I once heard a bit in which the comedian walked into a boutique to shop for clothes, only to find one t-shirt on a hanger and a DJ playing music. The exchange was something to the effect of,
“Excuse me—how much is this shirt?”
“I don’t know, man. I’m spinnin.’”
That sort of stark, sterile, too-cool milieu probably holds a place in some people’s hearts. Hell, maybe it even serves a purpose. But it certainly always evoked in me a sense of spiritual emptiness—like Style had stolen Substance’s girl at the party and was off somewhere trying to coerce her into casual sex. Blech.
A boutique is “a small store that sells stylish clothing, jewelry, or other luxury goods.”
By that definition, Kiln is a boutique. But there are some important clarifications to make.
First of all, stylish is a very subjective term.
Luxury is also relative. But it does imply a sense of wasteful extravagance, and that’s where Kiln pulls the hand brake and does a 180.
Kiln, by its own definition, is “a small, intimate purveyor of curated goods and garments that, through the quality of their design, will likely last you the rest of your life—or close to it.”
Marc Desrosiers grew up in Saco, Maine, a little town of less than twenty thousand folks nestled against the chilly north Atlantic about 10 miles down the road from Portland. It’s in the heart of one of the nation’s most historically prolific textile industries.
Born into a family of blue-collar veterans of the local trade, Desrosiers spent his youth with one foot in a mill and another in the ocean, surrounded by pine trees. Suffice it to say, he came by his sense of style honestly.
While attending the University of Maine at Orono, he built a sort of custom program, split between design, studio art, and new media. Then, this happened:
“Last semester of senior year,” Desrosiers began, “I was recruited by L.L. Bean. They found me through one of my professors, and they wanted me to help them with a project.”
For readers unaware, this would be the rough equivalent of someone on Urban Meyer’s staff phoning a student in C deck during a game and asking what play the Buckeyes ought to run next.
“My family couldn’t really afford Bean. We’d get a new backpack every six years or so.”
Every once in a great while, he said, his mother would take the kids up to the Bean store and let them pick something out—just one thing.
“I got a bright yellow vest with fleece lining. I wore that thing every day. I thought it was the shit.
“When I got that phone call [from L.L. Bean], the first time driving down Casco Street, walking through the front doors … there was a sense of stewardship.”
There’s another word. Stewardship. It basically means the act of caring for something. And that’s what Kiln is about.
I learned through our discussions that the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just behind big oil. “Fast fashion” not only increases production, which increases the amount of energy consumed and chemicals and dyes used, but it also increases waste.
The clothing at Kiln is selected personally by Desrosiers from some of the most reliable brands in the world. He does, however, try to stock as much American-made product as possible. But not for the reason I assumed.
“The majority of our brands are still stateside,” Desrosiers told me. “Very simply, international brands have to ship internationally. It’s wasteful. It’s about buying local as well, but we want to be connected to our providers and to make as little impact as possible.”
Sustainability. The clothes sold at Kiln are priced not based on demand. They’re priced based on the cost of the fabric used to make them. These things are just made better.
“When that next big thing (in fashion) rears its head, it goes to such extremes that it winds up turning people away. The whole trend in menswear of masculinity and function got distilled down to red and black flannels and beard oil. It should be so much more than that. When something novel and yet necessary has been distilled down to a trope, that’s really unfortunate.
“But I think the industry is starting to correct itself. We’re in this little warm spot in the middle. You just don’t need an axe with a painted handle. Our point of view is that it’s okay to be you.
“Every industry has trends. But you used to have to be part of a club to walk into a men’s boutique. A badge that you were cool. And that’s a load of bullshit. We sold an electrician a pair of Carhartt pants recently. I had to ask him, ‘Why here?’ He said, ‘Because they fit better.’” •
Kiln Men’s Mercantile is open Tuesday through Sunday at 988 N High St. Its full website will be operational in March. Find them on Instagram.