Shop Talk: Lemons to Lemonade

Checking in with one local business to see how it’s faring in the strange new world of COVID.

Randi Sylvia and Marlene DiStefano were gearing up for their second season at Kenworthy, a retail shop they opened in Edgartown last spring, when the world changed. The mother-and-daughter duo have been business partners for six years and late winter found them honing their newest line of bohemian-inspired designs and strategizing about how to stagger their inventory to keep things fresh and exciting in the shop. That was then.

“It’s so hard to actually make a plan right now with so much up in the air,” Sylvia said over video chat with DiStefano in their Oak Bluffs studio, bouncing her infant daughter, Vida, on one hip. “We are really taking things day by day since everything seems to change by the minute.”

In one department, at least, the duo considers themselves in a more stable position than most. “We are feeling very fortunate that most of our production is done on-Island, and we are really in control of how much product we make or don’t make. Not many businesses have that luxury.”

It also meant they could pivot quickly. “We started making masks because we wanted to do something to help the community when we felt so helpless,” Sylvia said. “We went to what we knew best: sewing. We used cotton fabric we’ve had lying around for years.”

Like many other Island entrepreneurs, they are envisioning ways to keep customers engaged. “We have started to brainstorm,” Sylvia said, “whether that means shopping by appointment, or opening the shop to small groups of friends at a time, or introducing home sales – kind of like Tupperware parties – where the clothes come to you.” They also hope to ramp up their already robust social media presence.

“This whole experience has forced us to move our business online, which is something we have been talking about for years. So that’s a silver lining.”

However this season’s designs find their way into the world, Kenworthy fans will enjoy new additions as well as fresh takes on some old favorite styles. While Sylvia was busy with a newborn this winter, DiStefano traveled to Hawaii. “She came back with all of these great Hawaiian prints,” Sylvia said. “This season is a lot of blues, prints, and patterns.”

And, inspired perhaps by the newest member of the team, head seamstress DiStefano has been excited about a few matching “big and little” pieces they’ve added to the collection.

“It’s been fun adding things that are Vida-sized,” she said. “And it’s a good way to use up our scraps.”

Not to mention an altogether more optimistic use of fabric scraps than the masks of March.