Boston thrives on people who not only see what’s on the horizon but also help define it—here are some of the city’s most intriguing thought leaders of the moment.
Founder & CEO, KADA
It seems Kassia Davis is a Bostonian in perpetual motion, and for good reason: She’s always wearing exceptional kicks. Davis, who spent more than a decade at New Balance as an apparel product manager, struck a successful collaboration with Heidi Klum and, as a strategic account manager, partnered with Nordstrom. Now, this dynamo launches her own brand, KADA, touting sustainably made, elevated essentials for the everyday, ever-evolving woman.
Davis’ experience in the activewear industry brought KADA to life. “Before KADA, I had yet to discover a brand that could offer staple items across all silhouettes,” she says. “Sure, some brands have the perfect tee that you want to throw on every morning, and some have the little black dress that’s perfect for every occasion, but what brand has it all?” Davis, who has been featured in Forbes as one of its women to watch, remains active with the New Balance charitable foundation. She’s also on the board of directors of the West End House Boys and Girls Club, and is a committee member of the Boston Winter Ball, an annual event that supports the Corey C. Griffin Foundation.
To me, innovation means… pushing the envelope and testing limits, even if it means taking a risk. The KADA team is innovating by evolving the way fashion gets made and setting a new standard for sustainable production and a cleaner, safer world.
The past year has taught me… to understand how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to build a brand. This challenging time defined by loss has pushed me to be committed to sustainable production that benefits people and the planet.
One of my greatest influences is… Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and a self-made billionaire who’s managed to juggle it all.
One of my favorite quotes is... opportunities don’t happen. You create them.
When I design, I’m always thinking about… convenience and versatility. I’m determined to create a brand of staples that all multitasking women can rely on every morning.
When it comes to my brand launch, I’m most looking forward to... creating an opportunity to inspire and empower women. Behind the KADA brand is a team of incredibly talented women who share a common goal, which is to build pieces that every one of us can feel comfortable and confident wearing.
Co-Founder, Bossi Sportswear
“Authentic” is a word bandied about so often in the marketing world that it no longer has any luster. So, we’ll not use that phrase to describe Alex Bossi; instead, know that it’s a foundational ethos for a man who grew up in East Boston’s Orient Heights and still designs and manufactures his sportswear line—adored by rappers Travis Scott and Saint Jhn—in the same section of the city. While Bossi has lived and worked all over the world, eschewing New York to open his own fashion outpost seemed like a natural move for someone who’s still an Eastie, down to his marrow. After all, he still plays hoops around town when he’s not creating pieces seen in luxe fashion spots like Pretty Box in Paris; Le Grey in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Riccardi in Boston on Newbury Street. Bossi, who founded the company with his wife, Taryn, also believes in sustainability, upcycling shirts he transforms with Harley- Davidson logos. Most of the collection is produced at Boston’s renowned Sterlingwear factory, another nod to a town that inspired Bossi’s fashion sense and continues to help perfect his mean jump shot from the paint and beyond.
To me, innovation means... not re-creating the wheel but the way it spins.
The past year has taught me... to keep working with what we’ve got. There is very little stimulation in the world right now, so staying inspired has proved to be difficult. Thankfully, most of my inspiration comes from references of the past.
One of my greatest influences is... how my mother dressed during my childhood and [how] she dressed my brother and me. When I’m designing, I always look back at old family photos to see what was cool then and try to see how I can interpret that into today.
One of my favorite quotes is… you learn your greatest lessons with your worst mistakes.
People might be surprised to learn that I... designed a hotel in East London in 2017.
When I design a piece of sportswear, I’m always thinking about... the customer. It’s great if I love the piece, but the customer needs to love it more.
When it comes to my business in the next year, I’m most looking forward to... no longer showing our new collections via only Zoom and digital platforms. I look forward to getting back to Paris, where we show the collections each season, and having the buyers actually touch and feel our work in person.
