The whole month of January we have been focused on athletic wear. In part because we want you to stay motivated and stick to your New Year’s resolutions, but also because we live in our leggings during the winter months and love finding new sustainable brands to obsess over. After a month of focused research, we found our favorite, and obsessed would be an understatement. We wear them to yoga class at the local gym, to work under our organic tunics, and on the weekends bopping from farmers market to brunch with the girls. We may need an intervention soon. So, what are these magical leggings? They are part of the collection at F.WORDS, a sustainable athletic apparel company that stops at nothing to make sure your athletic wear serves you. We had the privilege of sitting down with founder and CEO, Kendel Neidermyer, (who from the age of two, has designed life her own way) to talk fit, function, sustainability and what has been missing from the industry as a whole. Here is what she had to say.
Adalinda: Tell us a little bit about your background prior to starting F. WORDS.
Kendel: When I was two, I started training for the Olympics as a gymnast. Everything about my life was gymnastics. After a while my body was in so much physical pain and I was just so burnt out that I couldn’t do it for another second. That was a scary moment; I was forced to come to the realization that it was time for something else. At the age of 18 and decided I was going to move from Connecticut to New York City to study design. Once I graduated from FIT I said to myself “I am not going to settle for just any job I see in the paper”. And that dates me because it goes back to before the internet (we all laugh as we remember the classified ads). So, I went out and started introducing myself to anybody who would listen. My first job was with Naeem Khan’s wife, Ranjana at her embroidery business. It was a small company so we did everything soup to nuts, which was an incredible experience for someone just coming out of college. I was able to learn everything from sales, to design, to product development, to production, to shipping. As much as I loved working there, I remember coming across this gold ad campaign from Reem Acra... and I was obsessed… I had to work for her. I went over as an assistant designer. She took me under her wing and gave me the opportunity to work in production. From there my career really catapulted. After 6 years there, I started working for Sarah Jessica Parker at Halston. Sarah Jessica was the first woman who supported and empowered me. I felt like I could fully express myself when I was with her, which I am truly grateful for. When they were purchased and relocated to L.A. I started working for Gilles at J. Mendel. I was his Vice President of production and development. I loved it there; it was like I was working with my family. When he was purchased I found myself on the outside and it was time to make another life altering decision. At this point I had spent 20 years in the industry and knew it was time for me to do my own thing. I started formulating my idea and that is how F.WORDS was created.
Adalinda: Wow! It almost seems like all of your experiences (athletic and fashion) paired together perfectly for this next adventure of yours. (we all giggle because it is so obviously true). Also, I am pretty sure some of us fainted during the part about working for “Sarah Jessica …. Seriously?!
Adalinda: What was your major motivation behind creating F.WORDS?
Kendel: Quite frankly, I really wanted to start dressing women not for consumption, but rather for the experience. I was always going out west to ski and mountain climb and that to me is the greatest experience. So, I knew that I wanted to do athletic apparel. I also knew I didn’t want to do it in the way that it was currently being done.
Adalinda: Is it true that you produce everything here in the US?
Kendel: 100%. At this point, everything is produced in New York City. I feel so adamantly that it is important to foster the local and domestic workforce. This allows me to ensure quality working conditions and also allows for my team and me to be super transparent with each other. I have never experienced this type of transparency when producing overseas. They are literally my family; it brings tears to my eyes how much I feel for them. Without them F.WORDS wouldn’t be anywhere. (We quickly wipe away the tears we feel start to well up, so as to not look crazy…we love how compassionate she is.)
Adalinda: Can you touch on your processes + fabrics and what makes you sustainable?
Kendel: Our fabrics are bluesign® system approved meaning that they are the most biodegradable of fabrications in the market. We also use other sustainable materials. For instance, our Fahrenheit Jacket is made of cork shell. They actually granulate the wine corks into a flat yardage of fabric. So, this jacket has incredible technical properties which open and close making it temperature regulating. We are taking a by-product from another industry and turning it into something that will last forever. (Just so you all know…anytime we can make the case that wine is sustainable…we are in.)
Adalinda: Why did you decide to have your garments made to order?
Kendel: We are bespoke (made to order) so that we don’t have excess inventory. The point of our garments is not consumption. We are the exact opposite of consumption. We want you to only buy what you need and have you wear it for the rest of your life. This keeps clothing out of the landfills. We are very cognoscente of our footprint. We also pride ourselves on customization and craftsmanship. Because we are bespoke, we can make a garment any color/size/shape. We have 9 people working at F.WORDS lab. We have a Cutter, manager, sewing manager, presser, hand finisher and five expert operators on our specialized machines. Each piece of apparel goes through all 9 hands over the course of a week’s worth of work. Extreme care and attention are given to all steps of the process. The garment is carefully fitted and checked throughout each stitch of each seam. This is what makes our garments so special and personalized.
