It’s been a heady year for Rhode Island entrepreneurs Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers. Last June they opened the first bricks-and-mortar store for their accessories and clothing company, Kiel James Patrick, on Newport’s historic Bowen’s Wharf. That autumn, they became parents as they welcomed their first child, Harris James (aka Harry). And along the way their fan base has surged to the point that more than 1 million people now follow their highly photogenic adventures on their two Instagram accounts, Kiel’s @KJP and Sarah’s @SarahKJP — not to mention the countless others who keep up with the couple on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, and who read Sarah’s fashion blog, Classy Girls Wear Pearls.
To cap things off, they recently produced (and also star in) the cover photo for Yankee’s marquee summer travel issue (May/June 2018). Kiel and Sarah were a natural fit for the issue, which showcases Yankee’s “Best of New England” editors’ picks: Not only does the photo, which depicts the couple geared up for warm-weather adventures at Jamestown’s Mackerel Cove, capture the feel of a summer road trip but it also showcases a fresh take on New England style. That classic-yet-modern appeal is at the core of Kiel James Patrick, as is a strong commitment to the company’s roots in this region. Below, we catch up with Kiel and Sarah via email to find out more about what’s next for Kiel James Patrick, how they’re balancing their growing brand with their new roles as parents, and what summer in New England means to them.
Q&A with Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers
Let’s talk a little about your Newport flagship, as it marks its one-year anniversary this summer. How have things been going? Has Newport itself been a good fit for the Kiel James Patrick brand?
Everything we do is based in Rhode Island; almost all of our jewelry manufacturing is done at our factory in Pawtucket. So it was important for us to have a store close to home. And in our opinion, Newport was the perfect fit. It’s a beautiful destination town with a rich history, and there are always so many reasons for people to visit, especially in the summer. It was the obvious choice for our brand.
We’re so happy with the way it turned out. The store has been a success so far, and it’s taught us a lot about our products and merchandising. Customers are able to touch, see, and feel a lot of our products for the first time [as opposed to shopping via the Kiel James Patrick website]. The feedback we have received from engaging with customers in person has been invaluable. It’s also been wonderful for us to be able to share a look at our brand that was only previously shown through social media and images of our factory.
Speaking of social media, reaching over 1 million combined followers on Instagram is a big milestone. What is it about your posts, do you think, that so many people are responding to?
It’s easy to get caught up with likes and engagement, but we like to get creative and have fun with our accounts. And while it’s tough to speak for our followers, Harry and [our golden retriever] Bennie appear to be the fan favorites! Bennie is an absolute ham for the camera.
You put a lot of hard work into it, too — not just Instagram, but also the many other social media platforms on which Kiel James Patrick and Classy Girls Wear Pearls have built their brands. Is it hard to unplug from all that and just enjoy being a family?
It’s such a huge part of our life that naturally it’s hard to just turn it off. We try our best to balance the two worlds, though. We start our mornings off snuggling with Harry before getting ready to go into the office. Most nights we cook dinner together and always watch a movie or show before bed. On weekends we love to drive around or meet up with family and friends.
But if a photo opportunity presents itself, we can’t resist taking it. The best photos we share are always unplanned and happen in a moment of inspiration. Those photos never feel like work.
Your high profile on the Web means that you frequently get recognized by fans in real life. What’s it like to deal with that kind of attention?
In the age of social media, it’s easy to overshare personal pieces of one’s life, but we do keep most of our life private. It’s important for us to maintain a level of privacy, and we like to give glimpses without ever sharing too much. That said, all of the fans we’ve met in person have been so kind, and some have even turned into friends. One fan-turned-friend drove all the way from Texas to our factory in Pawtucket to meet us on a whim!
What’s next for growing Kiel James Patrick? Will the company be expanding to include, say, a kids’ line?
The past couple of years, we’ve been introducing more and more clothing into the line. Initially, our focus was accessories — our first hit being the anchor rope bracelet — and gradually the focus switched to putting more emphasis on introducing dresses, sweaters, shirts, pants, etc. We’re excited to continue to expand the line with kid’s clothes, a signature collection for Sarah’s designs, and eventually dabble in a bit of home decor.
Kiel James Patrick has already reached a level of success where, if you wanted, you could relocate to a style capital like New York or L.A. What keeps you in Rhode Island?
One of the many reasons we love our job so much is that it enables us to stay in Rhode Island. Many of our friends had to leave the state to find work in their field. We both grew up here and never want to leave. We are so appreciative of the fact that we get to do what we love everyday in a place we love. Places like New York and L.A. are too overwhelming, and it’s a much faster pace of life. We love coming home to our place on the lake to watch the sunset each night, being a short drive away from family and friends, and living so close to the ocean.
Also, this is a community we really care about. We have invested a lot in keeping Kiel James Patrick products made in America, and we know firsthand the positive impact this focus has on our local community. For instance, the jewelry industry in Rhode Island has shrunk by almost 90 percent in the past 35 years, and it feels really good to be adding jobs in an industry that is so important to the identity of our state.
Both of you clearly treasure your lifelong ties to New England. When you were growing up here, what were your favorite family getaways?
Sarah: Going to the beach with my family. We went almost every weekend in summer, and I always brought a friend or cousin to spend the day with. We would pack big lunches and spend part of the day clamming — I never loved eating the clams, but as a kid I had so much fun digging them up.
Kiel: My family has a home in the mountains of New Hampshire, and I’ve always enjoyed spending a few weeks of summer up there: backpacking, canoeing, fly-fishing, camping, sailing, telling ghost stories around the bonfire…. The great outdoors and that spirit of adventure have always really bonded my family together.
Nowadays, if you’re showing visitors around Rhode Island, what do you most want them to see?
We always take first-time visitors to Jamestown, specifically the beach where an iconic scene in Moonrise Kingdom was filmed. And then there’s Newport, for a drive down Ocean Drive — one of the prettiest stretches of road, hands down — followed by drinks on the lawn at Castle Hill; and Watch Hill, for lunch at the Ocean House; and finally the East Side of Providence, for a walk around town.
Last question: Stuffies, coffee milk, coffee cabinets, Del’s Lemonade, johnnycakes — do you have particularly strong feelings, pro or con, about any of the Ocean State’s signature delicacies?
They are all worth a try! We also recommend hot wieners and party pizza. During our internship program, we always take the interns out for hot wieners and Del’s Lemonade for a taste of Rhode Island. The hot wieners usually get a mixed reaction, but everyone loves Del’s. Kiel’s family owns a franchise and we worked there together for a few summers. It was the best job to have as a student.