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Meet Leslie Galland Kenehan of White Buffalo Studio

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie Galland Kenehan.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
A love of design has lived in me since childhood. My favorite classes in high school were AP art classes, photography and pottery. Anything creative. After high school, it was off to FIDM for fashion design. While at FIDM, I discovered areas of design that I didn’t know about, for example, textile design. After graduating, it was clear that fashion design was no longer my focus.

I took a job merchandising for a retail store and I really loved it. Mixing the prints, playing with color and the layout and flow of the store. It didn’t even feel like work to me! Eventually, they wanted to use me for merchandising but also to manage the sales floor. This aspect of the job was not exciting to me at all, and although merchandising was a new passion, ultimately this was not the right fit. There must be a way of utilizing these skills for a job in a creative field.

A friend got me a job in the service industry where I stuck my head in the sand for a while. The money was so good, it was hard to leave. I decided I would save and save and take off to Europe for a few months to get my head clear. I had convinced myself that the answers to my future would be discovered on this trip. And they were. While in Europe, on a super tight budget, I explored… I wrote… I had adventures I will remember and hold close to me for the rest of my life. It was in Europe that I fell in love with art and the idea of living a life that was a little less structured. I came home and enrolled at CSUN to get my bachelors degree in fine art and graphic design. Graphic design was where I was able to embrace my inner control freak and fine art where I found myself in letting go of that need for control.

After I graduated… at the age of 27… I got my first job in the industry at a PJ company in Santa Monica where I assisted the designer by prepping cads for sales appointments. One day the power went out and instead of sending me home, they let me try my hand at creating some prints for their sleepwear line. The print I made ended up being picked up by Neiman Marcus and I have been creating prints ever since. The jobs that followed were with MGT Industries where I met and assisted some of the loveliest women I have ever worked with. The creative director there has always been the woman in my mind I strive to be.

She is so good at what she does, focused and driven. In the years that followed at other jobs, I held I started sitting in on print meetings. Studios would come in with their suitcases full of beautiful artwork and we would buy it from them and use it in our garment designs. I started paying attention to the work they showed us, the headers, the invoices, the volume of work, the sales reps…. and I thought… this was it. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on the other side of the table. I wanted to travel and gather print inspiration, come up with trend directives, mood boards and manage a team of artists.

Before I made the decision to leave my stable paycheck, I went on solo road trip and tried to gather my thoughts. Could I do it…is it the best idea to quit my steady paycheck and jump into something I have never done before? Yes, I created prints every day…. but could I create enough to sell suitcases full? How many years of preparation would it take to get everything in place? How much would it cost…? Then on 4th of July, I was looking for The Four Corners and I got lost. I ended up in Durango, Colorado. I decided to stay there for the night and check out the town. I came across a rock shop and decided to stop inside.

There was a large table of beautiful white stones that I was drawn to. I went over to the table and chose a ring. I loved it… I turned it over and saw the price. EEEEeek it was 80 dollars. I only had 150 left for the trip but needed enough for a room that night, something to eat and enough gas to get home the next day. A woman came over to me and told me that the stone was called White Buffalo turquoise. I somehow knew at that moment that would be the name of my studio. I told her ‘I can give you 40’ She said, ‘ok. It is your ring after all.’ I knew it was risky, but I bought it. I would be sleeping in my car that night, I thought.

Later, I found a rooftop bar for a view of the fireworks. I ordered a beer and a burger with what was left of my food money. When the fireworks started, I sat back, sipped my beer and smiled, I knew I had made up my mind. When it was time to pay my bill, the server told me that the couple next to me had taken care of my check! I walked to the car that I was going to sleep in that night. Yes… I thought. I would just jump in.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has been a bumpy road that is certain. Seven years of failing forward. The trick is to never give up. During the process of getting the business off the ground, I did a ton of freelance work to pay the bills. I was always working and I was always tired. I even took a full-time job because I thought it just wasn’t working. Then wouldn’t you know it, six months into that full-time job I had my big break for White Buffalo? This time was different, I knew. This time it stuck. I received a small loan, hired some help, put a plan in place for growth and worked harder than I ever had before. With the support of friends, family and my amazing husband, I did it.

