsically beautiful and didn’t require a fancy glaze to dress them up. The glazes she did choose were naturally interesting and are crafted by a legend in the business in colors exclusive to Style Union Home. She kept building by adding colors that would serve as a surprising and delightful pop.

“Style Union Home is being rolled out like a fashion company with seasons of shapes and colors.” Gold explains this while tinkering with a suede-strapped set of ceramic glazed clay chips, marked Spring 2021. “These are like fabric swatches, but instead are clay. We use them to show buyers the colorways, the substantial weight of the ceramic, beautiful clay material and firing methods.” The first collection includes the basics of the line and each fashion season will bring Spring, Summer and Fall color additions with new pieces.

As a CEO, Kym is a masterful team maker, who wants to make millionaires out of her own because “I want them to take me to dinner someday!” Her motto is “you’re only as good as your team,” so Kym went out and built herself the strongest, most capable team of women she could find. An operations and production guru, a marketing executive and a team of master ceramists ensure that Kym’s artistic visions translate to reality while resonating with the style lovers who have always purchased her clothing and appreciate a truly great home.

Kym sees the building of a company as a specific process, of which the products themselves are interchangeable. “I knew nothing about clay and now I know a whole lot,” she admits. Kym took the time to learn about different clays, how to use them, and how to craft them into the pieces she designed.

With so many successes under her belt, it’s hard to imagine that Kym still uses a wildly non-linear intuition to lead, but so far that’s what has turned everything she’s touched into, well, gold.

Her inspiration for Style Union Home was to honor a legacy and create new ones for her customers. The company was founded on the memories of Sunday night family dinners, at the center of which was always a caesar salad in her mom’s favorite bowl. That bowl is now the centerpiece of the Style Union Home brand and named after her mother, Nikki.  Kym is focused on creating pieces that become heirlooms like her mom’s bowl and help customers create their own family legacies.

“Being a CEO is a lot of hard work,” Gold says. “But it also means that you can make a difference in the world by hiring great people to help create something and by providing a product that means something to your customers.” Now 54, Kym is focused on this company being her legacy and expects it to be her last.

We shall see.

Alexandra Dimitropoulou

Alexandra Dimitropoulou

VP and News Editor
Alexandra Dimitropoulou is a VP and News Editor at CEOWORLD magazine, working to build and strengthen the brand’s popular, consumer-friendly content. In addition to running the company’s website, CEOWORLD magazine, which aims to help CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and other C-level executives get smarter about how they earn, save and spend their money, she also sits on the Board of Directors of the Global Business Policy Institute. She can be reached on email alexandra-dimitropoulou@ceoworld.biz. You can follow her on Twitter at @ceoworld.