Quiet is the New Loud

Interview by Patricia Lee
Photography by Jovian Lim
Portrait courtesy of Nathan Williams

If Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation, then Nathan Williams is the eye of his. While in person, Williams—willowy, soft-spoken and enviably unflappable—is the anti-Dunham in every way possible, similarities between the two run far deeper. Both are 28, started their projects with zero experience straight out of college and somehow stumbled into nailing the zeitgeist of our times.

Girls is her vehicle, Kinfolk is his. The dreamy, idealised world depicted in its pages has become the aspirational template for the millennial set. Its launch back in 2011 coincided with a seismic shift in life after hours. The young, hip, and beautiful no longer wanted to bar hop and hang out at clubs. They were socialising and entertaining in their own homes. After all, what could be more exclusive than a private dinner party with a gourmet spread as beautifully curated as the list of guests?

Last year The New York Times summed up Kinfolk as “The Martha Stewart Living of the Portland Set”. The independent quarterly however, has loftier ambitions. The tasteful table settings, rustic recipes and effortlessly elegant people that feature are merely dressing for its main message. Slow down, side step the rat race, and embrace clean, kin-centric living.

Hatched by Williams and Katie Searle (his then girlfriend, now wife) between classes at Brigham-Young University-Hawaii, its distribution escalated from 500 in 2011 to 70,000 by the end of 2013. Its website averages over 850,000 unique views monthly, and upscale retailers like Anthropologie and Steven Alan stock it on their shelves for cool cache.

During a quick break before his talk at The U Symposium in March, Williams sat down with The U Press to discuss the values at the core of Kinfolk over cold-pressed juice and a spinach puff.

nathan williams kinfolk

Nathan (left) and Jeremy Leslie (right) of MagCulture at The U Symposium 2015.

You’ve described Kinfolk as a magazine about discovering new things to make, see and do…

When we started the magazine, it was very much about casual entertaining and community. Then as it went along, we changed the tagline to discovering new things to cook, make and do. Initially there might have been a lack of clarity about what we were trying to do, but subconsciously it has always been about the slow lifestyle. We ultimately designed a magazine to encourage readers to slow down, simplify and appreciate the small things around us. It’s been a bit of a journey to get here, but this is our core and where we will stay.

Kinfolk has now almost become an adjective. When people describe something, they say “Oh it’s very Kinfolk”. With your magazine being such an inspiration to others, what is an inspiration to you?

As a team, I would say Japan and Scandinavia. We travel and network with a lot of different artists there, so as far as our company and publication go, there are a lot of parallels. I mean it’s a generalization but spending a lot of time in those countries and studying Japanese and Scandinavian design and lifestyle has been a big influence.

How the magazine started was quite organic. It was just you, your wife and a couple of friends. What about the events? They’ve taken on a life of their own, and have become almost bigger than the magazine…

After publishing the magazine for about a year we started feeling it was a bit hypocritical of us to be talking about these ways of building community and connecting with your neighbours more when we ourselves were just typing behind our computer screens. Holding events was a way for us to walk the talk and add a practical element to the ideals we are sharing through the magazine, and it just snowballed from there.

Last year alone we hosted 250 events around the world in 45 different countries. The scale is important because it really helps us push the message.

Read more in The U Press N˚1 (New York edition), or N˚10 (Singapore edition).