“Oh boy. This isn’t good,” says Jeremiah Mandel, brushing his fingertips over pink streaks of body paint staining the white brick walls of Kinfolk 94.
“Last night here there was a naked dance party that Gawker did for Skin Wars,” Kinfolk 94’s brand director explains, referring to the television show on Game Show Network that explores the world of competitive body painting. Mandel flicks through pictures of the event on his iPhone: nearly nude models painted like mutant fashionistas strutting down a makeshift runway. “It’s kind of scary. Super fucking craze. It was just a unique experience, and that’s what’s super exciting about this place. I don’t see it as anything but a white cube that we can fill with whatever we want to do.”
This “white cube” is Kinfolk 94 (the “94” derived from its street address at 94 Wythe Ave.), a self-defined “multi-use creative space” located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is the offspring of Kinfolk, a lifestyle brand with roots in Tokyo (the company was founded there in 2008, and has no relationship to Kinfolk Magazine). Urban creatives shop at the adjoining Kinfolk Store, which features Japanese streetwear labels like Bedwin and the Heartbreakers in addition to the company’s own line of baseball hats and chambray shirts. They also hang out at Kinfolk 90, which functions as a coffee shop/restaurant/bar that also doubles as a design studio.
But Kinfolk 94 is where they go to party. Mandel is responsible for programming events and transforming the former industrial storage space to fit a variety of specific needs. Sometimes this means hosting a quirky weekly gathering like Morning Gloryville, a sober 6:30 a.m. affair whose description sounds like a parody of the Brooklyn ethos: “An immersive morning dance experience for those who dare to challenge morning culture and start their day in style!” Other times it means temporarily installing flat-screen televisions for get-togethers as commonplace as a World Cup screening, which they did last year in collaboration with Victory Journal. The mood at Kinfolk 94 can be incredibly disparate over the course of a weekend, shifting from housing a raucous hip-hop night—“definitely mad people got pregnant”—to a first birthday party to a memorial service. Camera crews have also capitalized on Kinfolk 94’s cinematic potential: Saturday Night Live shot a scene for Swiftamine there, a commercial parodying Taylor Swift converts.
“What I do here is create environments within the environment,” says Mandel, sitting under the club’s sprawling cedar, geodesic dome that resembles a ribbed wave. “Whatever the occasion, I’m able to set that vibe.”
Mandel attributes his ability to connect with different scenes to his upbringing in Hawai‘i, where his mother raised him “single-mom style” for the majority of his life. “I’m good at storytelling because it’s hard growing up a white kid in Hawai‘i,” he says. “Being able to fabricate and express ideas in a unique way became a forté of mine, and [I used] that to make friends. Like if I’m at a hip-hop club and it’s all Filipino … how do I not make myself an outcast there? Through talent and conversation. Through being a perspective.”
Mandel, who’s 35, left the islands to attend Pratt University, where he graduated with a degree in industrial design. The former misfit, who almost failed out of Kalaheo High School his freshman year, found a design-oriented community of friends that included the future owners of Kinfolk. As the brand expands, with a Los Angeles location currently in the works, Mandel has also been spearheading the company’s foray into the creative agency realm, lending Kinfolk’s stamp as a small, community oriented design firm to mega brands like Nike and Reef; they recently partnered with Masafumi “Bebetan” Watanabe of Bedwin and the Heartbreakers for a collaboration line of classic menswear staples.
Although he’s been in New York for more than 12 years, Hawai‘i continues to inform Mandel’s interactions with high-powered executives. He says he has learned to tap into a well of island humility, gained from, among other things, years surfing Makapu‘u, when doing business. “I find that just hitting them with the nice simple personality, which is who I am, really works with them because they’re … super receptive to mellow chillness,” he says. “I don’t want to say no, because I think there is a solution to every problem. Finding a way to work together and build something is hard, but it’s so rewarding.”
Kinfolk 94 is located in Brooklyn at 94 Wythe Ave. For more information, visit kinfolklife.com.