KC Benain is the owner of Y-Clad (pronounced ee-klad) Inc. Y-Clad produces luxury handmade jewelry, as well as, retail luxury handmade jewelry and accessories from corresponding designers. Y-Clad’s Hidden Gem is a luxury combined space incorporating both a private retail space, as well as, an event venue. K.C. has set out to provide a unique experience tailored to each client, whether it’s providing an intimate and private shopping experience, assisting clients with their style and incorporating accessories to create or demonstrate that style – to creating an experience for clients looking to rent the venue for their event that delivers a personalized, seamless, and successful event that is simply unforgettable.
First off, tell us a little about your decision to shorten your name.
My name is Keisha Cindy Jerry-Benain. I began utilizing K.C. a few years back as it doesn’t identify with any race or gender in particular. In doing this, I was able to get into doors by way of well written emails which opened doors of opportunity for me that the name “Keisha” couldn’t. Unfortunately, Keisha is synonymous with hood and ratchet in the eyes of certain races, sometimes even in our own. Without a real identity, I could
get into places of business and initiate conversations. Business begins with initial opportunities, but if you can’t even get to that first step, how do you progress to the second?
How would you describe your swagher?
I play on my intelligence mostly, but I do think a great deal of my swagher comes from the Caribbean side of me. The mix of the two is like a constant school that has definitely made me who I am today, not to mention the experiences I have gone through. I was never accepted by my peers, because I was fairer in complexion than most in my neighborhood with shirley temple curls, so I looked different than everybody else. Then I had this really crazy accent that no one could understand, because I just got off a plane from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. For years that was a difficult thing. I didn’t know how to adjust to that. Then of course with time, my accent kind of dissipated. In high school it was still sort of the same thing, because my parents had me involved in everything from playing the piano, the violin, and even the drums. I was sort of tomboyish too, so I was into all the sports my brother was into. I was a different type of child. Then I went to this high school – Tilden High School in Brooklyn New York to be exact – and no one could relate to me. I literally had no friends. I went off to my first college experience in Delaware, and it was a totally different environment . I was fully accepted and ironically enough the majority of my friends were white. I had about two Black friends, and they were probably guys. During that period I was like “the go to person” in the group, which was really interesting because the dynamics changed. Fast forward a few years to when I moved back to New York, and it was like, here I go again, going through another transition, from being accepted to not being liked at all. I went from everyone loving me and supporting my business – I had the support of the local government in Wilmington, Delaware, and they really pushed and helped me propel my business which ironically was something totally different than my business today. They offered programs that helped small businesses succeed, and mine was one. Then I got to New York and here it is again – not only am I not accepted by my peers, but I am also not accepted by the neighboring businesses that all happen to be upper class whites. All of these experiences have molded me into the individual I am today.
How hard is it to get a location in Manhattan?
Where I am currently – I’m on East 57th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues – we are the only Black owned business that I know of on this strip. I didn’t realize it at first , but as we were building the space, folks thought I was the hired help. When we finished building, and they realized I owned the space, the trials that I went through… Man… That’s a whole other story on its own, but where I am today in terms of status, well, I still fight everyday to keep my business going! I know that anyway they can screw with me, they will do that. In the location that I am in, I have to make sure that all my “t”’s are crossed, all my “i”s are dotted, and all my insurances are up to date, always. I have to make sure that everything is up to date with permits and licenses, because they will do things or say things that can hurt my business, so it is like my whole life in terms of business has been one great obstacle course.
How did you come up with the Y-Clad’s Hidden Gem concept?
When Y-Clad was just a jewelry and accessories e-tailer, I traveled more with my jewelry, so I would have a kiosk in the Cayman Islands or a kiosk in St. Martin. I would travel to the Caribbean, team up with governments there, and do shows there or throw some kind of event, so that is how the whole concept of the event space came about. Even in New York, I would rent these unique venues and transform them into jewelry parties. I would do a different scene for each one and invite the public to come out and view the merchandise. I was doing that for a long time, but when I would sit with my husband and our accountant and total the costs to throw my events at these places each year, it just didn’t make sense. I decided I needed to get my own place, and I was hoping to find a ground level that I could hold my own events, as well as, retail my jewelry, but after over a year of looking, I couldn’t find anything I could afford in the neighborhoods I wanted to be in. And so, I had to rethink the concept of what I was thinking and I decided my combined space concept could work on a second floor location, provided it was the right location. Initially, the venue was to mainly be a private space for clients to experience the jewelry, but then people began requesting the space for their own events more often than not and it just really took off, and so it is truly a combination of both businesses now.