Adalinda: Well, it’s working. We have worn our leggings 4 times this week…and it’s only Friday
Kendel: (while laughing), YAY!! I may have to use that in our testimonial section...haha.
After a couple of bites of our delicious chocolate chip cookies (we are at Culture Espresso…yum!) and sips of tea, we dive into some more serious topics.
Adalinda: Do you see sustainability in fashion becoming more important?
Kendel: I do, but I think there is still a lot of room for improvement. I feel like a lot of that has to do with consumer awareness. The amount of people still buying fast fashion is probably one of my biggest concerns. How do you think something was made at that price? It’s Impossible without absolutely horrible working conditions, horrible fabrications and zero thought process on how the garment is being worked and shipped. For some companies, it’s all about volume.
Adalinda: Well said and we could not agree more. The whole point of our blog is to educate and empower the customer!
Adalinda: Can you tell us about the give back partnerships you have?
Kendel: Sure. So, I watched the documentary “Bully” years ago. It really highlighted this one man, Kirk Smalley, whose son was the youngest child to have committed suicide in this country. It is such a tragic story to me, because I believe that these things could be prevented. Once I started F.WORDS, I knew that I wanted to tie the company back to a charitable organization. It was a no brainer that I wanted to partner with Kirk. As soon as I contacted him he had me come out to one of his events. His story always brings me to tears. He has been on a mission since his son took his life to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. (The water works start again as we make a mental note to watch this documentary). We started our donations with proceeds from the F*it Legging because “F*it” (we all laugh). Who knows, if we all said “F*it” maybe there would be less bulling… (more laughs because there is probably a hint of simple truth in that). We then expanded our donation to include proceeds from all of our leggings.
We also work with POW (Protect our Winters). I partnered with them because I believe in climate change, I believe that we are a large component of it and I believe that we have a choice to try to correct it. Me being a skier, I see it first hand, it’s not something I even need to see in charts. I can go to the west and there should be hundreds of inches of snow and there’s absolutely nothing season after season. It is something that we really stand for and believe in.
Adalinda: What about your brand and your journey are you most proud of?
Kendel: Hmmmmm, good question. Quite frankly, I would say being adaptable and nimble. I started with an idea, which looked so beautiful on paper. If anything in life ever happened the way we planned it, we would all be ka-gillionaires living on some private island. (We giggle, but we also get the sense of how much work must have gone into bringing her dream to life). I also think a part of being nimble and adaptable is really about resilience and again, having no ego. You know the saying “Fall seven times, get up eight”? That couldn’t be more true. It is not about how you fail, but how you learn and keep going. I think that is what I am most proud of, the fact that we keep going no matter what comes up.
Adalinda: And why F.WORDS?
Kendel: Yeah…about that…(we all laugh). I swear a lot (laughs), no just kidding. I wanted something cheeky and I wanted something memorable. It was sort of just fitting that everything I stand for, all happens to be a word that starts with the letter F.
Adalinda: And what are those F words?
Kendel: Our F words are Fit, Fashion, Function and Flexibility, with flexibility meaning versatility. These attributes are so often over looked, especially in the luxury athletic market.
Adalinda: That is surprising; you would think the luxury athletic world would live by these words?
Kendel: And that is exactly why we are different
Adalinda: What are you most excited for this coming year?
Kendel: Oh my Gosh…I am excited to share our story with so many people. That has been one of the things that has been so interesting to me, the whole marketing stratosphere and how difficult it is to share your story. Not just share your story, but how to share it in the right way and getting it in front of the right people and have it be shown in the right light. I am also thankful when people want to write about the sustainable aspect of our company because it is important to me how our product is made, it’s everything.
Adalinda: And where can we find your incredible athletic wear?
Kendel: You can find us online (https: //www.fwordsgear.com/). We also have a business model where we do trunk shows and we post those on our website under “Upcoming Trunk Shows”. Last year we stayed very much local, but this year we are excited about expanding. We will be in Palm Beach Florida very soon! You can follow us on social media to get the scoop (@fwordsgear). We are also launching our new product line which is going to hit early 2018 – we can’t wait for that!
Overall we learned that Kendel is a woman who embodies empowerment, it is only fitting that the clothes she is making are designed to empower others too. We are so thankful she took the time to sit with us and share her inspiring journey. Mostly we are thankful she is dedicated to doing things better. Sustainable and ethical practices should be the norm, but until they are, we need trailblazers like her to pave the way. She truly embodies the kindness and drive that is so needed in our industry and we are excited to be seeing a lot more of her and F.WORDS in 2018! - We can’t wait!