Kristin Hildebrand’s desire to clean out her closet and simplify her life led her apply the same mindset to a line of workout wear that speaks to a more zen attitude to lifestyle. The result is Wone (pronounced one), a concise collection of all black basics made from some of the most luxurious (and tough) high-tech materials available. (Her first collection was so popular it is currently sold out; if you sign up for emails, you will get notified when they are available again in September.) Kristin is not new to the exercise arena, she was Concept Director at Nike. What makes Wone different? Kristin wants to change the reason you buy your next pair of leggings–not because they have a cute pattern on them, but because they are so luxurious, work with everything and last forever so you no longer have to think about them. Imagine that.
How do you describe your job, who you are, and what you do? My job is not really about creation, per se. I would say what I do is bring talented people together. I bring ideas and concepts throughout the world and kind of just tie everything together. It’s not necessarily that I’m creating anything out of thin air. Most of these pieces or components or people exist. It’s very similar to raising children. This human exists and you’re bringing to this person different experiences and showing them different things, but they exist on their own.
Where does the name Wone come from? What’s your inspiration? It was a feeling I wanted to invoke with the brand and I wanted to go back to, which is really this beautiful place that we don’t, as a Western culture, get to live in enough. The Japanese/Chinese term Wu Wei is what I’m trying to get after, which is this harmonious way of existing. It’s living for living’s sake. There’s not this incredible push or use of institutionalized social metrics of how well you’re doing in life by levels of achievement that, by the way, create a lot of anxiety within life. It’s just existing. And I think that’s so beautiful.
I grew up in the Midwest where I played a lot of sports and where levels of success and achievement were rooted in sports. When you won something you were allowed this break, this time and space to just be and exist. It felt like coaches supported that, your teachers, your parents. But those were fleeting moments.
Wone is very much the premise of if you lived your life as if you had won. I think it would be an incredibly different experience than us constantly chasing after this idea of achievement. For sports or for individual health and wellness, it is the act of playing a sport or being active just for the sake of being active, not for the sake of achieving some goal. It’s just that you really love the feeling of exercise. You really love the feeling of your body and what it can do. It’s conceptual, but that’s where it comes from.
Can you talk a little bit about your career path up to the launch of your collection? I’ve been in fashion for 15+ years and I’ve always really loved what it can do and what it means for people. There’s times when I’ve been jaded by it and its direction because seemingly there are points in time where it can be really shallow. But I also think brands create purpose and depth for people and can be these beautiful, shining beacons of hope. We’re starting to see that, especially with health and wellness.
I’ve had lots of different roles within the fashion industry ranging from more individualized to more broad; my last role, as concept director at Nike, was really broad. But I found that I was bringing things together in my mind that I thought should exist together to create something bigger, more powerful, or more meaningful.
In 2012 I built one of the first secular meditation studios in the Pacific Northwest. That had a really powerful effect on me. I really loved what it did for people in terms of the inspiration and direction and guidance and just being outside of product. My intent was to get back into product, but I was just never able to do it it with meditation studio. So that’s where I kind of wanted to re-arrive at a place where I could offer product as an entry point into an idea or a philosophy. That’s where I am at now with the brand.
You launched a very edited, almost capsule collection. Why is that? Why is it all black? I wanted to make sure that I was approaching the collection and the intent with the purity of the idea and the concept, meaning that inevitably every collection, every range will grow and will offer different colors, and different styles, and what have you. But I wanted to make sure that in the very beginning, it was more of a purist approach. And from my understanding of what sells within the fashion industry, what’s in my closet, and the feedback from a lot of different people, it’s that black is a fundamental color. For me to start with diverse first offering felt like it would be not on concept.
What makes the clothes stand out? What do you think makes them different than other athletic wear in the market? People often ask me “Why would you get into a space that’s so crowded?” My answer to that is always that it’s very easy to spot what’s missing in a crowded marketplace. I had just had a baby who’s now two. I was looking to edit my closet. My closets were absolutely insane, because I used to be a fashion blogger. But it was such a disaster to get dressed in the morning. I’d done a lot of editing up until that point, but I wanted to do even more because, I think that you can get to a place where you’re still chic and are still fashionable and relevant, but you don’t have the baggage of weeding through this enormous amount of clothing. I wanted to offer that same idea or relief to my customers too, that they would be able to put on whatever I’m giving them and it would work with everything. A specific example is the bra that we designed, it doesn’t have a racerback, and that’s very specific to the idea that a racerback is sort of indicative of sport and that the versatility goes away when you have a pronounced cross-back of any sort.
We wanted to make something that was universally super easy to transition from Pilates class to wherever else you’re going; each and every single piece that we make has that intention. It’s to actually get out of people’s way instead of being in the way, because I find a lot of designers will populate the aesthetic of the design, or of the garment, with their “brand.” It’s become really obnoxious. And I think it’s intrusive to people’s lives. I didn’t want to do that.
What did you take from your work at Nike and apply to what you’re doing now? What did you want to do differently? I’m incredibly grateful to Nike for teaching me how to manage not only myself but whatever my goals are, whatever I’m needing to get done in a very highly not only competitive but political space. I think that that skill set is absolutely incredible and obviously helps me in what I’m doing now.
The things that I’ve avoided, and it’s not necessarily just Nike, it’s every company that I’ve worked for, are the wearability conversation that we just had, the sustainability conversation, which is very much around print, pattern, color, even outside of just what materials you’re using. It’s making sure that the product has emotional durability as well as physical durability. To that point we’ve got fabrics that are absolutely incredible. They’re passing tests that the rest of the industry can’t pass.