I had created a viable business where I get to gather inspiration, create mood boards, and manage a team of artists. We sold beautiful prints to designers and manufacturers in the apparel industry. I would walk into stores and see our artwork on beautiful garments. I would see girls wearing bikinis with our prints on them at the beach. I would see little baby bottoms with our prints on them. I got to fly to NYC, do trade shows and meet with clients. And then as soon as things were smooth sailing, I was notified that one of our artists had plagiarized a print that we sold to a big client. Yikes!!! I thought this was the end for sure, and It definitely brought things to a halt. I had to let go of someone I really enjoyed working with, someone I had hoped to partner with.

Luckily, the print had not gone into production, we were able to do a simple refund and I did manage to come back from it. Then I got engaged, planned a DIY wedding, went on honeymoon, came home…. worked hard to get things back on track… again… then found out I was going to have a baby! There will always be something… that is life! I have made mistakes, and I have had moments where I just want to scrap the whole thing. Then you just power through. What we want is ours for the taking. And everyday I embrace the fact that even though it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t always make the money I would like it to, I built something. I get to do what I love, plan my own schedule and spend time with my son. Who I am listening to babble sweetly as I type. Life is good.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the White Buffalo Studio story. Tell us more about the business.
White Buffalo Studio is a print design company that I own and operate from my home office. I gather print and color inspiration and compile it into trend direction that gets passed along to our out of house team. We have artists in the US, the UK, Indonesia and Australia. They work on print designs and submit them weekly. The selected artwork is printed to fabric headers and merchandised into a collection that then gets shipped to NYC or AU or shown here in LA to apparel designers and manufacturers.

When artwork is purchased, the copyright to the artwork is transferred to the buyer, they are then allowed to do whatever they like with the artwork/print. Sometimes the prints never even make it to production, but when they do, sometimes the buyers let us know. Other times I will just walk into a store and see one of our pieces hanging there on a top or a bikini. That is always a great feeling.

We specialize in swimwear and juniors/young contemporary prints. We are probably known most for swim prints since that is mainly what we show on our Instagram feed.

What I am most proud of is also what I think sets us apart. Contributing to arts and music programs for kids is near and dear to my heart and what White Buffalo Studio will always make an effort to contribute to them. We have had two fundraisers for PS Arts on Abbott Kinney in Venice. One was an art auction and wine event where all of our artists contributed pieces for the auction and the other was an online crowdfunding type method but both were successful. As we grow, we will be able to do more of this, which I am very excited about.

I am very interested in the idea of collaborations. We just collaborated with a new company called Flair Play Designs that makes beautifully embroidered patches and our designs were used for the patches. There will be a contest asking textile designers to submit their designs to be selected to be turned into an embroidered patch. Whoever wins the contest, that patch will go into production and be photographed on a model for their website. 1$ per sale of that patch will go to PS Arts in Venice Beach.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
This is such a funny question for me because, on my way home from my road trip, I stopped at the state line Las Vegas and put the last dollar I had in my pocket into a machine. I said to myself, if this dollar wins me anything, I will start my business. I won 10 bucks, and I still have it. 🙂

Although I don’t believe in luck when it comes to business… or life. I do believe in positive energy and action. I would have started my business either way… luck is just preparation meeting opportunity… and it took several years of preparation to meet the opportunity that put it all in motion.

Pricing:

  • When you purchase a print, you are purchasing the copyright to that design to use forever. That charge is 500-600 per print.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Skatie Swimwear, Alexa Miller Photography, Alexis Nelson Photography, John Schell Photo, Stillwater LA, We Work Culver City, Katherine Kidd

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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