2022 isn’t just a new year at Kitsbow, it’s a whole new beginning.
Literally. On January 3, the community (investors local to North Carolina) and the employees purchased Kitsbow from its shareholders, with the commitment of majority ownership by employees into the future.
This is huge.
And a natural evolution for a brand founded 10 years ago, that launched an ambitious effort to scale up production of products made right here in the U.S. by moving to North Carolina in 2019.
And then just 4 months later, pivoted for the public good to make PPE in 2020 (and, by the way, kept all the employees from being laid off). Doubled in size, provided even more jobs. Some of the first new jobs in a 30-year economic decline for this rural, former industrial town.
Kitsbow completed 2021 by declaring the halt of selling any offshore-made clothes going forward, thus dedicating its future to jobs in the U.S.
In so many ways, evolving to majority employee ownership simply made good sense.
It was also made possible by the support of the existing shareholders, who made the “buy out” terms within our reach… with the leadership of our founder, Zander Nosler, himself a significant shareholder.
But wait, that’s not all.
A Special Kind of Corporation
The leaders at Kitsbow quickly saw the opportunity for employee ownership as a path to “B Corp” status, so the new Kitsbow was incorporated in Delaware as a Public Benefit Corporation.
A public benefit corporation (PBC) empowers leadership of the organization to embrace “social and public good” of both customers and employees, while operating in a responsible and sustainable manner, and place the interests of shareholders on equal footing. Diversity and inclusion are also values threaded throughout a PBC’s legal structure and purpose.
In contrast, traditional corporations are required to put shareholder return above all other priorities. Benefit corporations are often called “B Corps” but that’s a specific kind of designation.
Kitsbow has already started the process to become a certified B Corp from the nonprofit B Lab.
B Corp Certification requires a holistic review of a business’s social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, and is based on a vision of creating a community of for-profit companies committed to redefining success in business. It usually takes about a year, and sometimes longer. Kitsbow is just getting started on this path.
Social & Public Good
If you’ve read any of my updates on Kitsbow in the past couple of years, you know the list of deliberate action taken by Kitsbow leadership is long. A few of the initiatives we’ve embraced:
- Training a workforce with no prior experience making premium apparel
- Helping build trails in Old Fort for access by all
- Making 180,000 hand-sewn masks for first responders and medical professionals, and eventually the general public
- Making apparel in a sustainable way to better protect the planet
- Building and operating a unique retail service with excellent and healthy food made locally, free public restrooms, and free parking while riding/hiking
- Hosting the first bike shop in Old Fort in recent memory
- Using only compostable materials in all shipping and packaging
- And creating generous employee benefits, such as 100% health care insurance paid by the company, on-site yoga, reimbursed footwear, subsidized food, and more
I hope it's obvious that the path to certification is perfect for Kitsbow; we’re already walking the walk of social and public good.
Many of you reading this have been with us since the beginning, 10 years ago when Kitsbow was founded. You may be wondering how this sale unfolded, since it is indeed quite unusual.
Both the founding of the company, and now the transition to its forever home in North Carolina in the arms of the employees and the community was the product of many helping hands, but it never would have happened without one person: Zander Nosler, founder and self-described Chief Obsessive.
Zander is indeed a bit “OCD” when it comes to quality, engineering, style, good taste, just the right color, just the right stitch, the methodology of lean manufacturing, and for all these years, every detail of the Kitsbow brand (including the name).
Behind every successful brand is a visionary that made it so.
And Zander isn’t just the Chief Obsessive, he was also the CEO for the first 7 years -- he recruited nearly all of the investors and shareholders of Kitsbow, many of the vendors, many of the ambassadors, all the early employees, and constantly represented the brand far and wide.
And in a true gift of selflessness, it was Zander’s idea that the company be purchased by the employees and investors from the local community. He had the vision that it could come true.
Just like his confidence in the founding of the brand back in January 3, 2012.
Zander: Thank you.
And for the 54,000+ of you who are customers: Thank you, as well…
for traveling the path with us. This new year is going to be fantastic for you, too: more products, shorter wait times, and expanded capacity. Premium apparel made by awesome humans in America.
With the comfort that everything we do with you and for you is consistent with the public good, the Earth, and the community.
Visit us in North Carolina at the Old Fort Ride House for a factory tour and to see the magic for yourself. Ride our trails, hike the ridges, and fish in the streams of the Other Pisgah. Meet our community.
Use the power of your purchasing not only to enjoy premium quality products that last for years and sustain the earth, but also employ awesome people in a beautiful community.