So you make your jewelry and accessories and you completed the remodel of your location?
Yes, everything is handmade! My jewelry, the whole concept behind my brand is “handmade doesn’t have to be rinky dink or crafty”. There are truly handmade products that are of luxury and can contend with manufactured things that you have seen at let’s say, maybe Bloomingdales or something like that. Quite frankly, if you were to sit down and really compare a lot of these high end manufactured goods, there are a lot of things I just wouldn’t pay for. As for my venue, it was designed and built by myself and my family to be adaptable and easily changeable. From furniture on wheels to furniture that is easily collapsible and movable, we developed a plan that would make both businesses workable. But in doing that, we had to also make sure all finishings and details are high end to maintain a chic, contemporary luxury style venue. I have a small business, so that allows me, as well as, my small team to pay attention to all the littledetails that matter, the details that make all the difference to people.
What is your schedule like? Do you have to go to the venue everyday? When do you find time to design?
For the past year and a half, I haven’t made anything. I have been designing and sketching, and my dad has been out of town, so when he gets back we are going to make some new pieces. Lately I have been showing and promoting the space, and I just haven’t had the time to create, but at the end of the year, things are changing. I have developed a new schedule of things that I am going to implement.
As for clients, everything is by appointment. We occasionally have people walk in, because they saw us on Instagram, or some other social media forum but that doesn’t happen often. At our price points, people aren’t going to be just walking in, if they don’t have the money to spend. People that knew me before I had the space or knew I had one of a kind pieces, would often call me and say “I have this event or this special occasion coming up, what do you have going on as far as new collections? Let me see your pieces,” and I would go to their homes or make some sort of an appointment and bring the product to them. I would make it work. This was before I had the space. Now, I have clients that come in to shop privately for jewelry & accessories and others that come in for a private viewing of the space for potential events. I try to coordinate well so I do each thing around the same time, to alleviate chaos, but I do have to move all my displays out to show the venue. It’s so crazy. Most people don’t know or understand how much work this takes. But all things considered, I’m hoping to have a new collection for spring by next year, so I will start working on more designs later this year.
During another conversation, you mentioned having to be a “tougher” woman as a businesswoman in New York City. Can you elaborate more on that?
First being a woman in a world of men-it’s so hard to explain. In New York City, the most powerful are men. They run our businesses and big corporations; I don’t know the actual numbers, but I would say 80-85% of corporate America is run by men, if not more. Being a Black woman is an entirely different thing however, and no one can ever educate you or prepare you for that. I had never experienced racism, sexism, until I moved back to New York, which is supposed to be the city of opportunity. It’s supposed to be the melting pot of cultures – all these things you hear, and I am like it is so not true. Most people don’t experience it because they are not business owners and therefore are not in positions to experience certain things. When you are competing on a certain level with other businesses or with a certain stature of people of class and race, you’re quickly reminded daily, hourly that you are a woman of color.
What words of inspiration would you care to share with our followers?
You may feel like the odd man out, the underdog and at times lonely and different than your peers. But I have come to realize that, that makes you special. It takes a special and strong person to persevere in such circumstances. If you’re ostracized, it’s because people see something great in you that they’re afraid of. Something that you yourself may not see and/or know at the time but in time, in God’s time, it will be revealed to you. We all have a purpose. We just have to align ourselves with it. For me, I know there’s a greater power than me, a God that loves and protects me, even from myself and my own terrible mistakes and decisions. I say, search yourself, find out what you believe in and tune into that. Listen with keen ears and an open heart, and you will be led. It’s not an easy road. This road I’m traveling and others like me have traveled, is not at all easy. It comes with tribulations, sacrifices, and pain like you’ve never experienced. You have to be ready for it. And to be readied, you’ll go through some very dark places. The people that survive this dark place, the hardships, the pain, the sadness and the very turbulent course of entrepreneurship, will succeed with immense reward. That’s just my belief. Sacrifice is necessary to achieve great success. And a strong foundation and belief system will propel that success into things unimaginable!
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Photography by Kyle Boiko