KAY BLUM, CEO (BUTCH BLUM)

FIELD: ENTREPRENUERSHIP, RETAIL HOME: SEATTLE, NEW YORK


A. | How do you define yourself? 

I am a lifetime fashion industry executive. My career began at Neiman Marcus, I was hired to go through their executive training program, became hired to become the youngest buyer in the history of the store and when I began there were 6 stores and when I left there were 22 so  my 10 years were during their biggest expansion.

I married my husband who I met in the marketplace at that time and we expanded our store to include women and I have been the CEO of our company for the last 15 years.

(In other words "I'm just a beginner:)

When I graduated college with a business degree I interviewed with a dozen of the best stores across the U.S. and was very fortunate to get offers from all of them and chose Neiman because of them being poised to expand and I felt like moving up would happen relatively quickly and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

A. | How did you become interested in the fashion industry? 

I always had a propensity for fashion. I think there are folks who just grow up making their own clothes like I did who are interested in design or altering their own clothes. I also grew up in the music business with Austin grassroots music scene  surrounding me and there is a lot of synergy between music and the fashion industry. 

We have always had ties with the music and film industry here. We believe there are strong ties between the Arts and Fashion, Fashion being an art form itself. In runway shows, which we produce every five years, music & current films are a huge part of that. We just recently did a joint event with SIFF and we have partnered with the SAM for some of  their fashion exhibits.

With our 30th anniversary show we saved instrumental music in Seattle public schools, we raised 300,000 which funded an entire year of music instruction for all 60 elementary schools. At all levels, we believe in the Arts. 

In the 80's we revamped Seattle Symphony’s largest fundraiser - Symphoneve -  and nearly doubled their revenues. 

A. | What would you like to see more of in Seattle's fashion industry?

There are  lots of different elements needed to have a strong fashion industry.

The main thing that Seattle doesn't have versus a Los Angeles or Chicago or a New York is population, we are not as big!  Unless you have a literal number of bodies within the metroplex to have those levels needed for manufacturing  - you won’t have garment workers for example, it is very difficult to build a significant industry in many things. 

If you look at the ebb and flow of being or Microsoft, they are mostly looking for a highly skilled worker  vs. in the fashion industry  there are a lot of opening price point jobs. 

Seattle is growing but the truth is that when you take to the various people that have started businesses here, they have had to go to other places to find skilled labor because there just weren't enough people here;  there's not enough in such as small area comparatively. 

The second reason is because within any level population you are going to get a certain amount of talent that rises to the top and the more competitive it becomes the better the talent is that rises to the top.

It takes some time and institutions in place that will develop that talent. You know, the Seattle Arts Institute has not been around for that long and their level of design and development  is really not that robust. We do have the FIT institute out in Tukwila but again it hasn't been around that long. 

It is only time before these institutions start to generate a more robust group of graduates. 

A. | What do you do for liberation from your routine?

I am a religious lap swimmer, I swim a mile 5 days out of 7 I am a religious reader and I have two sons and a really cute hubby.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Sustaining business for over four decades, raising three very successful sons and contributing back to the community the entire time. 

A. | What is fashion? How does fashion play a role in your life?

Change. It is sustained change. There are trends and then there is Fashion.

Butch and I both have spent our lives adhering to a very discerning taste level and sense of style. I would like to think that we have helped Seattle become educated on what true style is and a higher taste level.  It is about quality not quantity. 

Pretty much everything I have done has touched on that including giving my son a hard time when he shows up in an athletic windbreaker for a downtown lunch.

A. | What are the biggest challenges you have overcome?

When I first began my career I thought I really wanted to become a buyer in women's couture or what they called couture at that time - because people these days don't seem to understand the difference. I very quickly discovered that I didn't get along with some of the women who ran that division, felt like I had failed because I couldn't work successfully with them. So I went to HR and said that I needed a change and it just so happened that they had an opening in the men's division and the rest is history….I became the first woman men’s buyer at NM and the youngest buyer in the company.

A. | Where do you feel at home? 

In Texas, in Italy, in Seattle...New York is a little too big. 

I like the synergy of hills and water that exist in Seattle and Austin. Both have terrific music, particularly jazz and blues communities and are very supportive of the arts and are pretty laid back.

A. | What's your vision for the future of your work? 

We are just at the end of a 5 year strategic plan. My vision is that the company becomes self-sustainable.

A. | How do you define success?

Being able to have positive effect on those around you.