While the fashion world was shutting its doors during the pandemic, one fashion designer made a grand entrance. In a time of uncertainty and darkness with people resorting to comfy pajamas and sweatpants, the KIM CIG brand emerged from the shadows, encouraging people to make loud and bold statements through fashion, a principle that continues to shape their designs and their approach to fashion. KIM CIG is an emerging women’s luxury handbag and accessory brand that is on the path to becoming a household name in the fashion industry with its innovative cutting-edge designs combining high fashion and technology. The brand strides in setting itself apart from other luxury brands with handbags that will quite literally light up your presence in the room. When you carry a KIM CIG handbag, heads will turn—after all, this is a brand for those who live for the spotlight.
Founder and Creative Director, Kimberly Cignarella launched the brand back in 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fashion designer’s path to launching KIM CIG is a Cinderella story in itself not as a rags-to-riches story, but a story of hope and hard work against uncertain times. The name “Kim Cig” was Cignarella’s nickname people gave her growing up as she was known for not following the trends but setting her own, especially when it came to fashion. In a recent interview, VUE Magazine sat down with the designer and her story on building her brand during the pandemic.
“Fashion always gave me a sense of self-confidence,” she said. “So when it came time to launch the brand, I thought of Kim Cig. The name just gravitated towards me when I envisioned the label. I wanted this brand to encourage people to be different and find confidence in standing apart from the crowd. It takes courage to stand out, some might feel intimidated, however, we are in a time where self-expression is more important than ever in expressing one’s identity.”
BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF KIM CIG & CIGNARELLA
For this designer, fashion was an inherited gene in her family, and she knew it was her destiny. According to Kimberly, her mother and grandmother were significant influencers in her life. While her mother encouraged and supported the designer to pursue her dreams, her passion for design and all things fashion started with her grandmother.
“Growing up, my grandma would always make these cute clothes for my Barbie dolls,” Kimberly recalled from her childhood. “I would sit beside her and watch her sew. You could say she was my first mentor who introduced me to fashion and someone I looked up to a lot. To me, she was always this indestructible woman against the world and it was with her I first fell in love with designing. I also couldn’t have pursued my passion without the love and support of my mom who inspired me to pursue my degree in apparel design at the University of Delaware and take illustration classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) up in New York City. She taught me to never give up on myself or my dreams, and to always keep working hard for the things I wanted, so even during the program and in my job environment, I felt right at home in the competitive fast-paced nature of the fashion industry. I felt that this was an environment I could thrive and conquer by working hard and always being a step ahead in creativity, just like these women were.”
Unfortunately, twenty years ago, Cignarella’s first mentor suffered a stroke resulting in permanent blindness, a condition that was a devastating blow for the designer. However true to her positive nature, the condition did not faze her grandmother’s upbeat attitude, a sentiment that stuck with the designer throughout the pandemic. When the stars had aligned for her to take the opportunity and start her business, she thought of her grandmother, the woman that got her through the dark and doubtful times of her life. Her grandmother remains the “light at the end of her tunnel” and her presence lives on in the KIM CIG brand.
THE MAKING OF KIM CIG & THE LED NEON ACRYLIC TOTE
Like many Americans during the pandemic, Cignarella was furloughed and found herself stuck at home, out of work, and taking care of her family. Though mom duties and the expectation of her second child did not keep her idle, her longing to create and be inspired intensified.
“Ultimately, it was my husband who convinced me I should take the chance to start my brand,” Kimberly told VUE. “He reasoned that now was a perfect opportunity to take this chance, and he was right. I would have never left a salary in New York City to take this risk. No one in their right mind would quit their job and start a business, especially now in this economy which is why it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
But despite her extensive background and knowledge in clothing design, Cignarella hesitated to make KIM CIG an apparel brand. With everyone staying at home,
a dress line would be futile, especially with a saturated market flooded with leisure and activewear. Under these conditions, it was going to be difficult getting KIM CIG out there on the market…
…until she came up with the design of her signature LED acrylic tote.
