How Intermix Founder Khajak Keledjian Used Meditation to Ride Out the Recession, then Turned It Into a Career

Not only did the mindful practice help the entrepreneur navigate a challenging financial climate in the late 2000s, but it also spawned the idea for his new wellness venture: Inscape.
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Photo: Inscape

Photo: Inscape

One of the biggest fashion industry buzzwords in recent years has been "burnout," and there's good reason for that. Aside from the ominous trend of creative directors quitting their top-level gigs at a breakneck pace, publishers are locked in a high-stakes race to create the best (and the most) content; brands and retailers are desperately in search of ways to bring in new shoppers and generate revenue; designers are expected to churn out upwards of eight collections per year; and there's the never-ending stream of news, images, hot takes, outfit photos, memes and #sponcon coming at us from all sides, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Our unofficial Fashionista motto is "never log off," but it's no secret that being plugged-in and available seven days a week can yield some serious physical and psychological consequences. 

To combat this stress and constant pressure to perform, a trend has emerged among editor events: Instead of the drinks dates or trendy workout classes of yesteryear, publicists now extend invitations for group meditation. In fact, a handful of chic studios dedicated to the practice have started to pop up in New York and Los Angeles, providing sanctuary for overworked, overstimulated people who need to relax and reboot — even if only for a few minutes. The newest, most ambitious addition to the fold comes from someone who's no stranger to the strain of the fashion business: Khajak Keledjian, who founded the wildly successful, multi-brand retailer Intermix with his brother 23 years ago. Late last year, he launched his new project Inscape with a 5,000-square-foot studio-slash-retail space in New York City, as well as a mobile app that guides users through immersive meditation. 

Keledjian started practicing a decade ago — long before he sold Intermix to Gap in 2012 for a reported $130 million — but he can distinctly remember when the concept of meditation entered his life. "[Intermix] first grew the whole idea of merging different designers together, bringing them under one umbrella and featuring head-to-toe styling. That never existed before," he explains. "[A friend] told me I should start meditating, but I didn't know where or how, and I was in a speed race — especially back in 2007 and 2008, with the [market] being in a challenging time. I'm a CEO for a company, the whole market is going down. Meditation? Where do I even start that?" But in pursuit of a balanced lifestyle, he gave it a shot.

Photo: Inscape

Photo: Inscape

Initially, Keledjian felt guilty taking 10 or 20 minutes to himself during the day because of all of the work he needed to do. "At Intermix, I would have two or three meetings happening at the same time, while our intercom is ringing, CNBC is on and magazines are everywhere," he said. "I'd walk out of one room and the buyer is there, with pictures of all the items coming. It was on and on — especially when you're in the specialty business. We had to buy the right item and the right style from the right vendor in the right color in the right size for the right woman and with the right timing... from Boston to Miami to LA at the right price." But he eventually made the time, heading to a neighborhood church in the early mornings in an attempt to clear his head. (He admits it took a full six months before he could calm his thoughts enough to "find a silent place.") 

In the years that followed, Keledjian only grew more fascinated with the healing powers of meditation, visiting Zen monasteries, participating in a Vipassana silent retreat and making the pilgrimage to Burning Man — all experiences that left a mark on him, from the grounding energies to the community aspects to the mental challenges. "All of these coming together, it kind of planted a seed in my head: How can you create a place in an environment that's physical and digital that really hits your senses," he said. "I started applying [them all] under this platform called Inscape; this means the true inner essence of a person, the true nature." 

Photo: Inscape

Photo: Inscape

Keledjian wanted to offer a physical space — the studio, located in Flatiron — where people could come in and quietly relax, with a tightly curated retail section filled with gifts that are meant to be beautiful, unique and meaningful. The app, meant to complement that space, offers programs that range from quick breathing exercises to sound baths to guided sessions in a variety of time intervals. He asserts that, without his commitment to meditation during his days as a fashion CEO, he would not have achieved the same level of success. "I had to make some difficult decisions [at Intermix]; I had to go with my gut, and the only way I knew how far I could push the boundaries was [from] my meditation seat," he said. "When I come out of it, I have a clarity. I have to do things that might be extreme, but it's the only way to navigate and to keep the company focused. After all, we're the first — and we're the only one that survived out of all our competitors. The other multi-brands, they're a dime a dozen. They're all bellied up."

Personal wellness benefits aside, Keledjian explained that meditation taught him to be a better businessman and boss, too. "I can be completely shrewd, fast, resilient... but at the same time I can be calm and look at things in a balanced, compassionate way," he said. As for the breakneck pace of the fashion industry, Keledjian believes it will change eventually — but that it must come from the top, with CEOs and managers keeping long-term ramifications for their employees in mind. Keledjian noted that, even with just a few minutes of mediation per day, his clients notice they're less stressed, sleeping better, are happier, and tend to "respond versus react" in tense scenarios. In other words, there's no reason we all shouldn't get offline for a spell and give it a shot. "I think you'll see the results," he assured me. "You're watering your soil. You need to do that. We need a reboot, we need something to shut down — otherwise the performance quality will go down."

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