Founder & Co-Owner, The Urban Grape
Last year, TJ Douglas and his wife, Hadley, owners of the South End’s Urban Grape, launched Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, with the goal of dramatically boosting opportunities for professionals of color to advance in the wine industry. Douglas, who has been in the wine business for more than two decades, says he wanted to centralize his charitable work in an area that makes the most impact for him: diversifying the wine world. He’s working with Boston University to combine its wine-studies program with paid industry internships and mentorships. Douglas donated $10,000 to get the program started, and Boston-area businesses helped fulfill the initial $100,000 goal for the endowment. “This award isn’t about finding a job,” says Douglas. “It’s about creating a career [and] building sustained generational wealth.” The program will begin accepting applications for the next round of Wine Studies Award recipients later this month. Douglas remains an undaunted fan of young Black trendsetters in the industry and mentions 30-year-old Brenae Royal, who manages the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma. “She turned her interest in agriculture into a coveted job in the industry,” he says.
To me, innovation means... always thinking about how to create new ways of doing business to open pathways to endless possibilities.
The past year has taught me... to always stay true, in a business sense, to my ideals and beliefs.
One of my great influences is... my wife, Hadley. She’s the dreamer of the company. She’s always bringing thoughts and ideas to me that push my boundaries forward.
One of my favorite quotes is… from Jeff Gates at The Aquitaine Group—he told me that you can teach someone to carry a tray, but you can’t teach someone to smile.
People might be surprised to learn that I... can’t swirl wine with my left hand. I mean, seriously cannot keep it in the glass.
When it comes to my business, I’m always thinking of... the stories— our story, the winemakers’ stories, our customers’ stories. Every story matters and has value, and when we tell them to each other, we are making the wine community a more fun and hospitable place.
When it comes to my business in the next year, I’m most looking forward to... reimagining The Urban Grape, yet again, to be a new hybrid of pre-COVID and COVID-era ways of doing business.
Restaurant Owner, Farmer & Film Director
For Kristin Canty, the world of food comes down to choices that could very well save the planet. As a female organic farmer who also owns Woods Hill Pier 4 in the Seaport District— which opened shortly before the pandemic—Canty isn’t someone who accepts the status quo in the culinary arts and food production. In fact, she’s so passionate about countless issues with the American food chain that she produced and directed the documentary Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms (now on Amazon Prime). Through her own New Hampshire farm and her restaurants (she also owns Woods Hill Table and Adelita in Concord, Mass.), her goal is to give consumers the opportunity to eat organically and sustainably. “People might be surprised to learn that I’m not a vegetarian—I used to be,” she says. “I’m a huge advocate for rotationally grazing farm animals as a way to heal our planet by enriching our soils and, in turn, heal ourselves with nutrient-dense food. You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world that your children will inherit.”
To me, innovation means... doing something that is meaningful to you and not necessarily trendy. It means staying passionate and sticking with it, until, finally, your idea changes or becomes the trend. Innovation means following through and staying focused, regardless of what others say or think. Being innovative is to think differently and stay the course.
The past year has taught me... to remain resilient, stay in the present, not fear the future, learn from the past and be ready to roll with extreme changes daily.
My greatest influences are… all of the farmers who take care of the soil and raise food for our restaurants. Also, the hard work that goes into caring for the animals, the vegetables and not to forget the oceans. They all influence me greatly to keep going every day.
One of my favorite quotes is… from Hippocrates—let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
When it comes to food, I’ve always believed... if you can’t pronounce it, it wasn’t a food when your great-grandmother was born, if it comes in a box, don’t eat it. Know where your food comes from.
In the next year, I’m most looking forward to... opening our bar and especially our outdoor bar seating at Woods Hill located on the harbor in Boston. We only partially opened this past summer due to the pandemic, and so we’re looking forward to this summer as being the time for our restaurant to really shine.
Founder & Owner, Inclusive Fitness
Where’s there’s a need, there’s likely a business plan—and an innovative solution—in the making. Framingham resident Greg Austin is the father of an autistic teenage son, Lucas. As a fitness enthusiast, Austin adheres to the notion that wellness stems from physical activity. He always noticed how exercise helped Lucas become more focused, relaxed and confident.
