When Lin Kingsrød started up Kingsland 14 years ago, she travelled around to shows with her truck filled with boxes of show shirts - selling straight out of the cardboard so to say. Then came the Kingsland bomber jacket, and the adventure really got its beginning. Today Kingsland has grown into a giant – and is a far cry away from what is was in 1999 – sponsoring major shows and top riders such as Marcus and Johannes Ehning, Leopold van Asten, Guy Williams, Judy-Ann Melchior, Beat Mändli and Angelica Augustsson. These great ambassadors are a proof of Lin’s huge success, and the high standing Kingsland has as a brand in the sport. WoSJ sat down with Lin to talk with her about the fairy tail that Kingsland has become.
An economist turned designer - Lin is all self made when it comes to her career in the equestrian fashion. Her success comes as no surprise though, Lin has always had a great sense of style – and the writer of this story was one of the girls in the stables that always tried to wear the same as Lin. She was the one to look like. But going from that to become the designer for one of the biggest brands in the sport needs further explanation; “It all started when I was finished with my studies, and me and my husband went to live a year in Germany. I was pregnant and helping him out in the stable, and that’s the time when this idea came up. I was contacted by another Norwegian girl who had a sister who had competed at top level, and she wondered if I wanted to start up something with her. As she lived in Hong Kong, and had close ties to the textile industry it was a great opportunity. I thought this was really exciting, and had a thousand ideas in my head. I just started with what I liked, and explained to the manufacture what I wanted. We started with show shirts and breeches, and with a small production in Hong Kong. Then we got some samples, and got these changed – sent them back and then got the final products.”
These were the first Kingsland products that were sold, but the big breakthrough came a year later with the bomber jacket. “This jacket was my dream; I had visualized it with the Kingsland name and logo down on one of the sleeves. We went down to Hong Kong to make it; choosing fabrics and explaining how we wanted it. I was in shock when I was explained I had to make 600 of each model – 1200 in total! My only thought was how we were going to get rid of them,” Lin laughs. “To this date I don’t know what happened; everybody wanted this jacket!”
Teun van Riel was also of good help to Lin in the early Kingsland years, selling her products. “I remember quite early on he sold the Kingsland breeches. It was a tough market to get into with quite a few established brands. But as the riders tried them on, they came back for more! Teun had some good contacts with other resellers, and helped me out a lot,” the 39 year old explains.
How did she even dare to make this move and start up from close to scratch we ask; “First of all the market has changed a lot since we started up Kingsland,” Lin explains. “So, I’m very happy we started up when we did – although I would probably do it again at a later point. But we have probably been a part of making the market change with our products, because a lot of the items we sell didn’t really exist when we started up – such as fleeces, down vests, riding socks and so on.”
Comfort and quality has been key for Lin in making the Kingsland clothes; “That has been really important to me, especially with the breeches – I wanted them to be so good that you don’t want to take them off when you hit the sofa after a long day in the stable and I wanted them to look good after more than a day of use – hence great quality on the fabric and fitting was very important. It’s important to remember that these are clothes that will be used in the stable and be washed a lot – that we need to tell our manufacturer. The clothes we make are working clothes. We always test new products before they go into production; to see if they can stand what it takes. And I have to say we have become a lot better when it comes to thinking things through before we put ideas into life! But sometimes, you also just have to try and give it a go and take a chance!”
Not always knowing what you are up to creates some pretty good stories, and Lin shares the one about the first time she went to the Spoga fair in Cologne. “I had never been there before, and neither had I ever had a stand such as that. Looking back I was quite lost – but I had managed to bring a carpet, a lamp and some furniture,” she laughs. “But the one thing I hadn’t thought of was walls, but luckily for me three men from Bucas arrived as our neighbor and build us in!”
Lin still keeps a firm hand on everything that goes on – and can be found at the Kingsland office every day. “I still develop everything; but for the past two years we have worked more as a team at Kingsland. Everybody from the past production company now work here – so they give me a lot of input. We all have very different preferences, which is good when it comes to our product development. But I have to say that I have a strong ownership when it comes down to the look and the colors; my identity is very close with Kingsland’s. It’s a standing joke here that I often get it the way I want in the end,” Lin laughs.
Designing clothes require both inspiration and discipline – how does Lin work we ask her; “Now we have deadline for each collections – as to when to start and when to be ready. A collection needs a certain number of styles and then different numbers of sweaters, vests, jackets and so on. There is little time between each collection, and often you work with more than one at the time. In autumn you place your orders for the summer collection and vice versa. You need to keep your focus, that’s for sure. As for inspiration we look at colors and trends, both in books, magazine and on the internet – but I generally go for the things I like myself and that are quite classical. But we need some trends that are more fashion as well within our collections, so I would say that 70 % of our collection consists of the classical Kingsland look and 30 % is more related to fashion trends. The classical look lives a little longer in the shops, and that’s important to keep in mind.”
Lin’s philosophy is all about the classic and preppy look; “This look has always been with me and Kingsland. So now, when the preppy look has been in – it’s very good for us,” she laughs. “When I look towards the trends and what’s going on in the fashion world everything is present at once – leather, studs, military, floral, pattern, and that’s not for us – we have to stick with our identity. But the trends can serve as inspiration,” Lin explains. “As to the horse gear, that’s something we also develop. We see that the stores want that and that’s something we need within our range. People buy sets, and want things that match. Thus you need to make the clothes and the horse gear within certain themes.”
Kingsland was one of the first brands that actively placed their clothes on well-known riders, a strategy that has made them a very visible part of the sport. “I think it’s important that we place our clothes on riders that are good role models that others look up to – well known names from big showjumping countries are of big value to us in that regard. We want our customers to look up to the riders that represent us,” Lin says.
Using these well-known faces in their beautiful catalogues is also a very conscious choice from Lin’s side; “I find it much better to use our riders instead of models our customers can’t relate to. I’m very involved in the work with our catalogues; the photographer and the crew need to understand the thoughts around the collection. I decide which clothes the riders are going to wear, down to the very detail. I put looks together, and decide what goes on who. I’m not there during the shoot, which I think is good,” Lin laughs. “I would go around picking and fixing on every piece of clothing, and we would use three extra days just because of me,” she says shaking her head smiling. “The catalogues take a lot of work; from the detailed we plan for the photo shoot with all the different looks for all the different settings. Usually 2000-300 photos are shot, and then we choose a selection of the best. It’s a long process narrowing it down to the catalogue and the final product.”
The road ahead of Kingsland is also something Lin is very aware of. “I always think about where we are going and what’s next for us. Now we are looking to as to where we can increase and grow; the US and Asia are some parts of the world we would like to focus on in the years to come. We are definitely going into those countries where the sport is growing,” Lin explains.
Kingsland takes up a lot of Lin’s time, it’s maybe more of a lifestyle than work – something she loves and appreciates doing. “I feel so lucky to have a job that I’m really passionate about. Luckily I have three kids, so that prevents me from being in the office 24/7. I try to have effective days, so they don’t get too long. I find myself thinking about Kingsland most hours of the day though, but I guess that’s a part of running your own business,” Lin says.
As to her unbelievable success with Kingsland – how does she sum it all up? “It hasn’t sunk in yet really, everything has gone so fast!”
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