- K.NGSLEY is a genderless fashion label launched by Kingsley Gbadegesin.
- A year after its launch, it's snapped up celebrity clients and a Teen Vogue cover.
- This is part of Insider's entrepreneur series Star, Rising, which highlights early entrepreneurs.
Name: Kingsley Gbadegesin
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Business: A genderless clothing line that celebrates Black, queer, femme bodies.
Backstory: Despite his decade of fashion experience, Kingsley Gbadegesin found himself filing for unemployment last year as creative jobs began to dry up. Meanwhile, the pandemic was ravaging communities, and Black Lives Matter protests were sweeping the nation.
Gbadegesin decided to take his fashion experience, his leftover money, and new free time to launch a clothing line that highlights and caters to the Black and LGBTQ communities.
So, in September 2020, he launched the K.NGSLEY fashion label, becoming one of more than 4 million Americans who started a business last year. The US fashion industry, though it took a hit last year, is still worth more than $360 billion.
Kingsley began by selling tank tops, before expanding into accessories and shoes.
"It's important for people to feel like they're a part of the conversation and seen," Gbadegesin told Insider. "I want all types of people and body types to feel that they too are deserving to feel like 'the girl.' You have the right to feel like your most authentic self."
Growth: Since its launch, the brand has netted six figures in revenue, according to documents seen by Insider.
It has nearly 16,000 followers on Instagram and has worked with high-profile names, such as HBO Max for its ballroom competition show "Legendary," which saw K.NGSLEY gift tanks to the cast and crew of the show. "It was a full-circle moment," Gbadegesin said. "Ballroom has been a huge part of my life since I was 15."
Celebs such as beauty influencer Bretman Rock, pop star Lil Nas X, actress Issa Rae (on her HBO show "Insecure"), and Zaya Wade, daughter of Dwyane Wade, have been spotted wearing the label. This September, Natalia Bryant, daughter of the late Kobe Bryant, wore a K.NGSLEY cardigan on her cover of Teen Vogue.
The brand has also made donations to organizations such as Princess Janae Place, which helps members of the trans community find safe housing.
Before K.NGSLEY: Gbadegesin operated his own sales and marketing firm where he planned private events and campaigns for fashion brands such as Alexa Chung and Giorgio Armani.
Challenges: Finding more capital to expand the business has been hard, Gbadegesin said, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
"Taking risks on talent and people I want to work with to create K.NGSLEY is how you can say I'm overcoming those challenges," he said. "Investing in people whose work and talent I love is what I believe will help continue fostering our growth."
Business advice: "Pur your damn ego aside," Gbadegesin said. "Ask for help. Slide into your heroes' DMs and ask for advice, support, or coffee."
He added that it's important to stay consistent and vigilant and to not bend under pressure. "It's also OK if you say no to opportunities that are not right for you," he said. "That is what makes way for the yesses that matter."
Business mentor: Gbadegesin says Stacie Henderson, US Head of Ecommerce, Digital & Marketing at luxury shoe company TODS, reminded him that how a fashion line is presented is only one part of running a business.
Meanwhile, Nesli Danisma, president of fashion consultancy Angora Group, told him "even when you don't know what you're doing, you're still doing, and that is all that counts."
Why now is the best time to start a business: "It takes risk, it takes guts, and I say do it," Gbadegesin said. "The best bet you can ever make is on yourself."
On hiring: Right now, Gbadegesin is the only one full-time at the company, though he works with nine independent contractors and four factories. Next year, he hopes to expand his full-time team.
On managing burnout: Gbadegesin says he is working on ways to better manage his mental health.
"I've never climbed a mountain, but believe me, I know how it feels," he said. "If you don't take time for yourself, your body will."