Unfortunately, the neurodiverse community (e.g., autism, Down syndrome, ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities) is often overlooked by the fitness industry. Gyms usually lack the right sensory design elements, adaptive programming and coaches who are trained specifically to support neurodiverse people. So, last fall, Austin stepped away from his 20- year marketing career, and with his wife, Kristina, opened Inclusive Fitness in West Roxbury. The solution features training in one-on-one, group or virtual settings. Programming includes structure, purpose and attainable goals, becoming a godsend to families and caregivers and helping participants lead more independent lives. “When I teach, I’m always thinking about what I can do to instill in each athlete a real sense of ownership over her or his fitness,” he says.
To me, innovation means... helping people see things in an entirely new light so that they expect something better.
The past year has taught me... that opportunities, like people, reveal themselves in surprising ways during times of great difficulty and change.
One of my greatest influences is... my mother, who, for more than 40 years, was an exceptional music teacher. Only now am I beginning to realize how much my coaching is a reflection of what I learned from her.
One of my favorite quotes is... give me a safety net, not a hammock. A neurodiverse friend shared this with me, and it drove home the importance of finding the right balance between helping neurodiverse people gain independence while supporting them on their journey.
I love what I do because... we get to play a part in helping neurodiverse athletes learn to take ownership over their long-term health. Seeing their independence and fitness blossom, and over time fading into the background as they grow, is awe-inspiring.
People might be surprised to learn that I am... not someone who follows professional sports. I love running, cycling, lifting and hiking, but don’t ask me about the big game last night!
When it comes to Inclusive Fitness in the next year, I’m most looking forward to... helping people see that high-quality fitness training and healthy lifestyles for neurodiverse people and their families are the expectation, not the exception. That, and growing a thriving business in the process!
Associate Principal, CambridgeSeven
Justin Crane’s design vernacular is colossal—mirroring his large projects that include the New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank renovations. Above all, the architect, a Harvard and MIT alum, spearheads adaptive reuse projects for CambridgeSeven. For his current project, The Foundry, based in Cambridge, Crane is transforming a historic industrial space into a community hub for creativity and collaboration—serving as a nexus for visual and performing arts, entrepreneurship, technology and workforce education. The designer’s overriding passion is reflective of a younger generation of architects who have an eye on sustainable design, leading the way toward better buildings for better living. “The past year has taught me the importance of all the decisions we make as designers,” he says. “I’m a member of the American Institute of Architects’ National Ethics Council, and we’ve spent a lot of time this year considering not only individual cases but also how the building types we design contribute to a just society. In practice, I’m focusing on conversions of old and defunct structures into places that build communities, such as transforming jails and abandoned factories into theaters, community centers, nonprofit offices and artist workspaces.”
To me, innovation means… listening carefully and with understanding. Then composing a response that makes all of us see new possibilities in our ideas.
One of my greatest influences is... Samuel Mockbee. He started Auburn University’s Rural Studio, one of the first student design-build programs in the country. They create buildings, often using found materials, for poor rural residents of Hale County in Alabama.
One of my favorite quotes about design is... the prospects of architecture are not divorced from the prospects of community. This was written by Lewis Mumford in Sticks and Stones, his study of New England architecture. I truly believe that the more inspired and equitable we can make architecture or community, the other will follow.
People might be surprised to learn that I am… making all my household cleaning products from scratch.
When I design, I’m always thinking about… the stories being told by the architecture and its occupants. For example, in the Foundry Building’s design, by integrating historic structure and ornamentation, and through a new historical exhibit joined with the architecture, we weave together narratives of Cambridge’s industrial history. [This includes] the building’s relationship to the women’s labor rights movement and the importance of arts to neighborhood residents.
The best way design can influence and build community is… providing a clear vision for people to imagine what they can accomplish together. The Foundry is one of a kind—a fully publicly funded arts and culture center. The design incorporates an eclectic mix of uses, from a demonstration kitchen to flexible performance space to digital fabrication and dance studio.
