This article was first published in The Points Living Magazine.
On any given morning, you might notice Tami Fujii and Keith Heffernan walking their rescue terrier Riley around the neighborhood. Up 98th, over 24th, and around Clyde Hill Elementary, stopping to say hi to neighbors and friends. Once they make it back to their house on Clyde Hill, they go inside their respective home offices like so many of us these days. But Tami and Keith work shoulder to shoulder, as CMO and CFO respectively for KINONA - a business grown in part, in our backyard.
KINONA is a unique women’s golf fashion brand founded in 2017 by our very own long-term Bellevue native, Tami, and LA-based Dianne Jefferies. With a vision of inspiring women to achieve more in their communities and on the green, KINONA has found good reason to celebrate milestones along its’ journey:
KINONA has seen its business grow quickly, with year over year revenue doubling. The online portion of its business is up 400% since March of this year. But, even Keith will tell you, it’s not these numbers that make KINONA so special, it’s the people and the values. In 2019 KINONA announced Patti Sheehan, golf legend and LPGA winner, as one of its board of advisors. KINONA’s always supported women in golf organizations, and this year they’ve announced a partnership with the LPGA Girls Golf. Also this year, having a growing loyal customer base they’ve been able to launch a unique VIP Program, Queen of the Green.
A Global Beginning
How did KINONA start? Tami has a background in merchandising and marketing, having worked at well-known brands any Seattlite will recognize - Frederick and Nelson, Eddie Bauer, PMI. At the height of her corporate career, Tami and then business associate Dianne Jefferies would travel the world sourcing products.
They had a shared experience in the apparel industry, a passion for sustainability, and ethical sourcing materials from touring production sites. Tami and Dianne bonded and formed a set of shared values that would prove to be unbreakable. They also learned the importance of relationships in the industry - that those could make or break a brand and a business. From the mill, to the production plant, to the distribution center - these were people and communities first, a supply chain second.
A Vow to Make it Happen
Dianne and Tami would find themselves playing golf at corporate events, often the only women, and were disappointed in the options golf fashion provided to them. They did not feel like the golf fashion industry was taking them seriously. Who came up with these designs? Why did they think boxy polos are OK for women golfers? What started as a joke quickly snowballed into a business idea. Why should women have to settle?! They knew they had the right to expect more from the fashion industry - and that they were the ones who would have to make it happen or otherwise stop complaining.
A Leap of Faith and a Safety Net
In 2017, Tami and Dianne co-founded KINONA. With the support of their spouses (both were recently remarried and with adult children), their team, their industry network, their past colleagues, they managed to get KINONA to its first collection launch in 2018. “Taking a leap of faith is really about trust. Trusting yourself, trusting your team, trusting your idea, and just going for it.” Tami says of the experience.
After an exhilarating and exhausting first year, Keith joined KINONA in 2018 as their CFO. “He got sucked into it,” says Tami, but having also spoken to Keith, I know he enjoys it. He retired from his career as financial director at T-Mobile, Amazon, Starbucks, among others. He also knew a few things about business and growth. Keith was the right person to take this startup and put it on a growth trajectory.
Trunk Shows to Country Clubs
In its early days, KINONA was modeled, demo-ed, and sold from trunk shows. Some, in our very own community. Tami is quick to talk highly of the community at every opportunity. “We’ve had so much support over the years - friends “shopping” our samples, giving feedback on upcoming collections, and just lending an ear.” says Tami, “ So many of our good friends live just down the road.” While KINONA does not have a retail location, it can be found at Overlake Country Club, Glendale Country Club, Newcastle, Sahalee, Seattle Golf Club. And at another 250 premium country clubs across the country.
As a values-driven business, KINONA makes decisions every day with community front of mind. Community may mean their local community of friends, country clubs, the larger global community of apparel manufacturing, or women in golf. Being an entrepreneur is not easy, and both Tami and Keith know - nobody does it alone.
“Nothing makes us happier than seeing someone in KINONA on the course,” says Tami and Keith, of their membership at Glendale Country Club. “It symbolizes so much. Support. Community. Sustainability.”
So the next time you see Tami and Keith and their adorable Riley on their morning walk, ask them about their new collection. They’d love the opportunity to get to know you - and say thank you.
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