A fashion jetsetter returns home
Local designer finds success in N.Y., but comfort in her home state

By Eileen Mozinski Schmidt - Special to The Freeman

Feb. 6, 2018

 Kit Hunzinger in her studio, Shop Kit, on Wisconsin Avenue in Waukesha.
Eileen Mozinski Schmidt/Special to The Freeman

WAUKESHA — She had nothing but “a suitcase and a dream.”

A few days after graduating from college, Kristin Hunzinger, known as “Kit”, purchased a one-way ticket to New York City.

“I just wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to just throw myself in the water and learn how to swim,” Hunzinger said.

Hunzinger, who grew up in Oconomowoc, knew by age 8 that she wanted a career in fashion and taught herself to sew. After high school, she was admitted to Savannah College of Art and Design, where for four years she furthered her studies and technique.

Her accomplishments notwithstanding, Hunzinger said her family still was a bit surprised when she announced a plan to move to New York City immediately after finishing school.

Fueled by youth and ambition, she set out and upon arrival in the metropolis gave herself three days to find an apartment.

“I truly wanted to be a fashion designer and I had always dreamt of stepping out the door and being somewhere,” Hunzinger said. “I didn’t care how hard it was, I wanted that struggle, that challenge,” she said.

It was the start of a career that Hunzinger would carefully build, making connections and gaining experience working for corporate apparel retailers and couture designers to become an established New York City fashion designer before circling back to Wisconsin to build her own label in a home grown studio.

Hunzinger’s first job in New York was with the GAP, where she was hired after a recruiter discovered her college portfolio. She worked both as a designer and behind the scenes on concepts.

Not long after, Hunzinger’s college dean called to tell her about an up-and-coming designer, Juan Carlos Obando, who had recently been designated the Council of Fashion Design Award / Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist and was looking for a seamstress to help him finish his collection.

The Council of Fashion awards are presented after a year-long competition, with winners receiving the financial backing to present a collection.

“This was JC’s first big show. His first launch to the world. I sewed up his collection with him, all-nighter after all-nighter,” Hunzinger said. “It was such a rush. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be.”

It was her first opportunity to work in couture and in putting together runway for New York Fashion Week.

Hunzinger went on to work closely with Obando for many years. Through him, she met several other high profile designers with whom she assisted in finishing collections and in work for runway, photoshoots, as well as sales and presentations. In designer Carol Hannah’s flagship studio, Hunzinger was one of five seamstresses sewing as many as three gowns a day for vendors across the nation and customized individual brides.

Working closely with the designers, Hunzinger learned about building a label. Working closely with the seamstresses, she learned about different backgrounds and traditions, enhancing her appreciation of her craft.

A change of pace

All was going well, when two years ago Hunzinger was struck by the need for a sabbatical from the New York pace of life.

Hunzinger decided to return to Wisconsin and to devote two months to building her own collection while working at her family’s cabin.

For a time, the location was ideal, “an introverted space,” where Hunzinger was able to work.

But soon she found that her two-month time frame was not enough to create an entire label, and for the moment, she had maximized her creative time in the Wisconsin woods. With a wealth of personal connections in the area, it seemed like the right time to look for a local studio space.

Hunzinger discovered an open location at 521 Wisconsin Ave. in Waukesha. The building is home to several artists, each with individual studio space but all enjoying a collective common area. It was the kind of studio Hunzinger had often dreamed of having.

“God has a plan for everything,” said Hunzinger, who moved in last May and opened the doors of Shop Kit at the end of June.

Now up and running, splashes of color from Hunzinger’s creations and supplies accent the white walls of the studio, illuminated by natural light from the large warehouse-style windows.

Similar to her start in learning the trade, Hunzinger is now teaching herself the business components of running her own label, called “Kit.”

Hunzinger’s line is focused on women’s evening wear, including gowns for runway and aisle debuts, and is balanced by accessory design. All pieces are designed and made by Hunzinger. Although she can envision hiring staff in the future, for now she enjoys being the sole manager of her art and craft.

It is a label that she describes as “classic and organic, with a touch of whimsical,” and is designed to instill strength and femininity.

“Ultimately, what I strive to create and achieve is confidence,” she said.

A busy lifestyle

Many of her clients are from the east and west coasts and fly in to visit her Waukesha studio. Hunzinger said keeping her social media accounts active has helped her maintain contacts as she grows her operation.

“It’s been really great. A graceful transition. I can still learn things as I go,” she said.

Her work is drawing a local customer base as well, like Lisa Peterson of Waukesha, who has purchased items both for herself and as gifts from the Kit label.

“I love her things,” said Peterson, who praised Hunzinger’s workmanship and added that it is beneficial for the community to be the setting for Shop Kit.

“I am thrilled when a young person lives in the area and contributes by not only be being here, but by having a business that supports our local economy,” Peterson said.

Hunzinger jets back to New York on a regular basis, as she works as a concept designer and production maker for Victoria’s Secret. She maintains couture positions as well. “I am always on call and am jumping in to assist other designers as they finish the final details of their collections while out in New York,” said Hunzinger, who also helps in theatre, film, and television with costume production.

A pattern has emerged of enjoying New York life and work, and then coming back to Wisconsin to catch a breath.

Hunzinger said she likes being part of the local community and working on projects like a drive she coordinated last fall on behalf of military personnel.

Working with Diana Markus, owner of Mama D’s Coffee, Hunzinger organized boxes to be filled with items of use for service members, giving a Shop Kit tote to the donators and then mailing the packages herself.

“It was well-received,” said Markus, who said every box Hunzinger dropped off was filled.

Markus said Hunzinger understands the sense of community in the area and has a zest for work and philanthropy that is contagious.

“She is such a go-to-it, high energy young lady,” Markus said. “I love that she’s back in the community.”

Hunzinger also teaches sewing classes at her studio, for ages 3 and up. It is an effort to pass on her own appreciation for her craft, an inclination discovered in childhood that still holds true.

“My answer to fixing anything is a needle and thread,” Hunzinger said.