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Emma and Jens Grede: The Power Couple Behind the Kardashian Industrial Complex

The architects of multiple retail triumphs, including Skims and Good American, share a personal and professional chemistry that fuels their success.
Jens and Emma Grede at home in Los Angeles.
Jens and Emma Grede at their home in Los Angeles. (Michael Tyrone Delaney)

LOS ANGELES — Emma and Jens Grede are best known as the couple running some of the most successful American fashion brands to launch in the past decade — many of which are co-piloted by members of the Kardashian-Jenner family. But when it comes down to it, they’re just two branding nerds who love talking shop.

“When people do something so obvious, [like] when Rihanna did Fenty [beauty] — " Jens starts in his Swedish-flecked accent, clad in a black Brunello Cucinelli dad sweatshirt and leaning towards his wife of a decade, who is sitting in a chair across from a low coffee table in her office.

“Everyone one was like…,” — Emma adds with a still-detectable East London inflection, sitting back, her black-and-white Nike Dunk high tops and gold Cartier Panthère watch both gleaming.

“That’s so obvious…but no one did it,” Jens says, finishing their thought.

While Jens has the air of an enthusiastic startup exec with a gentle intensity, Emma is bright-eyed, with an electrifying, people-magnet presence. And yet, the sense you get from both of the Gredes is that they are absolutely, 100 percent on it — no matter what the “it” is. At the moment, they’re using Rihanna’s billion-plus dollar, game-changing beauty venture as an example of the kinds of companies they themselves want to put money into. But they could very well be referring to one of their own businesses, which have an incredible hold on the American fashion market right now.

The Gredes, who have been working together for 16 years, romantically involved for 14 and married for 10, call their holding company Popular Culture, reflecting the centre of their life’s work. Even with the monoculture dissolving into a million little TikTok reels, they have managed to build brands that connect across generations and tastes. Victoria’s Secret-challenger Skims, one of their many Kardashian-linked ventures, is expected to generate $400 million in sales in 2022, while inclusive denim line Good American is slated to bring in $200 million. Both are profitable.

Those are just the two ventures at the top of their sizable CVs. Along with co-founding Good American with Khloé Kardashian in 2016 — introducing well-fitting, smartly designed denim in a broader range of sizes than was typically available — Emma is also the chairwoman of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, Aurora James’ nonprofit that advocates for retailers to sell more Black-owned brands, and an investor in several startups.

Jens devotes a significant percentage of his time to Skims, which he co-founded with Kim Kardashian in 2019. However, he’s also a co-founder of Tom Brady’s Brady, the American football star’s sportswear play, and Frame, the hit denim line that he started with longtime business partner Erik Torstensson.

Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson attend the Frame Denim presentation in September 2013 in New York City.

There’s more. They are also both co-founders of Safely, the cleaning products line that Emma fronts alongside Kris Jenner, while Emma is also a “founding partner, board member and chief product officer” of Skims. Oh, and Jens is an investor in Good American.

While some of these projects have been more successful than others, the Gredes have a clear formula. They look at what’s happening in culture, figure out where the market is not yet meeting the moment and capitalise on that gap, using the influence of their famous business partners to raise money and sell products. But identifying an opportunity — and finding a household name to help get it off the ground — is only one component of why they are winning.

“You can’t just do a celebrity brand — I find that completely uninteresting,” Emma says. “For me it’s about, first and foremost, trying to solve a problem.”

From Brand Whisperers to Brand Builders

In fashion, the Gredes came up fast. Jens started at Winkreative, Monocle-founder Tyler Brûlé's marketing agency, but soon decamped to build his own shop with Torstensson, which they called the Saturday Group. There, they worked on campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein and Moncler while pursuing more unconventional projects, including Industrie, a biannual magazine (and savvy marketing and networking tool) that gave fashion’s behind-the-scenes players a glossy editorial treatment usually reserved for celebrities. It’s how Jens first met Andrew Rosen, founder of Theory and a prolific investor, who now backs several of the Gredes’ businesses alongside John Howard, founder of the private equity firm Irving Place Capital. When Rosen puts money into something, he is generous with his time and advice, and is extremely close with the Gredes — Jens says he is like a “second father.”

“Halfway through the [Industrie] interview, I said, ‘Who are you? You can’t be a reporter.’ Just because of the questions he was asking,” Rosen recalls. “Jens is an impressive guy. I just believed in him.”

Around the same time Jens and Torstensson were developing the Saturday Group, Emma was launching ITB — backed by Saturday — where, starting in 2008, she helped pair brands with influencers and more traditional celebrities for marketing campaigns. It’s how she first met Kris Jenner and her daughters and developed a relationship with them that would change the trajectory of their lives.

“I was very, very early on in understanding the mechanics of influencer marketing — and of course, celebrities are influencers, just on a slightly different level,” she says. “That put me in a pretty unique position of understanding that when a brand and a talent come together around something that is real and truthful, real magic can happen.”

Over the next several years, the Gredes spent time building brands for other people, until they got the overwhelming urge to do it themselves. Agency people often try to go brand-side, with mixed results, but with the launch of designer denim line Frame in 2012, and the backing of industry insiders like Rosen — who taught Grede and Torstensson the ropes of manufacturing and merchandising — something clicked.

Emma and Jens Grede at their home in Los Angeles.

Four years later, Emma co-founded Good American, where she first exercised her merchandising prowess, succeeding in designing proper-fitting garments across a broad range of sizes at a time when bigger players weren’t even attempting to do so.

“Emma has got that understanding of her customer — of how to connect all the dots from a product point of view with authenticity and integrity,” says Rosen, who made his own fortune through his talent as a merchant. “She’s just got it — it’s sort of an intangible.”

