Kokob Label: Starting a Women's Fashion Brand as Co-Founders Living in Different Countries!
Kokob Label is a fresh and unique women's fashion brand co-founded by two cousins Nyat & Betiel - both of Eritrean background but raised in different countries. With Nyat being from London, England & Betiel being from Stockholm, Sweden, amazingly the two have managed to make it work and the business is ever-growing! Our Founder Toren sat down to have a conversation with the two co-founders about how they got into fashion and design, the importance of their heritage and country's culture and how it feeds into Kokob, as well as future plans for the brand!
[The Bahro Top & Skirt from Kokob's latest collection]
Toren: So guys, tell me about the origins of Kokob and how the brand first came about.
Nyat: It kind of came about because of Covid. When lockdown happened, I had a lot more time on my hands which led me to get into sewing and I ended up buying a sewing machine.
Toren: So is sewing something that you’ve always been into or was it something that you decided to pick up as a hobby during lockdown?
Nyat: Yeah, I used to do a bit of sewing back in school. I did DT [Design & Technology] as a GCSE and specifically worked on textiles. I actually got 100% in my exams (Nyat smiles). So it was something that I used to do and enjoy then, but once college began and A-Levels came about, and soon after we had to start considering University choices, it kind of went on the back-burner at that point. I was also influenced by Betiel (The Co-Founder of Kokob Label), as she has a YouTube channel, Nyat jokingly says “but right now she’s not being very consistent”.
Toren: Yeah, tell her again! (I am also a fan of Betiel’s YouTube content)
Betiel: Woah guys, this is not about that right now! (She laughs)
Nyat: She used to do lots of mini sewing tutorials, and it was around the time that we started to get closer, so then I started getting back into it. I also started working at a factory that wasn’t too far from my house at the time, so it all started to connect and make sense.
Betiel: Yeah, just to follow up on that really, I started (sewing) more so because I was curious and had a colleague that did professional sewing. One day I asked if she could teach me, which she did, we ended up going to her house and she taught me how to make a top, then we eventually made pants, and I was pleased with how they came out. I then decided to get my own sewing machine, I bought it second hand and that’s the same sewing machine I still have today. After that, I started YouTube, and from there everything started coming together and improving with time.
Toren: That’s a nice touch! So, you essentially started on a basis of random intuition and kept on going from there?
Betiel: Yeah exactly. When I was young, we used to have one (sewing) class, but I was really young and I didn’t know much about it. But I always had a dream, from when I was younger to have my own clothing brand. So, it was a hobby, that at the time I didn’t know I had. So, I then tried it and liked it and here we are now!
Nyat: Yeah, to be honest, I think we kind of influence each other. We both reignited our passion for sewing and making clothes around the same time.
Toren: With the name behind the brand, who came up with it?
Nyat: I think it was me because Betiel wanted Gemel.
Betiel: Oh yeah, I remember that (Betiel laughs)
Nyat: We wanted it to be an Eritrean word. So, we were trying different things in Tigrinya and I don’t know if you know, but for instance, a camel has significant importance in Eritrea. Camel in Tigrinya is Gemel, but when you translate that to English, Gemel doesn’t really hit as much. So, then we started experimenting and Kokob was one of the words that came to mind. Kokob means star.
[Kokob's Winter 21' collection, their first ever release which includes the Paris Top & Skirt, the Asmara Midi & the London Top & Skirt]
Toren: Okay, that’s nice, I like that! That’s something I and I’m sure most people didn’t know. In terms of both of you and making the business work, you live in different countries. So how do you make it work, as for most people it would be impossible. Do you also see you two living in different countries as a benefit to the running of Kokob?
Betiel: I would say there are definitely benefits, but it is hard sometimes too. There are times when you would want to be together and develop things. For instance, with our first collection, I happened to be in London during the beginning of the process, and even with starting the second collection, it was easier for me to just go there. So, in terms of getting stuff to develop the brand and making a collection, it can be quite hard, but when it comes to the customers and the different audiences that we can bring into our brand e.g., the Swedish market and the U.K. market that’s a benefit. So, it’s a bit of both. However, I would say it leans more towards being beneficial, as I could never do it without Nyat, and I feel like it’s really good being able to work together because it can be a lot.
[The Quala dress from Kokob's Summer 22 Collection]
Nyat: We also do try and make it a thing where at the beginning of each collection, we come together and create a sort of hub, where for 2 or 3 weeks straight, we solely focus on the collection and have a plan put together so that when we do separate, we still know exactly what direction we’re moving in. We essentially set ourselves for the next three to four months with that process.
