10 Things You Didn't Know About Kinfolk Magazine

The scrappy backstory and bold strategies behind the Portland-based entertaining magazine's global triumph.

By Zach Dundas and Benjamin Tepler April 22, 2014

Everyone wants the Kinfolk look: a rustic-chic sophistication that can turn any Mason jar into a centerpiece. But how did a tiny magazine, based behind a bodega on Portland's Northeast MLK, conquer the world? Find out in Ben Tepler's in-depth Portland Monthly feature, in which you'll learn:

1. Nathan Williams started Kinfolk when he was practically a kid. Williams, now 27, hatched the magazine in 2011, his final year of college, with his wife Katie and two friends. The team plotted a magazine that would break the “millennial” mold—which they associated with bar hopping and clubbing—in favor of what Williams has since called “casual entertaining.” “I’m not interested in name cards or centerpieces," Williams says. "I’m more interested in the social elements of entertaining: the people, the conversations.”

2. The magazine's first headquarters was a scruffy, tiny student-housing apartment at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

3. Kinfolk inspired Williams to walk out on Goldman Sachs. Shortly after graduation, as Kinfolk's first issue readied for launch, the New York-based financial titan recruited Nathan. He sat in his Manhattan orientation, glued to his iPad, riveted by a flurry of e-mail and web stats illustrating the new publication’s online debut. He then discovered that Goldman policy forbids involvement in outside publishing projects. Goodbye, Goldman (and probably six- or seven-figure income).

4. The magazine is the Velvet Underground of publishing, influential beyond its size. Kinfolk enjoys a rabid following, selling 55,000 copies of one recent issue (at $18 per copy, no less). But beyond the newsstand, its signature aesthetic is changing the design world. “Whenever we have a photo shoot, I get a lot of that soft focus and overhead shots of tables,” says Kate Bingaman-Burt, a Portland State assistant professor in graphic design. “Kinfolk totally owns that aesthetic.”  

5. The Japanese love Kinfolk. The magazine tapped a vein of enthusiasm in Japan, selling as many as 14,000 copies per issue of a magazine containing not one word of Japanese. Williams and company launched a full-scale Japanese edition in June, 2013.

6. The magazine also publishes editions tailored to Russia, Korea, and China, fully translated with locally relevant inserts.

7. "Advertising would chop up Kinfolk's message," says Williams. With its high cover price and total lack of ads, the magazine completely inverts its industry's traditional business model.

8. Live events, often synchronized, are a key part of Kinfolk's strategy. The magazine orchestrates family-style dinners, honey harvests, nose-to-tail pig butchery workshops, and the like, around the world. It vets a “Kinfolk Ambassador” to guide each one.

9. Given this international proselytizing, it’s hard not to think of Kinfolk’s origins at a university run by the Mormon Church. Even so, Kinfolk is definitely not faith-based: the magazine covers coffee and alcohol, both traditionally off limits for Mormons. “Maybe it influences us subconsciously,” Williams says. “But we aren’t pushing that sort of information on our readers at all.” 

10. The magazine and its brand look set for a bright future. Kinfolk's website attracts about 175,000 unique visitors per month, and a branded cookbook published last fall has already sold over 70,000 copies. The defining lifestyle magazine of a generation may be tucked behind a Portland corner store. 

Want more? Read the whole story!

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