Meet Kyle Studstill
Kyle Studstill is the founder of Composure, our favorite artisanal maker of scarves, pocket squares, and other fine accessories. Kyle can often be found working at his favorite coffee shops downtown, playing chess online, or singing his heart out at a late night karaoke session. We recently sat down with Kyle over cappuccinos at the Lower East Side's Cafe Henri. Here's what he had to say:
How did you end up starting Composure?
Composure is the fruit of a few seeds planted at different points of my life. When I was young my mother taught me how to sew, but I didn't do too much with it; I went through high school and college and the rest in pursuit of that *real* job we're all told we're supposed to get. That real job ended up being in marketing, where I ended up with titles like "trends and innovation strategist." It was my job to report on the most creative and innovative happenings in the business landscape, which planted seeds in my mind about how to build a modern brand. But over the years I found myself writing a lot of trends reports and strategy briefs.
I felt like I was always just explaining things—explaining some sociocultural trend or other, or explaining some complex marketing strategy, or explaining to potential clients why they should pay me for such an abstract product. Mostly I began to feel like I was always just talking about the future and never actually making any of it. Composure was born of the realization that words were a lousy medium for expressing the things I've learned.
One of the nice things about scarves is that you don't have to explain a scarf - it's just a scarf. They make for a nice tangible anchor through which to build on the audience I've fostered over the years. Composure is an answer to a question I had for a long time, of how to combine smart business thinking with a longstanding craft I can practice.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? What did you work on previously?
At some point, myself and a couple of close colleagues started to pay more attention to all these new kinds of modern and nimble operations that were able to compete on the scale of the larger, traditional corporations we were working with in our day jobs. Together we produced an interactive documentary to answer the question: how and why was this happening? We ended up speaking to a lot of creative independent businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them, putting together what became Makeway.
We found that all the most innovative tools in the world are useless without the mindset required to use them properly. Without exception, the operations we admired most were some variety of lifestyle brand built in the image of someone with strong inner perspective. These were people with a strong and personal idea of what the life well-lived looks like, using the tools of business to bring that vision to life.
All of this opened my eyes to the kind of entrepreneur I wanted to be. I think of the academic and research-driven case we made with Makeway to be a thesis on what we called "artisanal innovation"; I consider Composure the real-world application.
Any productivity tips?
Over the last half a year I've really loved this time management app called Forest. The mechanics are super simple: use it to set a timer for how long you want to focus on something, it plants a digital tree that grows slowly, and if you use your phone for anything else during the timer period then the tree dies. Over the course of the day a small patch of forest grows, and then over a week you can see all those patches of trees.
There's something visually satisfying about that, sure. But honestly what's nice about it is that it gives you a reason to explicitly commit time to something - when setting the timer you're forced to think in your head "okay for these next 2 hours I'm going to be doing ____." What's really smart is that after you've planted about a month's worth of digital trees, they work with their charity partners to plant a real tree.
What’s a typical day like?
I try to work the things I do with Composure into a weekly rhythm. Mondays I finalize our weekly newsletter and interviews. I set aside time on Wednesdays to reach out to potential interviewees. Tuesday and Friday mornings I get packaging and fulfillment for any orders done. Saturday I typically block out a few hours to just sit down behind the machine and make scarves.
There are also things that happen pretty consistently on a daily basis. I always end up spending time doing some sort of biz-dev kind of communication, like researching & contacting potential retail, production, or collaboration partners. I've almost always had some sort of artistic collaboration going on, so I spend a bit of time project-managing / producing / constructing whatever that is.
Interestingly, the things I do with absolute daily consistency are actually the least intuitive or tangibly useful. Immediately in the morning I queue 5-10 posts for the moodboard I keep on Tumblr, then jot down a few diary-like reflections, then write 3-5 twitter-ready lines: poetic explorations in what it means to find composure.
None of this stuff ever ends up getting used right away; I don't even have a Composure twitter account at this point. But I can absolutely credit this ritual for developing an increasingly rich Composure aesthetic. My favorite compliment is when people tell me that sure they like the scarves but mostly like that Composure makes them *feel* a certain way. This is absolutely a function of these rituals. And slowly, over time, the moodboard images and lines and other ephemera end up finding their way into sketches / designs / product descriptions / instagram posts, etc, and the reflections find their way into behind-the-scenes journal stuff on Facebook and other places.
How do you spend your time outside of the office? Anything you wish you had more time for?
Oh man - competitive online strategy / resource management games. I end up playing at least a couple 5-minute games of online chess most days. And just last week I discovered this new iOS / Android game Subterfuge, a submarine-base game that plays out over the course of a week: 5-8 players compete in a close-quarters world with scarce resources . The game encourages secret collusion and diplomacy as you build bases and attack others; my friends and I are only two days in and already the tenuous alliances and various player interactions are nothing short of hilarious.
What are your favorite things to do in New York?
Can I tell you how amazingly and incredibly awesome it is that our great city features live-band karaoke consistently at places like Arlene's Grocery. If only I could get a house band to cover my go-to crowd pleaser I Believe In A Thing Called Love...
Have you always worn a watch?
I've alternated between years-long habits of either always wearing a go-to watch or not thinking about anything on my wrist at all. I've come to develop an appreciation for a well-designed watch as a nice conversation starter; I went out of my way to customize the last watch I was wearing in the early 2010's, which opened up good conversations about my own design aesthetic.
We offer four different designs - why did you pick the Marquis?
I often describe the Composure aesthetic in terms of finding a 'rare balance.' There's something decidedly intricate and floral about most of the materials I work with, but many of the digital and visual elements are minimal and geometric. Meanwhile, the people who make up the Composure world as its audience and the entrepreneurs I feature are doing modern, sometimes technology-heavy work, but Composure language and influences invoke the classical romantic in monuments and poetry.
The Marquis I've put together captures nice elements from all this—Roman lettering, minimal white, with a modern splash of detail. A classic dress watch through which to find a rare balance with my penchant for streetwear prints, raw edges and leather rock boots.