In 2018, Phoebe Kunitomi shared her newly produced minimalist lingerie designs with her friends and family. The soft launch of her new brand, Okko, was the first step towards helping women of all shapes, sizes and colours simplify their underwear drawers.
“I started Okko to integrate [a] conscious mentality into the daily choices we make about what to wear. From a design perspective, our products are heavily influenced by elements of Japanese design; prioritizing function over frills and eliminating the excess to find beauty in simplicity.
“Philosophically, we hope to build a community where everyone feels empowered to own fewer but better things. Because shouldn’t we only want clothes that deliver delight with every single wear?” asks Ms Kunitomi.
According to the brand, “diversity, reliability, and minimalism” is at the core of the brand and covers its product designs and pricing.
More importantly, Ms Kunitomi credits her mixed family heritage – half Korean and half Japanese – as not only informing the brand’s concept, but also in helping her to reassess her lifestyle choices.
“As the daughter of a Korean mother and Japanese father, my upbringing was grounded in minimalism,” explains Ms Kunitomi. “When my parents sought to make a purchase, their decision-making process was thoughtful, making sure that every possession served its purpose and added value to our lives.
“As an adult, I have returned to a minimalist lifestyle because it is liberating (even when I wore 10 pieces of clothing over a 100 days!).
“Embracing a clutter-free life creates the headspace and physical space to focus on what matters, like building my business and having fun with my friends. In practice, rather than swearing off material things, when I need to make a purchase, I buy what I love and will use.”
“As a minimalist, my closet, and home generally, was pretty streamlined. But before Okko, my top drawer was filled with clutter. So I decided to create a brand that addressed that problem head on.”
This focus is also why Okko products are manufactured with consideration. Ms Kunitomi spent a substantial amount of time researching the best options for sustainable production that were also affordable.
“Okko ultimately landed in China for the production of their nipple covers, bras, and underwear. I am very excited to be working with this new partner because they are OEKO-TEX certified, female-founded and run, and generally a pleasure to work with,” says Ms Kunitomi.
“For the socks, I picked a manufacturer in Colombia that has been making socks and hosiery for over a century. They are like family to me.”
Like most fashion brands, Okko has obviously been impacted by the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic. “The pandemic has had real consequences for our brand that we continue to grapple with every single day,” explains Ms Kunitomi.
“Just the other day, I was speaking to a fellow founder friend, and we both agreed that 2021 has been tougher than 2020! In all seriousness, we continue to face a myriad of delays and shortages at every single point in our supply chain, which has slowed down our product development roadmap quite a bit.
“Also, a significant part of my business is wholesale. We have had retail partners go out of business, many who have reduced what they ordered in the face in tempered demand, and the like.
“Generally, my team has learned to be adaptable and creative in trying to deal with these challenges. For example, we have given the option to our retail partners to transition to a commission-based payment structure, which preserves our relationship while helping reduce their cash flow pressures.
“Most importantly, we learned to always over communicate with our customers. Transparency has been key in staying connected with our community – and during these unprecedented times, authentic connection is invaluable,” says Ms Kunitomi.
Sustainability, authenticity and minimalism are three important pillars of the Okko brand DNA: “The most sustainable lifestyle is the minimalist lifestyle. Owning less is the most effective, straightforward way to live more consciously,” says Ms Kunitomi.
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