Where Are They Now? Follow Up with Konnexion Founder Nikki Lehr
Innovation Destination Hartford spoke with Konnexion Founder Nikki Lehr in May 2017 when the startup was called Messed and Distressed. (Read the interview: Connecticut Student Entrepreneur Launches Successful Startup.)
Since its launch, the startup has undergone a name change and branding overhaul with a focus on sustainability. IDH reached out to Nikki to learn more about her startup’s evolution.
Innovation Destination Hartford: What’s new?
NIKKI LEHR: So much! Since our last interview, I rebranded my clothing company Messed and Distressed into Konnexion (pronounced connection).
I’m a senior at the University of Hartford now, so a lot of thoughts about post-graduation and the future went into creating Konnexion. I used this opportunity to take what I learned from launching Messed and Distressed and integrate new values and a vison for the future of Konnexion.
IDH: Tell us more about the rebranding.
NIKKI: Konnexion is a sustainable fashion brand with the core values: Sustain, design, and innovate.
I emphasized sustainable clothing, because the fashion industry creates a lot of pollutants. Many people aren’t aware of the truths hidden by larger companies about the garment worker’s safety or the environmental impact of the manufacturing process. Fast fashion has changed how clothing is sold and the way consumers shop. People are buying more clothing at cheaper prices and just throwing out product when they’re done.
Right now, Konnexion pieces are all handmade using vintage, upcycled clothing. When the company starts manufacturing clothing, I plan to use an ethical process with sustainable materials.
Design is key. As a designer, I think much more about just the external design. I’m really interested in the way our clothing affects us as individuals. Through Konnexion, I try to create clothing people can feel confident wearing, which encourages them to act as their best selves.
My passion for designing clothing comes from my own insecurities, so I spend a lot of time thinking about to create a product that fits the body better.
I research other companies, too. And one of the most prominent things I see associated with a successful company is offering a simple product and good customer service. Basic clothing products like T shirts and sweatshirts have never been reinvented.
With Konnexion, I hope to innovate and reinvent the basics with sustainability and design. I want my customers to be inspired to innovate. I hope to create simple clothing with ethical and sustainable qualities that people will enjoy wearing.
IDH: What inspired you to rebrand?
NIKKI: One of the most important things that started Konnexion came from my experience studying abroad in London earlier this year. I was there from January through May 2018. Seeing fashion, consumers, and marketing on a global scale helped me shape my brand.
I was also inspired by a video about Pharrell Williams and the sustainable jeans he made with his company G Starr Raw. They repurposed plastic bottles that were polluting the ocean into denim fabric used for pants and jackets. I was amazed by the whole project. Soon after I was at a mall with a G Starr Raw store. A pair of jeans was in the window with a sign saying: “Our most sustainable jeans ever.”
In that moment I thought: I can do this. I really believe 95% of people who passed that window probably had no idea what it meant. What Pharrell and G Starr did was so incredible, but that copy on the window was probably unclear to many customers. Admittedly, I didn’t even really know what “sustainability” meant and I have a sustainable fashion brand! I felt I could succeed in creative a sustainable product. Now I’m aware I that need to do a lot of work about how to spread my message, so consumers can learn about “sustainable fashion.”
As designers and entrepreneurs, we can’t blame consumers for being unaware, we must teach them in ways that add value and don’t make them feel like they’re doing something wrong by not knowing about something.
Through experiences like this I was able to visualize what I wanted Konnexion to be like in the marketplace. I was also able to take fashion marketing courses for the first time at while studying at Richmond University in London. All that information and awareness went right into Konnexion.
I started by doing research for school and ended up spending hours watching TED talk videos about things like sustainable architecture and personal branding. London was such an incredible experience; I believe it will make me a better entrepreneur.
IDH: How are you building a customer base?
NIKKI: What has really been working best for me is me networking and putting myself out there to talk about Konnexion with new people I meet. Sharing the story and values directly makes the connection more personal. The people I interact with become more than customers, and they then share the brand with the same passion to others.
Word-of-mouth comes in and grows from there. I’m working on creating video content to accelerate this process online. While sharing my truth and passion for Konnexion, I hope it will further connect me to customers and help inspire them. I believe it’s all about connection.
IDH: Tell us about the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship in Connecticut.
NIKKI: I think entrepreneurship has a lot to do with believing in yourself. Supporting and networking with other entrepreneurs is so important because connecting helps individuals believe in themselves and their mission even more.
Entrepreneurs are the people who will change the world with vision, creativity and drive, but it can be lonely. Having each other’s backs helps everybody succeed.
Connecticut poses a cool opportunity because being a small state, word-of-mouth is more impactful. Starting unique companies and sharing our passions helps Connecticut entrepreneurs grow.
IDH: What do you need most to move your company forward?
NIKKI: Experience was the first word that came to mind. I need to sell more clothing, network with more people, and really hustle to grow. I need to experience failing and succeeding to figure out what works best for me and my company. I’m hoping to work in retail when I graduate so I can gain experience to hopefully help me open my own stores one day.
IDH: What’s next?
NIKKI: It’s really exciting to grow my company. I’m passionate about sustainable clothing and wanting to make the fashion industry more ethical and environmentally responsible. I want to start sharing my journey and my knowledge about sustainability, clothing, and wellness with people to help them become more knowledgeable and overall happier and inspired people. I want to help others realize their potential and appreciate the value in themselves. My dream is to design and manufacture my own clothing, so that’s where I’m heading next!
Learn more about Konnexion