Blink, and you might miss Kin Ship Goods’ new headquarters on Lee Street.
The company recently relocated from Louisville, Ky., to a tiny two-story building sandwiched between the former Stone & Thomas department store and the AT&T building.
It’s a little reminiscent of the house from the Stuart Little movies. But it’s the perfect home for a company whose unofficial motto is “Stay cozy.”
Kin Ship Goods produces a line of light-hearted home goods and apparel that have been featured in Country Living Magazine and websites like Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge and ModCloth.
Their most popular item is a T-shirt featuring a silhouette of a cat’s head, overlaid with the slogan “Ask me about my cat.”
“That’s what pays the rent, co-owner Hillary Harrison said.
The company’s other products are similarly ebullient. The second-most popular design depicts a kitten reading a book. Another design features a mountain sunrise, and another sports the faux-profane catchphrase “What the Cuss?”
There’s a baby romper that boasts “Too young for coffee but still going strong.”
Co-founders Dan Davis, 30, and Harrison, 33, started Kin Ship Goods in 2009, while they were both working at an art gallery. Davis was a longtime screen printer and Harrison worked as the gallery’s purchasing agent.
“We said ’Let’s just make our own stuff,'” Davis said.
The operation started small, with Davis printing shirts in a spare bedroom. But then Kin Ship Goods was featured on the front page of Etsy, an online marketplace for crafters and artists.
Orders came flooding in, and the business eventually became steady enough for Davis and Harrison to quit their other jobs and devote their full attention to Kin Ship.
The couple began talking about moving to West Virginia three years ago.
“The timing felt right,” Harrison said.
She was raised in Sissonville but moved away as soon as she graduated from high school.
“I knew the whole time I grew up here I was going to leave when I turned 18,” she said.
But the mountains kept calling her home.
Davis, who was born in Germany but raised in Louisville, visited Charleston with Harrison and found he liked the area, too.
“I like that it’s big, but it doesn’t feel big,” he said.
They began looking for a commercial space around the area to house Kin Ship’s new headquarters, but it wasn’t easy.
The couple found some places they could afford, but were not big enough to accommodate their growing screenprinting operation. They found places that could accommodate their business, but those spaces were far too expensive.
Then, while visiting the Mountain State last Thanksgiving, they noticed a “For Rent” sign on the little building on Lee St.
“I’d never noticed it before, and I grew up here,” Harrison said. “It just looked kind of abandoned.”
It was abandoned.
Davis and Harrison don’t know much about the history of their new building, but they have been told it formerly housed a dress shop and a cafe. At some point, Stone & Thomas might have used the space to store its Christmas decorations.
“We haven’t been able to find any solid information,” Harrison said.
Davis heard a tailor tried to set up shop in the space several years ago but it didn’t work out. The space has been vacant ever since.
The space was perfect for what Harrison and Davis wanted to do, however. They moved into their new headquarters in January.
It was hardly a smooth transition. First, a chemical spill that left hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without potable water. Then, a water line burst and flooded the downstairs of Kin Ship’s new home, ruining lots of merchandise and destroying several of Davis’s printing screens.
They weren’t able to begin filling orders again until early April, but are now in full operation.
Davis set up his large screen printing presses in the back of the shop. He plans to build an even bigger press in the near future, that will allow him to screen print textiles.
Harrison works from a desk in the middle of the room, where she stuffs hand-printed boxes with t-shirts, sweat shirts, pillow cases, tote bags and coffee cups from a nearby shelf.
The couple plans to open a small store at the front of the building on June 26, in time for the city’s annual FestivALL celebration.
The shop will offer Kin Ship Goods merchandise along with other locally-made products and other unique items. Davis and Harrison also plan to host art exhibits in the space.