25 years ago on August 13, 1991 Kiitos Inc. was introduced! Take a look at the evolution of our store from catalog & phone only to Madison then Third Avenue and eCommerce. Does our "new" Kiitos logo look familiar?
The letter that started it all in 1991!
Josie & Gunilla.
Catalog from the '90s!
Our "models" Josie and sister/store manager Harriet.
Second floor Madison Avenue location.
Josie in the Madison Avenue store.
Harriet in the Madison Avenue store.
Q&A With Founder Josie Chekouras
Open since 1991, Kiitos has continued its legacy as a multi-brand shop. In light of our anniversary and lots of exciting changes, we asked KIITOSlife Founder Josie Chekouras some of your burning questions:
What inspired you to start KIITOS?
J: I worked as the Store Manager for Marimekko Flagship in August 1989 until the store closed in April of 1991. I was responsible for handling the closing of the store and as a result I worked very closely with Marimekko in Finland and Donna Gorman, the design director at the time in the US. (We currently offer her brand, SEE DESIGNS). Closing the Marimekko store was a very emotional process and I came to realize my and everyone's great passion for the brand; something had to done! I made a proposal to the president of Marimekko to open a Marimekko mail order/catalogue business in Long Island City. With his blessing, I teamed up with Gunilla Whalen (a Finnish/Swedish part-time sales associate at Marimekko) to launch KIITOS in July of 1991. Due to the overwhelming response and customers demanding to come to my home to shop (which was the showroom and working space for KIITOS), we decided it was time for a retail outlet in NYC.
How do your travels influence the store?
J: I seek the best products throughout the world. Products that I personally love and would wear. I pay attention to which items fit well and what I would love to have in my wardrobe. I look for timeless, classic pieces that are varied in style. I love easy-to-wear statement pieces especially for jewelry. When I travel, I am inspired by people that I meet and observe. I like to see people in their environment and removed from their environment, people from different countries and people at crossroads such as airports that I am travelling through. I also research areas that quality designers come from such as the Nordic designers. I look for the same qualities as the Marimekko brand that evoke the same emotions.
What are your favorite travel destinations?
J: I have been living part-time in Sydney, Australia for the past three years. While traveling, I look to lifestyle influences for more versatile, wearable, transitional pieces that are also statement pieces. I have experienced that our busy everyday lives dictate our wardrobe and prohibit us from wearing apparel and accessories that don't transition day to evening or, in the case of jewelry, cannot be too expensive to wear because you fear losing it. For example, I am a yogi, so taking a great caftan and necklace with me to throw on after class for some food shopping or a coffee or for whomever I may possibly meet in my explorations, is priceless! Many have resorted to wearing athletic wear all day long, which can be great for practicality; however, it can limit your personal expression. I like to carry clothes that can be thrown on comfortably that are still unique to your style. I travel extensively in any given year to the Nordic Countries, Northern and Central Europe and the Middle East.
Scroll down for part 2 of the Q&A!
The man who inspired it all: Josie's father, a small business owner himself.
Josie's mother, wearing vintage Marimekko.
Josie's son helping out in the Third Avenue store.
The classic Jokapoika, always in style!
Kiitosmarimekko.com launches in 2000!
Part 2 of our Q&A with Founder Josie Chekouras
How do you find new brands and products to sell in the store?
J: I find new brands by attending fashion shows, researching online, and exploring small boutiques, galleries, and museums. I pull inspiration from all of these places. I also have a wide network within the fashion world that causes a chain reaction of discovery. By word of mouth, one brand leads to another brand. The products that we already carry inspire me. For example, the wonderful colors, patterns and silhouettes of the Marimekko line and the simple pieces in the Ritva Falla line scream for big statement jewelry. I have searched for jewelry that can compliment the lines that I already carry.
What is the next phase of KIITOS?
J: In recent years the way we interact online has evolved greatly and as customers embrace this, the shopping experience can be more immediate, more personal, and more fulfilling. To offer a great shopping experience Kiitoslife needs to be focused and personal. For this reason we are taking Kiitos strictly digital. This will allow for so many more exciting opportunities for our customers. KIITOS will be able to carry additional brands and a wider selection. Our focus will be on serving customers with the special individual attention that has always been our trademark. We will once again be offering 'ON APPROVAL SHOPPING' with a personal touch for our VIP's that do not like shopping online. We will be introducing CHAT and MESSENGER in addition to call-in customer service. I will personally be a part of the customer service call/chat team and even be available by appointment! Our team will be accessible seven days a week to answer questions and help in fashion selections. KIITOS will host fun pop-up shops, holiday events, sample sales and an opportunity to visit our office/showroom. I am so excited for this next phase and fun transformation!
Harper's Bazaar Magazine 2001.
Catalog circa 2002.
Making the move to Third Avenue.
Third Avenue window.
NYT "Currents" 2003.
The Bard Center's "Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion & Architecture" museum tour goes to the Finnish Embassy in DC. From left to right, Margie (seamstress), Josie, Kaisa (then assistant store manager, now eCommerce manager), Harriet (store manager).
Part 3 of our Q&A with Founder Josie Chekouras
What was your most recent travel exploration?
J: Athens, Greece…where I have extensive family. While in Athens, my dear friend Joan introduced me to jewelry designer Fotini Kostouli, after I saw an awesome ring that she was wearing. I went to her gallery show that she put together in Pireaus, Athens. At her show, I also discovered, fell in love with, and have been wearing her exclusive hand painted caftan and silk slip dresses! She paints her jewelry on these garments and I think these are brilliant! Simple, wearable, not body clenching, exquisite statement pieces. I was hooked!
I have actually picked up Fotini Kostouli’s product line for KIITOS and she is making some exclusive designs for us! I am so excited for these statement jewelry pieces. The collection is inspired from planet Earth and is expressed by colors that are predominant in the Greek landscape: blue deriving from the clear skies and the magical Aegean Sea, gold from the warm and welcoming sun, silver for the mystical and promising moon. The line is NOW available on KIITOSlife.com! I know the KIITOS shoppers will love this jewelry, which is a perfect kickoff for our 25th anniversary: it is glittery, whimsical, and worldly fun! This trip to Greece was full of incredible discoveries of new pieces to bring to KIITOS.
What brand/product are you most excited about right now?
J: I am extremely excited about our continuing collaboration with Finnish designer Marita Huurinainen and her fabulous prints! I will be traveling with her to Finland and working closely to tweak sizing and develop a few custom silhouettes that I know will look amazing on my customers for SPRING/SUMMER 2017. Look out for exclusive collaborations!
There are also four other Finnish brands that we will be introducing in Spring 2017 that are guaranteed to please! One of these brands will be a big surprise that I cannot wait to unveil. Additionally, we will be revealing profiles of the designers and brands we carry, so that our customers can get an extra special inside look. We will not only uncover their lives and work studios but also their inspirations and advice on what it takes to be a success! Even more surprises are on the way for our KIITOS customers. Stay tuned via our Email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to see exciting promotions, news, and brands!