Of course, there have been missteps along the way. For Jens, the failure of Grace, a little-black-dress line he launched with Torstensson in 2014 on the back of the success of Frame, may have taught him the biggest lesson: the importance of offering the right product for the right moment.

“It turns out, the product just wasn’t good enough,” he admits. “It was around the same time that Self-Portrait was coming out, and [designer Han Chong] didn’t have any of the same marketing skills that we did — he didn’t have Katie Grand, or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley walking the show or anything else — but he had a sensational product for the price.”

Emma, who sold ITB in 2018 to PR agency Rogers & Cowan for an undisclosed sum, says that early on in the agency’s run she underinvested in talent, thinking that she could do more of the work herself than was actually possible.

“I thought that I could easily spread myself across the world and easily do what I do, which is go in and win business and deliver it all,” she says. “I didn’t understand how to build a team and build culture, and get the right people that would support your vision. When I set up Good American, I decided I was going to surround myself with people who are way better than I am, who actually complement me and all the things that I’m not so good at.”

As the person who has most closely witnessed the Gredes’ ups and downs, Torstensson says, “Their attitude has always been, ‘just try and do’…It’s not being naive, but it’s more like, ‘Why not? Why can’t we? We should just try.’”

“They’re very complementary. Emma tends to flesh out the consumer-facing ideas, like how it would feel, why a customer would want it. Jens tends to flesh out the business engineering,” adds venture capitalist and entrepreneur Natalie Massenet, who invested in Good American through Imaginary Ventures alongside business partner Nick Brown. “But they’ve been in the business long enough that they’re ambidextrous. It would be unfair to pigeonhole either of them that way.”

Aurora James, Natalie Massenet and Emma Grede attend The Fifteen Percent Pledge Benefit Gala at New York Public Library in April 2022 in New York City.

Work and Life As One

But how exactly have they done it?

For someone visiting their shared offices — located in one of those ultra-modern car parks in an industrial area of Los Angeles, where the black buildings look like modern barns instead of the boring, grey, cement boxes of the deep suburbs — it’s hard to tell where Good American ends and Skims begins. Which is essentially how the Gredes operate on every level.

“I’ve never tried to separate work and life,” says Jens, mentioning that, growing up in Sweden, his father, a film director, and mother, an artist, both primarily worked from home, and it “all flowed together….I ultimately think that…any marriage has a lot of elements that are work.”

For the first year they worked together, however, the couple’s relationship was strictly professional: she was his employee. They shared their feelings during a working lunch — no alcohol involved — at Claridge’s.

Jens: “I think we had both come to the understanding that we loved each other without having any form of relationship. And one day we just told each other. We just admitted it. And we basically decided then and there, that was that.”

Emma: “It really was kind of crazy, now that I think about it.”

Jens: “Yeah, it was cinematic, in hindsight, it feels like a Richard Curtis script. Very meet-cute, ‘Love Actually.’”

Emma: “[Laughs.] We haven’t been back.”

The memory now reads like a scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” but at the time Emma recognised that getting together could be a risk, likely more for her career than his.

“You have to remember, I was an employee of the agency, and I had never in my life been given that kind of opportunity,” she says. “Jens was very much like, ‘You’re really great at what you do and your context is useful right now.’ And so, [looks at Jens] you kind of set me up in the business. Jens and Erik had a huge amount of belief in me and that was, of course, extremely validating, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I was also extremely ambitious — and still am — so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very, very mindful of that. But I had trust in the fact that we were, and still are, great business partners. We’re really good together in more ways than just our personal relationship.”

That dynamic extends to their circle of close friends, many of whom are also business associates. Once, Torstensson and Massenet — who are romantic partners — and the Gredes decided to take the famed Myers-Briggs personality test for fun, discovering that Emma’s and Torstensson’s results matched up perfectly, as did Jens’ and Massenet’s.

“As in all relationships, it works very well if you’re very aligned about your dreams and your life. Their dreams are aligned,” Torstensson says. “Jens and I had that, too — we’ve always been aligned.”

The LA Effect

That extended family of work associates has become even more important five years after relocating to Los Angeles from London, where Emma was born and raised and where both had spent their early professional years. Along with two elementary school-aged kids, they welcomed twins, born via surrogate, into their lives a little under a year ago, the news of which Emma shared via Instagram. The couple is, on occasion, publicly open about private moments, like when Jens hired 1990s-era group Boyz II Men to serenade Emma for their 10-year wedding anniversary.

Moving to California has been formative, and not only because it allowed them to work more closely with the Kardashian-Jenners across several different brands without constantly travelling. It has also exposed their children to a different sort of life than either of them was accustomed to. They ended up buying a leaf-lined mansion in Bel Air, formerly owned by Max Azria — a retail mogul for another era — and have installed their clan and their impressive art collection, with works by the likes of Richard Prince, Rudolf Stingel and Barbara Kruger, within its walls.

They have amassed a new kind of privilege with the wealth they’ve acquired through sales of businesses and smart investments, but America was also a wake-up call. They landed just two years before the start of the pandemic, witnessing the civil-rights movement that swelled in the wake of the death of George Floyd, which had a profound effect on Emma. In the months that followed, she joined James in building the Fifteen Percent Pledge, now a major component of her work.

“For so many reasons. I talk about America being a positive thing for me, not just because of the business, but because I had a complete awakening personally,” she says. “It’s been interesting reevaluating what matters, what I care about, and really seeing that being put into action in a way that I don’t think would have been possible for me in Europe.”

Jens Grede has been a member of the BoF 500 since 2013. Emma Grede has been a member of the BoF 500 since 2019. Explore the BoF 500 community here.

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