Toren: Yeah, I think that’s a lovely way to work, to be honest. It allows for you to separate, then regroup and come back with fresh ideas to share when you do come together. That’s a nice plan.
Nyat: It’s weird as well because we speak like every day, but we’ve now made it a thing to set aside business meetings and we usually aim to have one weekly.
Toren: That makes sense, perfect balance. Another question I had was, in terms of inspirations, if you both do have any. Are there any designers, brands, or designs you use as a muse? Where do you go for your dose of inspiration?
Betiel: Yeah, I would say I used to work with Selam Fessahaye, a famous Swedish designer. I used to work with her, and I would say she opened my eyes to something more because in Sweden there’s a lot of culture, but I would say in the U.K. there is more. So, when I was working with her, I was able to work in an environment with people that looked like me and worked like me, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. So, when I was able to witness the finishing touches of a design project … and I wasn’t even in the design team, I was actually in the marketing team, but it was a small team, so you got to experience a bit of everything.
Nyat: By the way, she forgot to mention that she (Selam Fessahaye) is Eritrean.
Toren: Ah okay (laughs) because I was wondering, but yeah that makes sense.
Betiel: Yeah, sorry I forgot to say she was Eritrean. But yeah, it was so inspiring because she brings culture and heritage into everything that she does. For example, when it comes to designs, patterns and models, even the accessories in the fashion shows. She incorporates traditional Eritrean-style braids into them. So that was really inspiring to be in that environment and see someone like you doing something that you want to do, and that showed that it was possible to just do it. So, I would say that was definitely an eye-opener for me, to get more into fashion.
Nyat: In terms of designs, I wouldn’t say we are the typical designers e.g., drawing inspiration from other designers or collections. Like I would say we wouldn’t even keep track of London fashion week etc like we’re not those people.
Toren: Is that something you would want to tap into eventually though?
Nyat: Yeah, I think in terms of keeping on top of trends and seasons it is important and that’s something we’re trying to do now in the sense of planning a year ahead. But it is definitely a goal of ours, but right now, I think our inspiration mostly comes from our peers. So, for example, me and Betiel like going out, meeting new people and travelling. The more you go out, the more you see, naturally, you see more of what people wear around you. With both of us living in big multicultural cities, there’s a big scene for young adults to see what looks good and what doesn’t, and I think we kind of work more off of that as opposed to high fashion designers.
Toren: Yeah, to be honest, I think that’s more of an authentic way to go about things as well.
Nyat: Yeah, I think even when we tend to go shopping and visit high street stores, they tend to cater to our general aesthetic, but when you take into consideration body shape, fit and sizing, it tends to be hit-and-miss. So, I think we try to incorporate that, even with our pattern making, you see how the shape differs from a standard size. We make sure all our materials have some level of stretch to them because, within the fast fashion era, it’s really difficult to do one size fits all. So, if you add a bit of stretch it helps.
[The Massawa dress from Kokob's Summer 22 Collection]
Toren: Speaking of fast fashion, what are your opinions on it?
Nyat: I think the main con with fast fashion is that it’s not sustainable. But I would say it’s really hard to control that in a world where people always want something new. You’re not the same person that you were last month, for example, it’s hard to say what I wore last week is the same thing I would like to wear next month. So, I think it’s hard to find a balance between the two. So sometimes I think the best thing to do is make clothes that can last long, because as we all know trends can come and go, so I think the main thing is to avoid selling clothes that are deemed one wear only.
Toren: I agree. Alright, so for someone that has never heard of or come across Kokob before, describe Kokob in three short sentences, so essentially a quick introduction.
Betiel: I would say its playful when it comes to the designs, prints and everything.
Nyat: I would say that the brand is for women who aren’t afraid to stand out. I feel like when you see the pieces, you’ll know what I mean. They’re very stand out’ish.
Toren: I feel like that’s good to have as a brand because when someone sees the dress, they’ll immediately ask, where did you get that from? It attracts more customers and people that are going to be interested so that makes a lot of sense. Okay, one more!
(Betiel and Nyat both look at me and laugh.)
Toren: (Laughs) Alright, I’m gonna come back to that one don’t worry! Alright, cool, in terms of Eritrean heritage, how important would you say it is, not just for yourselves but for the brand as a whole?
