A Kenyan safari guide. A Hollywood costume designer. A world-traveling sommelier. In this series, we learn about the journeys people take to land the ultimate Dream Jobs.
For Ashley Green, the secret to success is simple: keep it in the family. Along with her husband, Kenny, the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based entrepreneur is the mighty engine behind KaAn’s Designs, a playful line of apparel and accessories that’s all about the fun side of family values.
Now a social media smash, KaAn’s Designs began as Ashley's brainchild. In 2014, the high school English teacher and mom of two was looking for a side hustle that would allow her to spend more time with her young boys. The most natural lane for her energies, she soon realized, was a venture that spoke to her role as a mom—and as luck would have it, she had noticed a mama-powered boom in message tees all over social media. “I was seeing all these merch shops pop up on Instagram—it was the latest thing for all the moms on the platform” she says. “But none of them seemed to look like me, or represent what me and my children look like.” It was then that she had a eureka moment, envisioning a product that combined her love for family, her teacher's appreciation for empowering messaging, and her cheeky style—while helping to tackle the lack of representation for families of color.
She sketched out a T-shirt design for her then four-year-old son, Aiden. It was a short-sleeved silhouette, anchored by three words (“Short, dark, and handsome”). “He’s always had a lot of swagger,” says Ashley. “The shirt captured his essence to a T.”
Green recruited Kenny to help her get the concept off the ground. Aiden’s shirt was one of eight designs included in the first run of message tees from Ka’An’s Designs (named after the combination of her family’s names: Kenny, Ashley, Aiden, and Noah), which featured comfortable materials, classic colors, and slick fonts. Looking to add a unique and personal twist, the Greens took inspiration from their love of throwback music in dreaming up their next hot-ticket item.
Their signature set of T-shirts was designed with a lively, growing family (much like their own) in mind: it features The Original (for the parents), The Remix (for the oldest child), The Encore (for a younger sibling) and The Mic Drop (for a baby). Each shirt comes in a variety of sizes for adults and kids, so that the set can be customized to different households.
Their first rollout generated interest and sales, and made for irresistible social media posts—all of which gave the Greens enough steam to keep plugging away at their new venture. The business was slowly but surely finding its footing in the summer of 2016 when Ashley and Kenny found themselves in a position to utter the phrase that’s sweet music to a startup founder’s ears: “we went viral.”
The parents of a three-year-old with cerebral palsy had posted a photo of the young girl and her dad to honor Father’s Day, with both daughter and dad decked out in Ka’an Design’s “The Original” and “The Remix” T-shirt set. Ashley and Kenny reposted the sweet tribute, which garnered hundreds of thousands of clicks across platforms. The supportive comments flooded in—and their sales spiked. ““We weren’t afraid to show inclusion,” says Ashley. “I think that’s what made the post so special.”
As business started booming, they expanded their inventory to include sweatshirts, hats, pajamas, onesies, tote bags, and coffee mugs, all emblazoned with clever lines (a “Nothing In this Bag Belongs To Me” tote is a bestseller). Their T-shirt collection expanded, too, generating new fan favorites like the “Shorty,” “Shorter Shorty,” and “Shortest Shorty,” collection, “Dope Mom,” “Dope Dad,” and “Dope Babe” set, and baby-sized tees for a family’s “Newbae.”
In May 2019, Ashley and Kenny welcomed their very own newbae: their first daughter, Kensley. And it wasn’t just the Green family that was growing—KaAn’s Designs was scaling up significantly. Ashley left her teaching position to concentrate on the business full-time. The couple moved operations from a home office to a home warehouse occupying 1000 square feet in their garage. And they kept up with an ever-growing number of orders thanks to a small but nimble team, including assistants who worked on shipping and fulfillment (plus volunteer duties from their entrepreneurial sons, who contribute slogan ideas and are frequent models for the brand's Instagram).
As the company grew, it became evident that their customer and fan base shared the Greens' tight-knit family values and exuberant sense of humor (their next viral hit featured another lovable father-daughter duo dancing in their kitchen while wearing KaAn’s Designs tees).
The success of the business is gratifying, but for the Greens, it’s the balance and freedom their venture has provided that’s been the real win. Ashley recognizes how KaAn’s Designs has helped her to realize her ambition of seeing a family like hers represented in the retail and social media landscape, all the while allowing her to spend more time with the crew she loves the most. “I’m so thankful to be doing this every day. It’s a dream I didn’t even know I wanted,” she says. “But if you're willing to put in the work, your dreams have no other option but to manifest for you.”
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