“I told myself, if I take this one opportunity, this one shot on myself, I need to come up with something that people had never seen before, something that was going to establish a presence in the fashion industry,” said Kim. “I had already created my LLC, but I was still stuck on what would make KIM CIG stand apart from any other luxury brand. About a week later, I found an acrylic handbag lying around my room. Usually, you give these to women as bridesmaid gifts, and even when I was a bride, I gave all my bridesmaids these small acrylic clutches. I told my husband, ‘That bag would be cool if it lit up.’ We suddenly just looked at each other and it clicked: I had never seen a handbag like that before. I like to say the light went off in my head. This was the product that was going to get KIM CIG out there. Within that moment, I felt as though the stars had aligned for me in a world that was stuck in this dark time, and this sentiment was what I wanted the brand to stand for: to spark joy, and give back to others what fashion had always done for me which was forever creating happiness and confidence. That is why I must keep the design of the handbags classic and timeless, adding to that modernism of where we are today in the world. I wanted to make KIM CIG handbags separate from your typical Chanel luxury bags that always reuse their traditional designs with that technological aspect that was constantly going to reshape and elevate the handbag while maintaining its classical appearance.”
A DESIGNER’S WISDOM
When asked for her advice to other emerging entrepreneurs, Cignarella advised having a solid support system. Her family’s encouragement inspired her to take a leap of faith in starting KIM CIG during the pandemic. From her early mentors to her husband and children, she credits them for the success of KIM CIG. However, a support system is only half of the battle. In the fashion world, creativity, innovation, and hard work are essential for a brand to survive, and especially in a time when those things were scarce, it fell on Cignarella to work above and beyond to bring her dream to life. Knowing how to ask for help was especially critical for getting her foot in the doorway.
“If you know people that are experts in their field and can help you, ask them because the worst they can do is say no,” she advised. “As someone with a strong desire to learn, I never acted like I knew better than others or could do this all on my own because that is an unrealistic view. When I started the brand, my expertise was in apparel design. I did not have any background in PR or marketing or the financial side of running a business. Despite those odds, I told myself I had this one-and-only shot at myself and my brand, so if I wanted to do everything right, I had to be open-minded. And let me tell you, humility goes a long way—not everyone knows how to get off the ground, but asking around will help you find the right people who will, and they might connect you with people who can also help you. In the long run, it truly is all about who you know and what they can do which I why I always take the backseat when it comes to information beyond my area of expertise. That is a philosophy I have always lived by and looking back, I think it is a testament to how high I’ve climbed up in my career as a young designer who’s looking after her family while managing a start-up brand in the middle of an unstable economic environment.” The fashion industry is widely known for its cutthroat environment with promising brands on the cusp of being either household names or yet another failed business venture.
“There is also the more vicious aspect of the business,” Kim explained to VUE. “The ugly truth is that for some people, rather than seeing an emerging talent’s passion and drive and wanting to nurture their learning, they’d rather see you fail. I have unfortunately seen and experienced both sides to mentoring and what I can say is as someone who has been taken under the wing many times by many great mentors, I want to start giving back to others, sharing my knowledge and wisdom with the fashion game.”
THE FUTURE OF KIM CIG
While KIM CIG may be a luxury handbag-and-accessory brand, for now, the designer is set on expanding the brand into other fashion categories. Recently, Cignarella is working on the launching of the brand’s first lip-gloss line with a selection of eight different shades as of now. Everything from the design to the gloss will have an LED glowing effect when applied, a signature mark that trickles down from their handbag collection.
“I want to show that the brand is not exclusive to just the luxury market. Anyone can have a piece of the KIM CIG technology and cutting-edge design and be proud of it. My handbags are at their current price point because of the high-grade materials and technology used to produce a KIM CIG acrylic tote. The unique luxury standard is the caliber I want to be consistent in all my products to ensure the brand’s superior quality,” Kim said.
Whether it’s a luxury handbag or an inexpensive lip gloss, the designer commands the brand’s quality be held to the highest standards compared to most luxury brands whose quality has a reputation of faltering in their lower price-ranged lines.
For Cignarella, it is a personal touch that everyone experiences the joy and pride of owning a KIM CIG product, drawing back to their founding philosophy of creating confidence and jubilation for the buyer. As a luxury brand, KIM CIG aims to provide the same standards of sophistication and class without the intimidating presence that comes with luxury fashion. Unlike most brands, Cignarella aspires to uplift the wearer with her products.
Among the fashion brands emerging in the fashion industry, KIM CIG is the name everyone should watch out for.