One day when I was talking to my friend Nelly Navin, I was surprised to learn that apart from having a full-time job as a lawyer, she also co-owns a kids fashion label with her sister, Natasha, called Kooshboo. Intrigued to hear that all their clothes are made and designed here in Malaysia, I was curious to learn more about their story and how they started off their business to where it stands today. Nelly then arranged for me to meet with her sister, Natasha, who is the CEO and founder of the company and basically runs the show at Kooshboo.
So one breezy morning, Yiga and I headed over to their office in the green hills of Ampang to have an informal chat with Natasha.
To give some background on the sisters, Nelly and Natasha are of mixed heritage of Malay, Indian and Chinese. They both studied abroad (UK and Australia respectively) which has given them an international outlook on both eastern and western influences, which in turn has been integrated into their designs and clothing for Kooshboo.
Natasha is a trained architect, however after having her first child she left the industry to stay at home and concentrate on motherhood. However, after a while she decided to follow her dreams by designing a kids clothing line. This seemed fitting as she had always had an inherent interest in fashion from a young age.
Natasha's interest in fashion has been a meaningful constant in her life, as both her mother and grandmother used to sew and make their clothes by hand when they were growing up.
After surveying the market, Natasha felt that there wasn't much choice in ethical and sustainable children's fashion in Malaysia apart from the mass-produced or "fast fashion" outlets in abundance in the country.
She wanted to produce a fashionable yet sustainable homegrown brand that would appeal to those buyers who would appreciate good quality and style. She felt that "more and more Malaysians are well-travelled and educated and therefore have an appreciation for this type of ethical choice when it comes to fashion. This honest approach to fashion has already been happening for a while in Europe, Australia and the US however, now it is starting to mushroom over here in the region. There are more brands in the the country who are now adopting this type of approach when it comes to fashion".
So In 2014, Kooshboo was born.
Kooshboo meaning "fragrance" in Hindi , the reference clearly being a nod to their Indian heritage. All the clothes are designed by Natasha and are sewn in 2 small factories in Malacca and Taiping. She wanted to ensure that all the clothes were made in Malaysia and is adamant in ensuring that her clothes are of a high quality, remaining unique and genuine in their design.
After showing us around her lofty and bright studio, we sat down and talked more about Kooshboo:
Batik&Bubbles (B&B): Natasha, what design style or muse inspires you?
Natasha: My sister and I love the boho chic look ala Kate Moss or Sienne Miller. The look is effortless, contemporary yet with an injection of something interesting like folk design elements or handwork.
B&B: Are all the clothes designed by you personally or do you work with a team of designers?
Natasha: I design all the clothes myself, but during the design development process some tweaking is needed and this is when I get my mum, sister and sometimes close friends to contribute their input and opinion.
B&B: Any plans to expand into other areas beside children's clothes?
Natasha: At the moment we don't have such plans, but we do also make some accessories like hair clips, necklaces and bags and would like to expand this range in the near future.
B&B: When you talk about sustainability, can you explain how this is applied to your fashion line?
Natasha: Firstly, we only use 100% natural materials so they are biodegradable, unlike mixed fibres, which are commonly used in fashion production these days. Secondly our clothes are made from good quality fabrics and our designs are not trend driven. This is to ensure our clothes are durable and timeless to be passed down from one child to another when they grow out of them. At the same time, our products are made ethically where we practise fair-trade unlike most high street tables who manufacture their products in factories where workers' rights are below par.
B&B: Who is your target market?
Natasha: Our target market is the middle to high income parents who are fashion and eco-conscious. They consist of both local and expat segment of the community.
B&B: What are your most favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
Natasha: Oh this is an easy question... my favourite part is to design and my least favourite part is to sell! Haha!
B&B: How do you balance creativity with the business side of things?
Natasha: This is the most difficult thing that I've had to do when I started Kooshboo almost two years ago. I am still learning on how to do business, let alone on how to balance these two crucial parts of fashion retail. Lucky for me my husband is quite business savvy and has a passion for entrepreneurship so we make a good team!
B&B: How long does it take to launch a new line - from the initial ideas of a sketch to getting them into the store and website?
Natasha: I spent two years prior to launching Kooshboo doing R&D (research and development) including learning how to sew and make paper patterns as I believe you need to really understand the work that goes behind a particular business. As for the collections, it takes a minimum of 6 months from initial sketches, through to fabric sourcing, design development, production and finally launching a collection and selling them in stores and online.
B&B: Any words of wisdom for aspiring designers who wish to start a fashion line?
Natasha: Always start with a well defined and strong concept and then research if there is enough market for it. It is hard work all the way as it is a very competitive industry and it probably isn't as glamorous or easy as it looks from the outside! But if you have the passion for it, just go and chase your dreams!
After our meeting, I decided to take the clothes home to see how comfortable the clothes were on my children, Sean and Isabelle. We went outdoors to try and see how active the children could be in them and whether it could stand up to the strong heat of our Malaysian weather.
I am happy to say that not only were the clothes extremely pleasing to the eye with their intricate and colourful patterns they were also soft, light and airy.
The kids found the clothes very easy to move in which can be a feat when dealing with extremely rambuctious and active children such as mine who love to run and play outdoors!
Natasha has informed me that now they are now working on their new Hari Raya collection for 2016 so watch this space for more details on their upcoming collections! She assured us that no collection would ever be the same as they intentionally try to make each one different while focusing and borrowing patterns from folk art and their own heritage for inspiration.
Batik&Bubbles wishes Natasha and Nelly all the success on their endeavours and looks forward to see what kind of amazing designs and clothes Kooshboo comes up with in the year ahead!
To view and purchase Kooshboo's latest collections head over to www.kooshboo.com or you can see their clothes at Robinson's @ The Gardens, Kita-Kita @ Bukit Damansara, Mum Over The Moon @ Publika or Blue Dot Baby at Bangsar Village. The accessories are priced at RM 10 and above while the clothes are priced between RM 52 - RM 160 at time of printing.
Kooshboo is also available in Singapore at Kids walk in Tanglin Mall or Great Mall City.