Blame it on the fresh mountain air—how could it not spark creativity?—or maybe even the mountain town pace, but whatever the root, Sun Valley is brimming with talented entrepreneurs carving a niche and turning heads in the fashion industry. From luxurious couture scarves or hand-dyed Balinese shirts, to fine hand-stitched leather purses, these one-of-a-kind creations have two things in common: roots in the Wood River Valley and a wide reach.
“Living and having my Atelier (condominium) in Ketchum has given me limitless freedom to be creative and independent,” says Nina Fox, the artist and designer behind Haute Wrap’s photographic Italian-made scarves. “There is a feeling you are somewhere very special.”
Sun Valley is peppered with entrepreneurs, but those with an eye for apparel and good design are turning their concepts into a full-fledged fashion powerhouse. Some, like Fox, have stayed in the Idaho mountain town to pursue their craft, while sharing their craft across the globe. Others, like Philip Barney, the co-founder of Three Islands Lifestyle, found a calling and headed to the source—now, a coastal vacation isn’t complete without his vibrant designs. Sun Valley Magazine uncovered just the tip of this creative iceberg and caught up with three notable creators for a look at what made it work, what’s next, and why following your gut is always in style.
Haute Wrap and Haute Wrap Home
In 2011, Fox rented a space, gathered camera gear and printers, and took a leap. The studio soon became a haven for the budding photographer, her two daughters, and a group of women in Ketchum to explore their love of photography and other arts.
“It challenged me, and just quieted me down,” Fox recalls. “Artistically, emotionally, and physically, I found a sense of pride in this place.”
Then, fate stepped in. During a photo shoot for a friend’s ad, Fox needed to wrap a few boxes to stage a Christmas shopping scene. Her close-up images of sleek ornaments, bright holiday candy, and more, were the perfect canvas. She printed the images, wrapped them around the boxes, saw how remarkable they looked, and ran with it.
“The wrapping paper is where it all started. This was my passion project,” Fox says.
The wrapping paper market was cluttered with graphic-only options, but Fox brought something inventive and different, and it resonated. Her first stationery show led her to an account with New York designer clothing store Barneys. She then brought her photographic prints to boxes, pillows, and frames, all the while photographing her Idaho home and frequent travels.
Fox was then traveling through Europe, and a couture boutique caught her eye.
“I saw a scarf I thought was just outrageous and fashion-forward.” She left with four and an idea.
Now, Fox creates luxurious hand-stitched, hand-rolled scarves with images inspired by her Sun Valley home, California upbringing, and travels; graffiti, peonies, iconic Sun Valley images, and the like. The Italian-made fabric is light, soft, and versatile, which is just what Fox loves about a scarf.
“I put on a scarf every day,” she says. “I love putting something on my neck that is cool enough in the warm weather but warm enough and not too heavy in the cold climate. It is how I finish my outfit.”
The road to perfecting her high-end line was one of trial and error, finding the perfect fabric, technique, and look. In 2013, she debuted her first collection.
Now, she has garnered a following of collectors and adorers of her work, but you won’t find these high-end accessories at any department store. Fox keeps it a one-on-one client experience, selling locally from her Sun Valley showroom, at small boutiques, and online. She prints a limited run of each design; one-of-a-kind is her mantra.
“This is about creativity and creating the highest quality,” Fox says. “The women who buy my scarves come back into my life during times of celebration, success, or difficult times, but these women I have met have empowered me.”
Three Islands Lifestyle
Phil Barney moved to Sun Valley from New York City in 1974, when his parents decided to give a slower-paced lifestyle a try. Barney spent his winters in the quiet mountain town, but come summer, he would head to Watch Hill, Rhode Island, to soak up the sun, sand, and surf with his family. With an early appreciation for fashion, Barney carried his laid-back summer style to Sun Valley, often wearing more preppy designs and hues. In high school, he decided to give boarding school back East a try, alongside
his brother. He set out to find his first coat and tie.
“I started to look at fashion in a different way while sifting through prints available for a tie or even a coat,” Barney says. “I have always gravitated toward brighter colors and more pastels than greys and earth tones.” But he found that the market was limited.
Fast forward after college, Barney and his cousin Justin Goff made a trip to Bali. He was struck by the Balinese technique of dying fabrics called batik. Fabrics are covered in a wax pattern, then dipped in the dye. The dye doesn’t penetrate the wax, leaving a stark white design contrasting a bright dye. The cousins took a few of the inventive shirts back to their wardrobes in the States.
“Back in Idaho, I would go to Whiskey Jacques’ and people would say, ‘Where did you get the cool shirt?’ People liked them off the bat,” Barney recalls.
Life led the cousins to a variety of careers, all the while heading to Rhode Island for the summers and frequenting Bali. But in 2009, the idea to turn these cool shirts they loved so much into a business took hold.
“We knew we had a chance to do something great and start a business. We were a little bit apprehensive, but we decided we had to try,” Barney says. Goff and Barney headed back to Indonesia with plans to create 2,000 hand-dyed designs; that was the foundation of Three Islands Lifestyle.
“Our clothes are lighthearted with bright pastels, blues, pinks, turquoise,” Barney says. They fit a lifestyle the two cousins love dearly: slowing down, taking a load off, and enjoying the beach. Now with apparel for men, women, and children, and a flagship shop in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the cousins have created an alcove with a big following. Inside coastal town boutiques from Florida to North Carolina, and with a growing online presence, Barney loves seeing people step out of their comfort zone and express their style.
“A lot of men wear a suit and tie every day, but on the weekend, they put on one of our shirts, and it makes them feel better. It makes them feel different and happy; they are out of the everyday grind.”
Cindy Kirk Designs
A seamstress by trade, Cindy Kirk was on a journey to find the perfect handbag—one that was functional, timeless, and durable. “The purses I came across always had too many flashy things or the shape was all wrong,” she says. “Sometimes I swear they were designed by men who don’t carry them! One day, I thought, ‘You know, I can do this.’”
And so she did.
After she created a bag for herself, a friend insisted she make her one. Kirk dove in.
“Whenever you have a product and put yourself out there, it is scary. That was the biggest thing—my fear of failure,” Kirk says. But she overcame the mental gymnastics and gave herself the opportunity to pursue her goals.
From her home studio in Ketchum, Kirk and her two seamstresses create well-crafted designs inspired by her mountain surrounding and her upbringing on a rural Southern California ranch. Describing her bags as elegant and classic, Kirk’s purses are unlined and simple, with distinctive stitching and soft cow leather in rich neutral hues, deep reds, purples, and more. Giving them an extra personal touch, each style is named for a girlfriend, daughter, or family member.
The handbags can be found at eight boutiques across the country, from Atlanta to Napa, including a strong Sun Valley presence at boutiques like Panache and Sisters. To Kirk, the Sun Valley market allows her to reach a cross-section of the country, with tourists coming from all over. “We get people from all over the world shopping. I now have a few store accounts just by customers carrying a bag in their hometown.”
Looking ahead, Kirk hopes to acquire more stores to carry her bags and increase her online presence, but she also hopes to one day have a Sun Valley showroom.