Founder, Island Creek Oysters
Years ago, Skip Bennett had a hunch: Duxbury Bay’s cold, choppy and salty water would be a boon to oysters. So, he started growing them, amid much trial and error, and the process stretched more than a decade. He is most definitely a patient human. The result: Bennett’s succulent and sustainable bivalves are now the house oyster at Thomas Keller’s sister restaurants The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York City, and in some of the finest kitchens on the planet. They’ve even been served at the White House. (The company also sells caviar, tinned fish, clams and lobsters.) The pandemic, of course, leveled a brutal blow to the restaurant industry. Knowing his product wouldn’t be feasted upon in the same numbers as in years past, Bennett scrambled to revolutionize the way gourmands enjoy oysters—at home. He created and launched an innovative direct-to-consumer platform, which allows lovers of the briny bivalves to order directly from Island Creek. The oysters are plucked from the water, packaged and shipped; they arrive at a consumer’s front door within 24 hours. “There are opportunities within adversity,” says Bennett. “Last spring was a really scary time for the farm. Our core business of selling to chefs all but disappeared, but our direct-to-consumer e-commerce business really took off . In Duxbury, we were able to expand our outdoor raw bar by spreading out over the property, which helped us survive a very challenging year.”
To me, innovation means... always striving to improve and become more efficient. Also, we talk a lot about being extraordinary—thinking outside the box. For instance, farming alternative species like bay scallops and surf clams or concepts like The Shop, our quick service raw bar in Portland.
One of my great influences is… my two daughters. They’re both really good souls—they make me want to be a better person.
People might be surprised to learn that... I’m allergic to mussels.
When it comes to my business, I’m always thinking of… the future. Years ago, we started talking about strategic planning as two disparate things— strategy and planning. Planning is a roadmap to your goals, while strategy is what will give you the best chance of being around in the future.
When it comes to my business in the next year, I’m most looking forward to… getting back out on the farms every day and working on the new projects we have going on with surf clams, bay scallops and littleneck clams. Island Creek Oysters recently purchased the Winsor House Inn (winsorhouseinn.com), a historic restaurant across the street from our 12-acre property in Duxbury. The addition of the Winsor House into the Island Creek family will allow us to add another aspect to the farm experience we’ve been creating since 2017, coupling hospitality with educating guests about aquaculture and its role in the future of our coastal communities.
Managing Partner, The Green Cities Company
Kelly Saito is certain of one thing: The real estate development industry won’t likely change unless someone like him takes the first step. Saito also knows that healthier living comes through smart, thoughtful and responsible development that will impact generations to come. So, as a managing partner of The Green Cities Company, an investment management firm where he has overseen more than $3 billion in development assets, Saito has recently worked to foster success by helping develop multifamily, commercial and mixed-use properties by looking at the big picture of their environmental footprint and social impact—from diversity to community inclusivity and well-being. Saito’s approach gives developers, architects and designers a blueprint for future projects. This philosophy can already be found in buildings he and his colleagues have helped develop in neighborhoods like East Boston (The Eddy), Quincy (Neponset Landing) and Fort Point (315 on A), Fenway (Bower) and South End (Troy).
To me, innovation means... embracing new ideas without fear or prejudice and finding ways to create something fresh, new or improved that creates value.
The past year has taught me... patience, compassion and resiliency.
One of my greatest influences is... my family—I’m constantly amazed and shaped by them.
One of my favorite quotes about design is... from Dieter Rams—good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.
People might be surprised to learn that I am... an old Deadhead. I still remember the moment I heard that Jerry Garcia had died.
When I design, I’m always thinking about... context and meaning.
The best way design can influence and build community is… when it’s inclusive, inspiring and used to solve problems.
When it comes to the next year and my work, I’m most looking forward to... continuing to push our recently rebranded company, The Green Cities Company, to operate at the vanguard of ESG real estate investing—and sitting in the stands again at Fenway Park.
Photography by: Michael B. Blanchard Photography; Sandy Poirier; OJ Slaughter and Philip Keith; Courtesy of Woods Hill Pier 4; Courtesy of Inclusive Fitness; Courtesy of CambridgeSeven; Courtesy of Island Creek Oysters; Courtesy of The Green Cities Company