We’re really proud of the sustainability conversation because it does become more of a timeless piece that you’re going to wear forever. If I sell you a pair of leggings, I know that you will wear those for the next at least five years because I haven’t put anything on them that would detract you from doing so. If I never see you again that makes me feel good.
What came easiest for you in starting Wone? What was hardest? The easy part was the philosophy of where I was coming from and grounding the brand. What was hard or difficult about it? I don’t know. From my experience with meditation studio and my blog prior, I had been doing product on my own, so there’s nothing that was really surprising to me per se.
I face different challenges for sure, but I’m into self-actualization and I’m looking at the challenges as beautiful blessings for growth. I feel like it’s a really positive.
Three words that describe Wone: Simplicity, discipline, and ease.
Three words that describe you: What’s always hard. I have this beautiful quote by Alan Watts, and he talks about trying to describe yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. I love that. I hate to say it this way because I hate this cliché, but I wear lots of different hats during my day and in my life so it’s difficult to put three words to it because it’ll always change.
And I like what Buddha said when asked, “What are you, and who are you?” He’s replied, “I am awake.” I really like that.
Attribute that helps you succeed: Probably my tenacity. I think that goes back to the sports days and not being able to give up on something.
What’s next for Wone? They always say that an entrepreneurship is not a straight line, it’s very squiggly. It’s kind of where I’m at. It’s very squiggly, meaning that initially I was like, “Okay, we’re just doing direct-to-consumer.” And we got some incredible interest from some really beautiful retailers. So that’s where we’re at right now and I’m really excited.
Role models: I really want role models. I think that I’m probably still looking for them. Lots of people talk about gurus, but I have not found that person yet. I would love to.
Career advice: I would just say that there really isn’t a “right time,” because there’s so many variables. I think people need to just get out and start doing whatever they’re thinking about. Just start wherever you’re at, because inevitably you’re going to have hardships and hurdles that don’t necessarily work out. But that’s sort of the point.
What motivates you? My husband and my kids. It made me think of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning which is this beautiful account of a man who was in a prison camp and was able to find happiness, purpose, and substance around his life by way of what he was living for, and that was his family.
What’s your favorite form of exercise? When do you wear Wone? I don’t know if this term actually exists, but the premise of Wone really is these contemplative sports, which are individual and are really centric around the focus and the discipline around whatever you’re doing. So if it’s a Pilates, if it’s you’re very focused on your form, and you’re thinking about your muscles; if it’s boxing, where you’re doing the same exact thing, you’re very focused on your form. Skydiving is sort of in there too, where you’re in the moment, and then you’re relaxing into a free fall. Flying is the same thing. Those are more hobbies, but it’s sort of the same thing, running as well. I like contemplative sports. I have to be thinking, disciplined and engaged in whatever I’m doing.
Life goals: Self-actualization. I like this better than “wellness” because I think wellness tends to be more narrow than self-actualization. Self-actualization encompasses every aspect of your life. So that’s really where I’m going. I want to be the very best I can be in all areas of my life. I want to be an amazing parent. I want to be as fit as I possibly can be. I want to do amazing things with my career. The list goes on. And further to that, I think what’s fascinating to me right now in self-actualization is the idea of the subconscious and what programs we’re running. I’ve been doing a lot of hypnotherapy, which is supposed to unlock some of the programs we have running and that we use to make conscious decisions about every single day. I hope that will get me to a place where I’m not self-sabotaging my life and that I’m achieving everything that I want to achieve.
Daily goals: Being present and having gratitude. Present meaning that I’m actually here and not in my head. And obviously gratitude because it teaches me to come back to the moment. So I work on that a lot, really specifically at night and in the morning.
Daily rituals: I really love these rocking chairs that we have on our side patio. I find them really grounding. I do meditations there. I looked it up and found out that rocking chairs ease anxiety quite a bit. So I’m kind of like letting everybody know that they need rocking chair.
It’s such an old-world thing, but they’re fantastic.
They are very calming if you really think about it.
Favorite inspirational/motivational read: Anything by Alan Watts.
How do you unplug? Everything that we’ve discussed–meditation, hypnosis, the rocking chair, swinging too. We have swings in the front. It’s such a weird thing, but we do.
Hidden talents or hobbies: Other than me flying…everyone always finds that shocking, but I do fly.
Favorite charity: The Center for Humane Technology.
Do you collect anything? I don’t. I feel all good things in life are ephemeral.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Probably building the meditation studio and also this brand. I self-funded both of them.
Favorite small indulgence: Staring at the sky. Again, it goes back to that idea of winning. You’re allowed to do that stuff, at least in the Western world, after you’ve won, right? You’ll see people taking those like really long moments and being hyper-present and indulging in really small insignificant things like staring at the sky. And everyone says, “Oh, they get a pass because they did this incredible thing.” It’s like, no, we should be able to do that stuff.
Album currently on repeat: The soundtrack from The Last Man on the Moon by Lorne Balfe.
Scent that brings back memories: Lilac.
Lucky charm: Gratitude.
Favorite hour of the day: This is super funny that you ask this. It’s 3:00. I’ve spoken with a lot of different people about this, and it’s just probably my own perception, but seemingly you’ve got different points in your day measured by hours that are significant. You’ve got your 7:00 or whenever you’re waking up. Then you’ve got your arrive at work or get your day started, which is like 9:00, 10:00. You get into your 11:00, and then 12:00 is pretty significant, right, because it’s lunch, and even 1:00 and 2:00– there are lots of meetings scheduled during that time, or maybe you’re working out during that time. But seemingly 3:00 comes around and no one can ever remember 3:00–it’s just this really strange black hole of the day. So it’s my favorite. I’m really interested in 3:00 PM.