Betiel: I would say that we try to incorporate it into everything that we do. For example, in the last collection, all the designs are named after different cities in Eritrea, which have meaning to us. One of them is where my dad is from, one is where Nyat’s mum is from, so that’s really important to us. But in terms of designs. it's more so, as we talked about before, the patterns and how the clothing fits people.
Nyat: I think I would say in terms of Eritrean clothing, you wouldn’t look Kokob and say this is a typical thing that you’d see in Asmara (the capital city of Eritrea). So, I wouldn’t say there’s a huge influence in that sense. But I think we’re both very much cultured and in touch with our culture, so naturally, it’s going to come out. I’d say it’s a fusion of back home culture and where we live now.
Toren: Okay, my final question, and it’s slightly a double-barrelled question. What are the future plans for Kokob and what can we expect in the next year or so? If that is something you can answer.
Nyat: If we were to say within the next year, I think our main plan is to stay consistent with our collections. We want to make sure that we have at least two collections a year, one summer and one winter. We hopefully want to do a pop-up shop at some point, so one in Stockholm and one in London. So, I think that’s the next step. We want to meet our customers, because we get a lot of emails and feedback from people, so it would be nice to put a face to our customers. I think in the short term that’s our plan. Long term … Betiel.
(Betiel & Toren Laugh)
Betiel: It’s a lot honestly because I think we want to do so much, so I think always thinking a year ahead is the main plan. But when it comes to like five years, only God knows.
Nyat: I want to put one thing out there because I really want to do this and I don’t know If it will be in one year or 10 years, but I really want to do a fashion show.
Betiel: Yeah! We talked about that!
Nyat: Yeah, there was a time that I wanted to do it, but I don’t think it’s the time to do it now. The reason why I want to do that is that I feel like fashion shows shouldn’t just be for High-End brands, I think they should be brought to our new brands. I know brands like Missguided and PLT have started doing shows in London and New York fashion week, which was new and side-eyed at the time. But I do think it would be a nice touch, bringing all the customers of Kokob together and it would be a nice way to introduce a new collection.
Toren: Yeah I think it would be good. It’s also an innovative way of thinking as well. Like you said I also agree it shouldn’t just be gatekept for high fashion but should be accessible for all types of fashion brands.
Nyat: Exactly, I think it would bring a lot of creatives together as well, e.g., there are videographers, people that make music, so it would be a nice way to bring the creative community together. So, I really want to do that at some point.
Betiel: Another thing I would like to do, is put together a pop-up shop in Sweden where different designers can come together and showcase their designs. So, customers from different brands can come and see different designs in the same place at the same time. So hopefully we can do that at some point also.
Toren: Alright, I did say that was the last question, but after this discussion, I have two more! Do you guys plan on expanding outside of dresses? I know that’s the focus right now, but are there any future plans?
Nyat: So fun fact, we were supposed to do tracksuits in the beginning. So, who knows, we might go back into it. We were supposed to do Halloween costumes, do you remember Betiel? (They both laugh). I remember at first, we were trying to see what we couldn’t find in the market. I feel as a woman when you’re trying to buy something like a tracksuit. It's either all the way typically like a male tracksuit or it's very tight-fitted and sexualised, there’s no in-between. So, we were trying to address that at first. But at the time it was more complicated, so we wanted to start with something more straightforward, which spurred the idea of Halloween costumes, but that also didn’t make sense, so we went back to the drawing board. We ended up coming up with a few dress ideas and that’s how we kind of veered in that direction. So, knowing us, who knows, next year we could be doing something completely different.
Betiel: Yeah, I even remember I was so inspired by you (Nyat) as well because remember before I came to London, you were making the white skirt and top and you were selling them. I thought that was crazy! So, I think that kind of gave us both the confidence to turn it into a brand.
Nyat: Yeah, and we did that all in the space of two months whilst Betiel was in London, and we decided that we had to get it done. So, we’ll see! I think we like to set ourselves challenges and we might end up doing something completely different.
Toren: I’ll be waiting on it! The last thing, where can the people find you?
Nyat: Instagram @KokobLabel / Website: Kokoblabel.com / Tik Tok we’re working on!
Nyat: OMG, to go back to the question about three sentences to describe Kokob, I have the last one! To add to that, earlier I said Kokob means star. This is the feeling we want our customers to feel, our clothing should make you feel beautiful, powerful and confident, when you put on a Kokob piece you should feel like a shining star ready to conquer the world!
Toren: I love that, come on! That’s a wrap!
To purchase anything and everything Kokob Label, visit the website: https://kokoblabel.com/
Conversation & write up produced by Toren.
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