It’s a uniquely Rhode Island love story: Toy inventor meets toy model maker at Hasbro – the two fall in love, quit their jobs, and launch a new business. “Quite literally in our backyard,” says Alice Smith, the daughter of KALASTYLE founders Kate Smith (the KA) and Lance Gershenhoff (the LA). “We had a little farmhouse with a chicken coop in the back where we raised chickens, goats, and geese.” And apparently, there was enough space left over to develop an import company that sourced from old-world European heritage brands – mostly small family businesses well into their fourth generation. “My mom, a fantastic storyteller, has always been attracted to products with a great history,” explains Alice. It was the pre-internet age, when bringing international products to the US took much more than a simple click to add to cart.
More than 30 years later, KALASTYLE is a successful personal care company that crafts soaps, hand creams, shaving products, lip balms, candles, and hand sanitizers from a 30,000-square-foot building in Cranston. (They’ve come a long way from the family’s unheated garage turned “shipping department.”) While available locally, products are also carried by national retailers like Anthropologie.
“We are still family-owned and -operated, and have a very small staff, some of whom have been with us for 20 years,” says Alice, who’s been helping her parents on and off with the company since she was a teenager and now serves as the company’s creative director. “We began focusing more and more on locally made and/or USA-made products in the early 2000s.”
Makers of nearly a dozen retail brands, Swedish Dream may be KALASTYLE’s most iconic and locally recognizable line with its decidedly nautical identity punctuated by a contemporary anchor and block font. Alice and Kate have a passion for purposeful, researched design that captures the integrity of the brand, a process that Alice says takes a boatload of love, time…and wine. “We call it ‘wine and design,’” she laughs. Alice’s husband Cleveland, who has a background in production and photography, has a role in the design process as well, and has worked on the company’s catalogs and website.
In Swedish Dream’s case, the product and its packaging were inspired by the simplicity of Scandinavian design combined with the family’s love for the Ocean State.